THE BACHELOR: ROME begins this Fall on ABC. Now in it's ninth season, THE BACHELOR has an extremely faithful following: women. Well, and those women's significant others who are "forcedï¿½? into watching the program with them. There's nothing wrong with this. There's enough male-oriented programming on TV. However, THE BACHELOR has some problems that the producers, although they have no control over it, would like to see remedied.
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Dating shows have long been a staple of television, succeeding at different levels well before the reality TV boom that began with SURVIVOR and WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. MTV has produced what seems like hundreds of different dating programs in recent years, from SINGLED OUT to DATE MY MOM to DISMISSED to TAILDATERS to NEXT. Dating shows have also thrived on syndication with programs like BLIND DATE and ELIMIDATE, among others. TV networks like these programs because they are simple, easy-to-produce and cheap, with hordes of people always willing to participate. The beauty of these shows is that the audience can, after a couple is paired and hit it off, imagine a scenario in which the couple stays together, gets married, and lives happily ever after. We know this is unlikely, but considering the sheer volume of episodes produced of these shows, one has to assume that it does happen, at least occasionally.
Viewers cannot make the same leap with THE BACHELOR. We are now eight seasons in to THE BACHELOR and not one of the "winningï¿½? couples are still together. This brings up some credibility issues. Why do people keep watching a show whose primary stated goal is to create a perfect couple if they will inevitably break up soon after the finale airs? Optimism is the likely answer. Unlike other dating programs that pump out episode after episode, couple after couple, THE BACHELOR takes an entire season to produce just one match. None of those matches has worked out. For all the respective bachelors on-air talk about the importance of personality and intellect and the like, the woman he invariably picks will be the best looking one. Or at least one of the top three.
Since this has become the obvious pattern, doesn't it make sense that viewers would tune out eventually, understanding the conclusion is foregone? Or, since we believe the conclusion is foregone, can viewers enjoy it, knowing the stakes are far lower than the producers try to make it seem? Can we simply enjoy THE BACHELOR as theater (with an extremely attractive cast)? Perhaps, being a man, I'm simply grappling with issues that the shows core audience, women, view as insignificant. If the possibility for true romance is there, and it certainly is, is that enough for viewers, even with the shows history of failing to pair viable couples together?
Who knows? The ratings have dwindled, but that could be a result of the novelty wearing off, as it does with all reality shows, and maybe the ratings will now remain steady for seasons to come. One thing is clear, however: until THE BACHELOR finds a couple that sticks, it's significance is lessened and ABC will have to continue finding ways to make the optimism within us rise up, forcing us to believe that true love can be found in front of a national TV audience.
We'll find out in Rome.