IndieWire spoke with former «Bachelor» producer Jason Carbone and contestant LaNease Adams to get the behind-the-scenes dish about the wild first season.
The most dramatic season ever? Well, nothing quite tops the actual story behind “The Bachelor.”
ABC’s beloved franchise kicked off 20 years ago today, on March 25, 2002. And while no one quite knew just how massive of a success the reality dating series would be, ABC greenlit a second season before the first one even concluded. Now, two decades and multiple spin-offs later, “The Bachelor” has just wrapped its 26th season.
Yet the first “most eligible bachelor in America,” businessman Alex Michel, was supposed to appear on a very different type of show. Forget the infamous mansion; “The Bachelor” was pitched as an international, jet-setting journey that literally went around the world. Think that’s extravagant? Just wait to hear what some of those luxurious dates would have included.
From mirroring modern dating patterns (sex before or after meeting the parents?) to curating the eclectic yet professional cast of female contestants vying for the heart of the titular Bachelor, the series revolutionized reality TV. And two decades has pent up plenty of controversies, including giving the ax to longtime host Chris Harrison.
Former “Bachelor” producer Jason Carbone and Season 1 contestant LaNease Adams take IndieWire through every behind-the-scenes details of how “The Bachelor” came to be.
Will you accept the rose, and this history lesson?
1. “The Bachelor” Was a Second Shot at “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?”
“Bachelor” creator Mike Fleiss had just wrapped “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” and was the hottest name in reality TV. Per The Huffington Post, the series was essentially a “beauty pageant in which women competed for the prize of marriage”…to a faceless millionaire whom the winning woman wouldn’t see until she said “I do” at the alter. Understandably, the series faced series backlash upon release.
“What we were doing there is giving birth to this genre of television, so it was more painful,” Fleiss previously told HuffPost.
The FOX show resulted in a restraining order between the couple and an annulled marriage. So much for the happily ever after fairytale ending.
“Mike was coming off of being a television piraya,” producer Carbone told IndieWire. “He had made ‘Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?’ and after the show initially aired, everybody in town wanted to be in business with him. But two weeks later, once the shit started to hit the fan, nobody wanted to be in business with Mike and his agent wouldn’t return his phone call.”
Fleiss then had an idea for a way to reboot the concept.
“I’m all about studying the ratings, and that show [‘Multi-Millionaire’] was incredible. It set the world on fire. I realize that there was an irresponsible quality to it in that we were marrying off strangers essentially,” Fleiss said. “So, I said, ‘How can I create a show that has the power of ‘Multi-Millionaire,’ but do it in a more responsible, relatable romantic fashion?’”
Enter: the (more) wholesome “Bachelor.”
2. Picking the Perfect Bachelor
“The Bachelor” set out to avoid the “pitfalls” that plagued “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?,” including having a more thorough vetting process – and an arguably better leading man.
“Season 1 in retrospect was all about validating the premise. We attempted to make the notion of finding a life partner on television, we attempted to normalize that,” Carbone said. “First and foremost, we needed to have a Bachelor that the audience would take as being authentic and genuine, someone who was smart and wasn’t foolishly stepping into this experiment.”
Cue the first Bachelor, Alex Michel, who had an undergraduate from Harvard and a MBA from Stanford.
“He had all of the trappings we were looking for in our Bachelor: Not only someone who was a potentially great catch, but also somebody who, when you looked at his resumé, you were further convinced that this show was for real,” Carbone added.
As for the women on the series, Carbone said the casting process was equally as lofty.
“We had an attorney, we had two doctors,” Carbone explained. “We stacked the pool of potential partners in the same way we stacked the deck with our Bachelor, Alex Michel. We were looking for smart, articulate women who would further validate the premise.”
3. Casting the Leading Ladies
Actress LaNease Adams was dating comedian Bill Maher at the time when casting director Sam Rhima reached out to her about “The Bachelor.” Adams had done “little dating shows” like “Change of Heart” prior to “The Bachelor,” and was looking to further kick off her Hollywood career.
“I love Bill, we’re still good friends but he’s still a rolling stone,” Adams said of her former flame. “He didn’t want to settle down, so I was like, ‘OK, I guess I’ll try my hand at this dating show and try to find love.’ That’s how it happened.”
Adams met with Marki Costello and Lacey Pemberton to join the cast of “The Bachelor.”
“It all happened so fast,” Adams reflected. “I thought, ‘OK, it could be cool even if it didn’t work out because yes, I am an actress and I’d still be on TV.’ So it was sort of like a win-win.”
Upon meeting her fellow contestants, Adams said she was “actually scared because all of those women did seem so accomplished.” With Ivy League educations and experiences living the high life, Adams wondered if she measured up.
“That’s the feeling I remember from that first day, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I get myself into? He’s never going to pick me,’” Adams said.
