PASADENA, Calif. – Confession time. I haven’t watched a minute of “The Bachelor” since the season premiere because Buffalo native Jason Tartick didn’t get to be the guy dating 25 women.
I learned here that I should thank Howard Stern, among others, for not making this season must-see TV for me.
A few days before tonight’s installment of “The Bachelor” featuring ridiculously handsome Colton Underwood, the head of ABC’s reality department explained the casting process that ended with fan favorite Tartick being passed over in favor of the 28-year-old virgin.
OK, it’s not all Stern’s fault.
But according to Rob Mills, the head of ABC’s reality programming, Stern had a big impact on the decision to pick Underwood over third-place Tartick and last year’s runner-up Blake Horstmann from “The Bachelorette.”
“Really, the biggest consensus is the fans,” explained Mills in an interview at an ABC party. “In this case, really the person who put it over the top was Howard Stern, a massive fan.”
Mills said he has met, talked with and emailed Stern about the show because the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and his wife, Beth, watch the show religiously.
“I remember there was a time several years ago when there was somebody we were looking at for a lead who would have been a really different type of choice and Howard and Beth said, 'We would watch it every week,' ” explained Mills. “And we ended up not making that choice, and we were wrong.”
This time, Mills, who has been at ABC for 15 years, sought Stern’s input in an email after thanking him for watching.
“Just for curiosity,” asked Mills, “what do you and Beth think about Colton as ‘The Bachelor?’ He said ‘that’s a no-brainer. You kidding? He is incredibly good looking and he’s a virgin, that’s going to make a great season.’ So nobody knows more about entertainment than Howard Stern to me. In Howard, we trust.”
The one voice more important than Stern was that of Mike Fleiss, the creator of “The Bachelor.”
“Mike is the ultimate arbiter, the show is his vision,” said Mills. “He really fought for Colton.”
Mills said the choice of "The Bachelor" each season is made after he, Fleiss and the show’s producers and the casting director sit around and hash out the candidates.
“It is like electing the pope in a lot of ways,” said Mills with a straight face. “I know it sounds funny, but there is a conclave of people and you sit there and go, ‘this is good, this is bad.’”
There was no smoke after the choice was made to see if Colton would make the season hot. Mills said the show’s strong ratings have validated the choice.
“Yes, definitely,” said Mills.
Mills concedes fans were split among Blake, Jason and Colton. He added Colton didn’t exactly set the “Bachelor” world on fire during the summer’s “Bachelor in Paradise” spinoff.
“What was great about Colton, too, was you can come in, if you hadn’t watched last season, it is very easy to set up,” said Mills. “This is a good-looking guy, he played in the NFL (but never in a game), he is still a virgin, looking for a wife that he hopefully will consummate a relationship with. As opposed to some of the other guys you have to give a lot of the back story.”
Jason just couldn’t compete with that scenario.
“People had real love and affection for Jason,” said Mills. “They loved how funny he was, he was different, his hometown date, his family. They loved everything about him. It was sort of what was the sell for the guys. Colton’s sell was a five-second sell. Amazingly good-looking guy has gone 28 years without sex.”
Colton also had one other advantage.
“I actually think the fact that people were not happy about this was not a bad thing,” said Mills. “Because the worst thing you can have, in any TV program, but certainly in reality TV, is when there is apathy. If nobody cares, you have a real problem on your hands. People disliked him so much … that even if they are going to hate watch, they are going to watch this guy.”
“They didn’t like him, they thought he was full of crap, they didn’t believe him, or they thought he was putting on an act, or he was too good to be true. Or whatever it was. That was good. It was much better than I don’t care about this bachelor one way or another. He is nice, but I don’t know.”
On social media, the fans seemed to prefer Jason before Blake’s heart was broken by “Bachelorette” Becca Kufrin in the finale.
“After the finale aired, Blake got a lot of sentiment, too, because he just got his heart pulverized,” said Mills. “I wish we could have done three 'Bachelor' seasons simultaneously. This is one of the closer ones we’ve had.
“Jason’s day may come,” added Mills. “Just because he’s not 'The Bachelor’ this season doesn’t mean he couldn’t be another season.”
That might be difficult now that Tartick has publicly acknowledged that he is dating a former “Bachelorette,” Kaitlyn Bristowe.
“That wouldn’t be good,” agreed Mills, with a smile. “You never know. It could be good drama if he brings his girlfriend on that season. We like twists.”
Then he explained he was kidding.
Mills added the virgin twist this season also was a product of the women being cast.
“It was also looking at the types of girls coming in and who they were talking about and who they wanted to see,” he said.
“The girls were curious to find out,” Mills said of Colton’s virginal status. “It was interesting to them. Because there is that question – I think they want to know. And he is easy on the eyes. I didn’t necessarily understand it, but he was sincere in his reasons. He is just not going to do anything until he is ready.
“I hate to compare him to that movie, ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin,’ ” Mills added. “When I saw that movie, how do you explain that this guy is a virgin at age 40? Then you see the movie and you say they actually did a good job explaining how circumstances led to this guy going through his entire adult life.”
But, hmm, Steve Carell, who played the movie character, isn’t exactly Colton in the hunk department.
“I think Colton has talked about he went through an awkward stage,” said Mills. “He tweeted out some pictures last week of him in high school. And he said, ‘OK, does this make sense now?’ And you see he definitely went through an awkward phase and he talked about it. And he’s been kind of bullied when he was growing up. I think he has kind of been growing into himself. You can like him, you can dislike him, but the one thing you can’t say is he’s not genuine.”
The filming of the current season ended in late November, which means there is plenty of time for Colton’s choice to leak and spoil the party.
“Every time we think we’ve seen everything on this show, something different happens,” said Mills of the end. “A left turn gets made. In this case, that’s exactly what happened.”