As the global pandemic threatens to halt most television production for months to come, it's left current series — scripted and unscripted alike — with few options for maintaining their positions on the TV schedule. Some, like Monday Night Raw, are ignoring the experts and soldiering on with closed sets. Late-night talk shows are using platforms like Zoom to stitch together episodes from the hosts' living rooms. And Jeopardy! has stretched out its backlog of new episodes by interspersing them with, for instance, classic 2004 games featuring megachamp Ken Jennings.
Capitalizing on our collective desire to turn back the clock may prove to be the best way forward for now, and another long-running series is about to dig into its vault. The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons — Ever!, which premieres on ABC tonight, hopes to capitalize on fan nostalgia by revisiting the best Bachelors and Bachelorettes of the series' 18-year history.
Each episode of Greatest Seasons Ever's ten-week run will retell an entire season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette season in one hour, from initial limo impressions to the final rose. In a world where no new Bachelor content exists, a calculated repackaging of classic material might just be the best way to keep the franchise top of mind.
For any other show in any other climate, this might seem like a move destined to dilute the brand, but when it comes to The Bachelor, it seems diluting the brand may be impossible. The fact that ABC has seen success with not only The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, but also Bachelor Pad, Bachelor in Paradise, Bachelor Summer/Winter Games, and The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart would suggest that there is no saturation point for Bachelor-related content. In fact, the bigger worry is that with filming for the next season (featuring Bachelorette Claire Crawley) still on hold, and no other series in the franchise on the horizon, fans will lose their ardor for the show or even forget about it entirely.
Breaking the show's tastiest moments down into digestible chunks could also help it regain fans who have fallen away over the years, and perhaps even introduce a few newbies to the brand. After all, with 39 combined seasons of Bachelor and Bachelorette, to say nothing of the aforementioned spinoffs, The Bachelor's mythology runs deeper than Lord of the Rings, and tackling even a single 15-hour season is a big undertaking, even if you think you've found an ideal entry point. Re-airing a digest version of the most memorable seasons is not unlike Primetimer's own curated binge concept: it's an easy way to continue (or begin) indulging your interest in a series without committing entire weeks of your life to the effort.
Compressing an entire season into an hour will also lay bare an incontrovertible truth about The Bachelor: it's packed to the gills with filler. Because there's only one "winner," each season has to follow a lot of narrative dead ends. And its tendency toward repetition becomes much clearer during a binge. When you're only watching one hour a week, you may not notice how repetitive the group dates and Rose Ceremonies can be, but four or five back-to-back episodes' worth of "trust the process" and "I didn't think this would be so hard" and "can I steal him" (famously parodied in a series of Saturday Night Live sketches) really underlines how much of the "journey" is well-trodden ground.
Removing the extraneous storylines and repetitive beats, and freely mentioning the outcome, will enable the show to tell each central love story a little more clearly, while setting aside a few moments for the best supporting characters to shine (ie, Chad punching a wall or Alexis and her dolphin suit). If the other twenty or so contestants don't get their moments in the sun, that's perfectly fine for this format.
In fact, the greatest seasons might not even be the ones with the greatest love stories. Previews seem to suggest that "Greatest" could be interpreted any number of ways. Each episode won't merely be a rosy retelling of a fairytale romance featuring the fewer than five percent of couples who've actually stuck together after the final rose. Yes, the show is kicking things off with a look back Sean Lowe's season, but it isn't flinching from the fact that for every success story there are half a dozen fiascoes of the Nick Viall variety. Nor does it seem to be shying away from the idea that a beautiful train wreck can be just as entertaining as a happily ever after (and often more so).
The Bachelor never was about the quest for true love, strictly speaking. There's a reason the word "journey" figures so prominently into every episode — whether or not the happy couple stays together in the end is far less important than the adventures the supposed soulmates have along the way. The producers have seemingly acknowledged this fact whenever they've dipped into the pool of alumni to stage sports and singing competitions (or even just let them hang out together on a beach and drink), though it always takes a backseat to the alleged fairy tale. Now as the show is forced to bet its continued visibility on the content of its back catalog, it's openly acknowledging the idea that there are no wrong reasons to love it.
The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons — Ever! premieres tonight at 8:00 PM ET. on ABC.
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Jessica Liese has been writing and podcasting about TV since 2012. Follow her on Twitter at @HaymakerHattie.