Little did she know that her turn on “The Bachelor” would make history.
“I had no idea that it would sort of turn my life upside down, just because it was such a wildly popular show,” Adams said. “I just thought it would be another silly, little show and it turned out to be this phenomenon.”
4. But ABC’s “The Bachelor” Was a “Far Cry” From the Original Idea
Showrunner Fleiss had originally sold the concept of “The Bachelor” to ABC as a luxury dating series that took place on a plane. Yes, a plane.
“We were supposed to travel around the world,” producer Carbone said of the six-week series. “It was a far cry from what the show ended up being.”
Carbone was tasked with bringing “The Bachelor” back down to Earth, quite literally.
“When I was handed the creative and the budget, I said that these two things don’t line up, so we had to figure out how we make ‘The Bachelor’ with the funds that ABC was providing,” Carbone said, “and that’s really when the show began to coalesce.”
5. Real-Life Disney Tale Meets Reality TV
Pushing the idea of an “ABC Mickey Mouse love story” home, Carbone and “The Bachelor” producers set out to find the perfect storybook castle for the modern fairytale to take place. That, in Los Angeles speak, means Malibu mansion.
“We were looking all over town and when Mike saw the location of the original ‘Bachelor’ mansion, it was done,” Carbone said. “He saw it and said, ‘Figure out how to make it work.’”
“The Bachelor” used the same rental house until the City of Malibu passed a law cracking down on production schedules, and then the Spanish-style villa most “Bachelor” fans know and love became the official Bachelor Nation pad.
6. “It Was Like We Went to War Together”
“We were selling a fantasy,” Carbone summed up. “In those early seasons, we weren’t really concentrating on establishing a ‘villain.’”
As Adams described, the 25 women vied for the attentions of one man, Michel, but began to obsess over him due to the isolating element of production. The first rose ceremony was “shocking and wild and scary,” according to Adams due to the “ego element” of catching Michel’s eye.
“It wasn’t that fun, really, because all the girls are like hating each other and measuring themselves up against each other,” Adams said. “Everybody wants to go on a date and everybody wants to be chosen. It was very stressful, and I think that’s why most of us remained friends. It was like we all went to war together. When it was all said and done, we were like, ‘What the hell was that?’”
Adams, who was the first woman to kiss Michel, admitted she was “surprised” to even be into him.
“I do wonder if some of it has to do with the fact that we are locked in a house with no TV,” Adams lamented. “Back then, we couldn’t talk on the phone, we couldn’t watch TV. I don’t even think they allowed us to bring books. So we basically sat around, drank champagne, and talked about Alex all day long. I think we also became obsessive.”
She added, “I don’t know if the girls still feel that way but I think part of the element being unexpected and us not knowing what we’re doing next, I think there was just so many elements at once and not having anything else to focus on except for Alex, that caused for a lot of cat fighting.”
7. The Drama Was Real…The Timeline for Love? Not So Much
Carbone admitted that the first season had a “much stricter format” to find love. “It felt evolutionary in terms of a relationship,” he said. “When we were setting up the show, we were going, like, ‘Do you go on an overnight date with your girlfriend before you meet the parents, or after you meet the parents?’ We ended up that in order to get on a fantasy date, you had to meet the parents so there were stakes when you met the parents, knowing full well he had the potential to spend an intimate evening with the women on the following week’s episode.”
According to Adams, the show was definitely “not staged” and naturally occurred. “Everything was real. There was nothing fake about it, and people insist on telling me — even though they weren’t there — the show is a sham and it’s fake,” Adams said. “Nothing was set up.”
However, Adams did note that one moment was encouraged by producers.
“I always, always say that the only thing that I recall was when we were talking and they had wanted me to ask Alex about his history with interracial dating, because I was trying to avoid that topic,” Adams said. “I wanted to pretend it wasn’t an issue in the hopes that he just won’t give it too much thought, but they did say, ‘Why don’t you ask him how he feels about it?’ And it probably should have been asked, I just didn’t ask him. That was the one question they wanted me to ask, but besides that, everything was real.”
It also helped that everyone was there with the same goal in mind: to find love.
“Most people were really looking for love,” Adams said. “I think now, a lot of the times people ‘go for the wrong reasons.’ In my opinion, I think we were all there for the right reason.”
Carbone wanted to capture the “true nature of dating” in the modern age with “The Bachelor.”
“When the show first started, there was no social media. There was no ability to get famous off ‘The Bachelor,’” Carbone said.
Yet as Carbone noted, even the first “Bachelor” couple didn’t last. “There’s no way I would consider that first season a romantic success,” he joked.
8. Sex Was Handled Differently
Due to the “natural” timeline of relationship progression, Adams revealed that her smooch with Michel led to her fellow constants giving her “hell” for moving too fast.
