The ever-unfolding storyline of Bachelor Universe
The Bachelor it isn't just a TV guilty pleasure, it is a thriving content ecosystem that many brands and marketers would admire. Its content universe has a PERPETUALLY UNFOLDING STORYLINE driven by ACTION, ASSETS and MICRO-STORY STREAMS that are both Produced/Owned and Earned.
POST-SHOW ACTION: ADDITIONAL PROGRAMMING THAT FACILITATES PROCESSING OF SHOW EVENTS.
Close to the end of a season there are two major specials. The Wo/Men Tell All gives the cast (sans the final two contestants) a chance to come back and discuss season highlights – conflicts, scandals, bloopers. It also gives any member who was "blindsided" (i.e. let go at when they thought that the relationship was progressing and that they would therefore be asked to continue on the "journey") a chance to confront the Bachelor/ette and get some needed closure (or more media mileage). After The Final Rose allows America to come back to the final two contestants and the Bachelore/ette and discuss how the final decision was made. It is also a chance for host Chris Harrison to press the happy couple for wedding details, or in some cases (sorry, Ben and Lauren) repeatedly remind them that both their families and a priest are on set in case they want to get married on the spot. Most of the time, the next Bachelor/ette is also announced, teasing Bachelor Nation before the next season begins. In both specials there is a live studio audience that is shown reacting to the interviews. In some cases the story even continues on After The Final Rose, as when Bachelor Jason revealed that he had broken up with the “winner” Melissa because he still had feelings for runner-up Molly. (He and Molly got married on a wedding special and are still together.)
Other reality shows sometimes have an all-cast reunion after the finale, but none of them milk the drama the way The Bachelor does, with additional programming dedicated to processing highlights and conflict. The specials are considered a part of the narrative and also feed the media and coverage cycles.
MINGLING ASSETS: CROSS-POLLINATION OF CAST MEMBERS ACROSS SEASONS.
When the franchise launched, Bachelors seemed to be selected based on a level of professional success – they owned companies, or were doctors, actors, athletes. The Bachelorette was launched as a series for unsuccessful Bachelor contestants to get a “second chance at love”. This trend has continued with more recent seasons’ unsuccessful contenders becoming the lead Bachelor/ettes. (e.g. Sean rejects Des who becomes the Bachelorette and rejects Juan Pablo who becomes the Bachelor and rejects Andi who becomes the Bachelorette and rejects Nick (hold that thought) and rejects Chris who becomes the Bachelor and rejects Kaitlyn who rejects Nick (yes, hold that thought) and rejects Ben who becomes the Bachelor who rejects Jojo, and then Nick becomes the Bachelor, who we already know will not end up with Rachel who has been announced as the next Bachelorette.)
Bachelor in Paradise premiered in 2014, a summer getaway for previous contestants to get a nth chance at love. Bachelor Nation gets yet another installment of the show and drama continues as villains and fan favorites of various seasons mix and mingle as they try to stay in “paradise” by finding partners every week. The franchise storyline is sustained, and in the case of Nick, even weaves back in to the lead show.
Nick Viall is (the only?) one contestant who has swum in all three Bachelor franchise lanes. As mentioned above he was on both Andi and Kaitlyn’s seasons. In both cases he was portrayed as a villain, and fans were shocked at how far he made it and then celebrated when, both times, he was rejected at the very end. Yet when he made an appearance on Paradise last year, he embodied a different persona. Sage to the ladies, still a significant part of the drama (sorry, Josh) while remaining “real” and honest, he suddenly seemed to be appealing and mature. And despite several fan favorites from the last Bachelorette’s rejected roster who were rumored to be getting the next lead role (hi, Luke), Nick was selected as the next Bachelor.
The Chicago One of reality television, it is now part of the Bachelor universe for contestants/assets to move fluidly among shows thus carrying over the captive audience from one program to the next, all throughout the year.
MICRO-STORY STREAMS: CONTESTANTS' PERSONAL SOCIAL MEDIA.
Sure, most long-running reality programs now have staples of "all stars" (previous contestants). But the Bachelor franchise adds over fifty people to their roster every year (through one batch each of Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants), many of whom run social media accounts that make the Bachelor-enabled lifestyle seem more aspirational.
Those who make it past a certain point in the show become micro-celebrities. They mingle with their cliques from the show, and then reveal on Twitter and Instagram who they are becoming friends with from other seasons. Going on the show seems to provide access to a new social club, and proof of bona fide membership is published on contestants’ feeds. They hang out together (LA, New York and Nashville seem to be the main hubs) in between seasons, and guest in each other’s blogs and YouTube videos.
Social activity becomes a new lens for fans and media to view contestants and see whether or not they were portrayed fairly on the show. Fans sometimes discover that season "villains" (the ones disliked the most by others "in the house") are actually well-liked and maintain friendships with others from their season. Many have become influencers, endorsing retail and lifestyle products. Several start their own business or promote their career/artistic endeavors.
This social activity adds fuel to the show’s word-of-mouth. During the season fans and media watch contestants’ interactions on social to get clues about season spoilers. Podcasts and recaps often refer to contestants’ tweets or photos to add dimension to season events.
Post-Action, Assets and Social Micro-Story Streams have made the Bachelor content universe a truly interesting media study. I wonder how media studies pros will ever be able to take stock of the always-growing expanse of content, from produced and owned, to social and earned. What the show has done brilliantly is to unleash several ongoing narrative-development engines that keep the storyline perpetually evolving, and all of us, highly committed.