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Wilted Rose: The Bachelorette Season 20 Premiere Sees Ratings Tank

© by ABC

Lights, cameras, and … wait, where did all the viewers go? In a shocking twist that left even the most devoted fans scratching their heads, the Season 20 premiere of The Bachelorette stumbled into the spotlight and saw the lowest ratings in the history of the beloved franchise. The season opened with a total of 1.9 million viewers and a 0.3 rating, plummeting from last season’s numbers at 3 million viewers with a 0.7 rating.

As the limos pulled up, eager suitors stepped out, ready to impress The Bachelor Season 27 contestant Charity Lawson and embark on a journey of love and roses. But little did they know that their quest for romance would be met with a lackluster reception by viewers. With expected anticipation turning into bewilderment, it seems Cupid’s arrow missed its mark, leaving the show’s producers scrambling for answers and viewers wondering, “Is this the ultimate plot twist or a sign of a bumpy road ahead?” Let’s grab our popcorn and dive into the unfolding drama of a season that proves true love isn’t always written in the Nielsen ratings.

Where Are the Viewers?

The small screen space has been taking a long, hard look at how many eyes it’s capturing — and change is in the air. Once streaming services, pay-TV, video games, and social media became inextricably linked with our everyday pasttimes, broadcast television saw a big chunk of viewers abandon ship. According to industry bible Variety, broadcast and streaming services have seen a decline in the past five years, and prime-time TV consumers are aging.

Reported Variety, “Also of note is that the proportion of the audience aged 18 to 49 is declining faster than the overall rate of decline, with prime-time viewing of most content increasingly skewing over 50.”

Every year since 2008 — with the exception of the pandemic in 2020 — has seen the number of series available grow. In 2021, fans had a choice between 1,923 shows to watch, a little over half of them on streaming services. In other words, “The obvious takeaway is one of runaway competition for viewers, which has depressed live viewing on many networks,” said Variety.

Could that have taken such a big bite out of The Bachelorette?

The Bachelorette Backstory 

Delving into the curious reasons behind this unprecedented drop, one factor looms large: the recent departure of the show’s creator and longtime executive producer, Mike Fleiss. With Fleiss stepping away from the reins, the absence of a veteran’s creative touch and keen instincts may have left a void that impacted the show’s magic and anticipation. A former producer on the controversial, beauty pageant-esque dating show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, Fleiss embarked on a journey to create The Bachelor out of a sense of responsibility to present a more thoughtful and accountable dating show to the audience. In a 2015 HuffPost interview, Mike Fleiss revealed his inspiration. “[Multi-Millionaire] set the world on fire. I realize that there was an irresponsible quality to it in that we were marrying off strangers essentially. 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?’”

With that, The Bachelor burst onto the scene, captivating viewers’ hearts and keeping them eagerly glued to their screens. The love-filled frenzy was so contagious that it sprouted a bouquet of spinoffs, each adding its own twist to the enchanting world of televised romance. The lineup has included The Bachelorette, Bachelor Pad, Bachelor in Paradise, Bachelor in Paradise: After Paradise, The Bachelor Winter Games, The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart, The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons — Ever!, and The Golden Bachelor … not to mention all those reunion shows.

The highly anticipated first spinoff, The Bachelorette, captured a mind-boggling 17.4 million viewers for its January 2003 debut. The show sustained success and high ratings throughout most of its 20 seasons. However, in recent years, the show experienced a steady decline in viewership and faced challenges in maintaining its previous levels of ratings glory.

The Writers’ Strike Effect

Industry disruption caused by the currently ongoing writers’ strike could be to blame for audience disengagement. Reality shows such as The Bachelorette usually thrive during a deficit of scripted content, a result of networks rushing to maintain the eyes of their audiences. An influx of competition from incoming reality shows born out of the need for alternative programming may pose a challenge for The Bachelorette to retain its audience and continue generating the same level of excitement and engagement. While competition is a natural part of the television industry, the circumstances surrounding the writers’ strike and the subsequent flood of reality programming certainly intensifies the competition for viewership, making it more difficult even for established shows to maintain their ratings and audience share.

The evolving television landscape and changing viewer preferences could also be a huge contributing factor to the drop in ratings. With viewers embracing on-demand streaming platforms and alternative content options, traditional TV shows have had to adapt to shifting preferences and find innovative ways to engage their audience. It’s hard to compete with the vast array of original programming and on-demand content that allows viewers to binge-watch entire seasons at their own pace. This shift toward nonlinear viewing habits has made it challenging for traditional broadcast shows like The Bachelorette to capture and retain a large live audience.

How will the beloved franchise rise to the challenge? Whether it makes some changes in production, marketing, digital availability, lures Mike Fleiss back to the helm, or does a complete overhaul, the issue is clear: Some changes need to be made to bring this show back to life.

As whispers of uncertainty fill the air, what lies ahead for the upcoming viewership of what used to be TV’s top summer series? Will The Bachelorette be struck by Cupid’s arrow of success, receiving a blooming rose from the Nielsen ratings, or will it be left heartbroken with wilted numbers? Only time will tell.