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Engaging and Aging on ‘The Golden Bachelor’

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In August, Julia Jacobs visited a Mediterranean-style mansion in Agoura Hills, Calif., the backdrop of “The Golden Bachelor.” The show is a spinoff of the popular “Bachelor” reality TV franchise, with a surprising twist: Participants are at least 60 years old.

“The show is coming at a time when there are expanding sensibilities around who is fit to fall in love on television,” said Jacobs, a Culture reporter for The New York Times who visited the set for an article about the reality dating series.

In the show’s premiere on Sept. 28, viewers met Gerry Turner (pronounced Gary), a 72-year-old widowed retiree from Indiana looking for romance, and nearly two dozen women hoping to court him on national television. Their relationships unfold on-air every Thursday.

Audiences seem to be loving it: The series premiere was the most watched debut for a “Bachelor” franchise season since 2021 and the most watched of any “Bachelor” premiere on the streaming platform Hulu.

But it isn’t all coming up roses: Amanda Hess, a critic at large for The Times, wrote in a recent column about how the show portrays older women. The contestants, she noted, engage in stunts like riding a motorcycle to set and performing a “ludicrous” striptease involving a walker.

“It celebrates older people, but only if they fit a very narrow image of youthful sexiness,” she said.

In a recent conversation, Jacobs and Hess discussed the series’s multigenerational appeal and the ways it differs from past “Bachelor” seasons. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Are you fans of “The Bachelor”?

AMANDA HESS I’ve watched many seasons, and I’ve been saying for years that they should do a “Bachelor” with widows and divorcées. So I was excited to see this version.

JULIA JACOBS I’m not a dedicated viewer, but I do really like writing about dating shows.

Some readers may ask: Why is The Times covering this reality TV show?

HESS It tells a story about how we see ourselves and how we see older people, how we see marriage and second marriage. It becomes an entry point for a conversation that I think our readers are interested in engaging with.

JACOBS It was a huge topic of interest on social media, and even at a senior center in New Jersey, where I went to watch the first episode. For some people, the “Bachelor” franchise feels like the same old show — season after season — and this twist was injecting something new and worth talking about.

Other than the age of the contestants, what sets this show apart from other versions of “The Bachelor”?

HESS The stakes are so high because many of the women have been married before. Many lost their spouses. They know what marriage is like. That, to me, makes the show both more compelling and harder to watch.

JACOBS There isn’t as much drama between the women. Typically you have a lot of women pulling each other out of dates like, “Can I grab him for a second?” But that doesn’t really happen here.

HESS The drama is happening within each person.

Why do you think this show is resonating with viewers across generations?

JACOBS The discussions between Gerry and the women he’s dating are more substantive. These women have already lived six or seven decades. They have careers and families. This show does not define their lives. And I think that has allowed them to be a bit more free in their dialogue.

HESS I’ve done several profiles of artists and celebrities who are in their 70s and 80s. People in their 20s are building their careers and their personas, but if you interview people who are older, they have already done that; they can tell you what they really think about how it all played out. And I think it’s similar for the women of “The Golden Bachelor.”

Julia, a statistic that jumped out at me from your article was that the median viewer age for ABC, the network that airs the show, is 64. Why has it taken so long for a network to tap into dating shows for this demographic?

JACOBS The producers said that this show had been in the works for 10 years. They didn’t have a clear answer as to why it had taken so long, but they said they felt as if it was coming at a time when they were seeing a lot of messaging about empowerment in aging. They mentioned Martha Stewart appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and John Stamos posting a nude photo on Instagram for his 60th birthday.

HESS The baby boomers are such a culturally dominant generation.

JACOBS They’re certainly dominant in terms of cable viewership.

We’ve talked a lot about the show’s successes, but what about it doesn’t work for you?

HESS I don’t enjoy seeing women at any age having to justify the way they look to men. If you’ve never watched “The Bachelor,” the first episode of “The Golden Bachelor” will seem like the most sexist, ageist thing you’ve ever seen; one of the women did this age-play striptease involving an “old” wig and dress, as if to say, Don’t worry, I’m not like those other old people!

JACOBS I want to see more unfiltered interactions. You often hear Gerry and the women talk about their connection, but you don’t often see it in action. I’m interested in the mundane conversations about who they are, where they grew up and what their families are like.

Anything else you want to add?

HESS I’m curious if there’s going to be a “Golden Bachelorette.” I would love to see a group of older men.

JACOBS That’s something we’ll definitely watch out for. Maybe that’s our next story.

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