by Tierney Bricker | Tue., Mar. 13, 2018 6:00 AM
How far we've come since Janu-Arie.
Just one week ago, everyone had an opinion on what Arie Luyendyk Jr. chose to do at the end of his journey on The Bachelor: break-up with Becca Kufrin on-camera after proposing to her in his finale in order to be with Lauren Burnham, his initial runner-up. People were furious. People were riveted. People were talking, tweeting and posting all about The Bachelor. People cared. But was the season (which averaged 6.2 million viewers but attracted 7.8 million for its dramatic two-night finale) ultimately a success for ABC and the producers?
Now a few days removed from the polarizing finale and on the eve of production beginning on Becca's season of The Bachelorette, the franchise's team is ready to assess Arie's season overall, a bi-annual state of the union, if you will. "We sit down at the end of every season and we look at everything and what worked and what didn't," Robert Mills, the senior VP of alternative programming at ABC, told E! News over the phone.
So let's look at what did and didn't work, shall we?
The "Historic" Unedited Footage: While some fans felt choosing to film and air Arie's break-up with Becca was "voyeuristic," Mills wants to see more raw moments in the franchise's future seasons, saying, "hopefully we're able to do more of that as we keep going."
"These are real relationships and the more that we can show and make them real, because we're not blind to the fact that this is not what dating is like in real-life," continued Mills, who went onto to say he found the footage of Arie and Becca during the Happy Couple Weekend pre-split (making pizza, saying how in love they were, etc.) to be even more "effective" than the actual break-up.
"Even though it was two minutes, you really saw that it was real and certainly how real it was for her and how she wanted to make this work," he explained. "There was a lot of stuff we had to cut. There was stuff where they were talking about living together in Arizona and things like that, and you can see that this was real. That's important. You have to remember everything is group dates up until the hometown dates and then it starts to be one-on-ones, so the deepening of the relationships—that's something we'll want to incorporate more. That's important for everyone to see."
Less Throwbacks: Mills admitted to being "surprised" by the response from fans when Arie was unexpectedly announced as the next Bachelor after his five-year hiatus from the franchise after finishing as Emily Maynard's runner-up on The Bachelorette. "I did not expect the response that we got to that," he said, noting producers were asked about Arie by fans repeatedly over the years and had a "massive" following.
Mills noted the surprising decision to make Arie, and not one of Rachel Lindsay's Bachelorette suitors, the next lead was this season was "sort of in response to some of the previous seasons where I think there was a feeling, oh, there's so many contestants that feel like they're coming on not for the romance aspect but more for the 'This is going to put me in a spotlight.' I think that that was sort by design, this was a more straight-down-the-middle season. You look at that, and you think OK, did we maybe go too far that way?"
Despite the lukewarm welcome Arie received, Mills thought the 36-year-old race car driver "was fantastic," and admitted to feeling "kind of bad" about "a lot of the charm he had on Emily's season" being a bit "lost" during his season.
Still, if the overwhelmingly positive response the show has received since announcing Becca would be the next Bachelorette is any indication, there's proof that sometimes absence doesn't make the heart (or ratings) grow fonder.
"You love to have somebody who has a story," Mills said. "When this show sort of went to the next level was when we started using people from past seasons with a story that you're just immediately invested in. It's hard for me to remember the last time we had excitement for a lead like we had with Becca these past few days."
Defining Success: How do you know if a Bachelor—the person or the season—is successful? Is it only a success if it ends in a proposal? Or if America falls in love with the lead and stays in love with them by season's end?
"A lot was made of how Arie was as a Bachelor, and now 23 Bachelors in, there's a base line so people like to compare and he was one people seemed to like to say, 'Oh, he's not good. He's boring, it should've been somebody else.' You know, the ratings were down a little bit, so as a season as a whole, you're always upset when you're not being carried on the audiences' shoulders, like, 'This was the best Bachelor season ever.'"
And while some seasons receive a tepid initial response, a dramatic finale, like the one Arie ended up delivering, could help to save it.
"It really is a marathon and for The Bachelor, unlike any other show, it really is how you finish. You never really look at those premiere numbers because they don't matter, It's all setting the ground work for nine weeks. There's a lot of finales you don't actually remember...but this finale, we're all never going to forget this."
Ratings and trending topics aside, a lead's relationship status (and that relationship's potential) also must be taken into account when defining a successful season, a major factor for Mills.
"I would be very surprised if this couple doesn't get married," he said of Arie and Lauren. "You've got to look at that as a successful Bachelor. That stems from the fact that when he came in here—you can debate how he handled this all you want—but he was incredibly sincere and just wanted to get married. I think we'd be foolish to not look at a Bachelor with that kind of ethos."
The Bachelorette premieres this May on ABC.
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