Today, the show is “completely different” in her eyes. “Now they’re kissing at the first meeting, before you even have a rose ceremony they’re kissing each other. But back then, it was taboo,” Adams said. “When the girls found out I kissed him, they talked bad about me like, ‘You kiss on the first date.’ Some people online were calling me fast and stuff like that. And 20 years later, they kiss them coming out of the limo. It’s really crazy how times have changed.”
But lest we forget Adams kicked it all off. “Out of everyone, I got the first kiss. I might put that on my tombstone, who knows?” she joked.
9. ABC Needed a Hit — And “The Bachelor” Delivered
According to Carbone, ABC was in a tough place pre-“Bachelor” in 2002.
“If I’m not mistaken, right around this time ABC also debuted shows like ‘Cop Rock’ which was a short-lived Steven Bochco musical cop show. I’m not making this up,” Carbone said. “But what was immediately clear after Season 1 was just how valuable the franchise was to ABC.”
Carbone started at MTV, where “reality TV really started in the modern sense,” he added. The executive producer was behind “Real World,” “Road Rules,” and “Making the Video” before joining “The Bachelor.”
“Making the show, I knew that we had a monster hit,” the producer said. “This is one in my gut that I knew it would work. What most people hadn’t thought about was that there was a new generation of young people who were coming into adulthood and coming into making money who had been raised on MTV and reality television. And so while their parents were not prepared for a reality dating show, they absolutely were.”
10. The “Experiment” Has Evolved
In 20 years, “The Bachelor” no doubt has had many pivots, reckonings, and so-called awakenings. The evolution was expected, though, according to Carbone.
“In all candor, I believe that it has gone too far now. I believe there is a layer of artifice that the audience not only is aware of but is accepting of, and expecting it for a more dynamic and engaging show,” he said. “I believe that as social media has increased in society, the fundamental nature of the show has changed. In addition to social media, you also have the advent of ‘Bachelor in Paradise.’ I would contend that there are people who go on the show with no interest in finding love but just an interest in getting famous and ending up on ‘Bachelor in Paradise.’ I think you need a second season to [become an influencer]. I really believe it’s about angling for that second appearance, because that’s what really opens up the gates for you.”
Looking back, Season 1 contestant Adams knows that her season was a watershed moment.
“We were the experiment,” Adams said. “Nowadays, after 20 seasons, you go into it saying, ‘OK, we know what’s happened now.’ To me, Alex was Prince Charming. He was this handsome, tall, smart, funny guy. He seemed like he had everything together because we don’t know much about him. He’s The Bachelor. It did feel like a fairytale, and I feel like that was part of it, for me, you’re in this fairytale, you’re in your own Cinderella book and it’s so cool.”
Adams, who was eliminated before Hometown Dates, said, “The next thing you know, you turn the next page and it’s like, ‘Your slipper’s gone.’”
The “Heaven’s Revenge” actress added, “Ultimately, I really fell for that guy. I wanted him to pick me. It was super sad, going home after living in this mansion, flying on a private jet to Vegas. Even though nowadays the dates are more extravagant, 20 years ago, jumping on a private jet was exciting. When it’s all said and done and you go home with no rose, no guy, no dates, it was really tough. It was like you go back to your regular little life. It was a fantasy.”
The literal overnight success of the series also had lasting effects on its stars.
“I got anxiety and I was just like, frozen a bit because my life had changed unexpectedly overnight,” Adams said.
11. So Where Are They Now?
Carbone parted ways with the franchise in 2004, and went on to produce “Harry Loves Lisa,” “Tia & Tamera,” and “Game of Clones.”
Yet “The Bachelor” remains a cornerstone of his reality TV legacy.
” ‘The Bachelor’ is the gold standard by which reality dating shows on television will forever be judged,” Carbone said. “I remain very, very proud of my affiliation with ‘The Bachelor’ and being part of the small team that launched a television show that has changed the face of not only television but dating in the world, and set unrealistic standards for dates everywhere.”
Adams’ film career continued, with the actress also writing, directing, and producing Amazon feature film “Heaven’s Revenge” and TV series “The Misadventures of Katherine.” She also wrote children’s book “My Special Light.”
As for Bachelor Michel, TV Insider reported that he left Hollywood for good in 2005. Michel became the Head of Strategy for Microsoft and co-founded a media firm called NewCo. The reality TV star relocated to Washington, D.C. and works as a managing director for a company called Generation Consulting, after being the spokesperson for Match.com post-“Bachelor.”
And after years of steering clear of Bachelor Nation due to a “bit of a depression” following the overnight fame, Adams started watching “The Bachelor” again.
“I hadn’t been able to watch it for quite some time after my season because it brought up so much emotion, some good, some bad,” she concluded. “But looking back, I’m so glad I did it. I don’t regret it. ‘The Bachelor’ always has a special place in my heart.”