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THE BACHELOR Season 20: “Roses, Rappers & More Dramatic than STAR WARS?”

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THE BACHELOR Season 20 premieres Monday, January 4, 2016 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET), on ABC.

Last month, while I was in Los Angeles working the Global Press Event for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, my friends at Disney/ABC (I was there on their dime – disclosure and all) invited me to cover some other projects, one of which isn’t exactly what you’d expect to be up my general alley. I’m speaking, of course, about THE BACHELOR, with returns to ABC for its 20th Season this week, and host Chris Harrison knows full well that while it’s not for everyone – the show does count some surprising fans (including numerous “tough guys” and professional athletes) among the ranks of those in the “Bachelor Nation.” At what was being touted as “The Most Dramatic Brunch Ever,” I sipped on a Mimosa while Harrison led a discussion about the long-running series, being a parent, rollin’ with Ice Cube, and yes, a galaxy far, far away.

“This will not be nearly as exciting as the STAR WARS panel, but this will be a lot more dramatic than STAR WARS!” said Harrison, taking a seat in front of a U-shaped audience of 23 women and just 2 men, all writers rooted in the world of family-centric pop culture world. “I don’t know what JJ Abrams has in store but this will be better!”

While THE FORCE AWAKENS just won its third straight weekend at the big screen box office, on the small screen, THE BACHELOR comes back to a realty realm that it owns – with a Bachelor that Harrison states was “an easy choice, a no-brainer that was chosen by the Bachelor Nation.” That Bachelor is Benjamin Higgins, sent home by Kaitlyn Bristowe last season on THE BACHELORETTE. Higgins, self-confessed as “unlovable” is aiming to put his heartbreak behind him, searching for true love once more among a field of 28 women… including a pair of twins.

Remember that Wrigley’s DoubleMint Gum commercial? Something about “a double pleasure waiting for you?” Photo ABC/Rick Rowell

“Twins, which as a couple of guys here, [Chris says, looking at myself and Colby] would think like — the idea of Twins is appealing. You think, ‘Ooh Twins!’ and then when you think about it for more than 4 seconds, it’s like ‘Oh, that’s horrible.’ There are so many problems with that. They’re related, and family and this is weird because they’re sisters. It’s a very interesting season.”

While some of the set-ups are clearly aimed by producers at creating some entertaining television, Harrison is quick to note that “much of the drama this season is Ben-induced, because of who he is and how he kind of holds and carries himself throughout the show, which is extraordinarily well.”

Decisions, decisions. Ben Higgins and the women hoping to claim his hand in marriage. Photo ABC/Rick Rowell

“[Ben] is very open, and the best way to go through with this is to really just wear your heart on your sleeve and give yourself up to the process [of being THE BACHELOR], Chris explains. “It’s so much easier said than done because you walk into it like ‘Okay, here’s my life. Take me at my most vulnerable moments,’ and that’s scary as Hell to do. Ben is sincere, and humble, and faith based, and he really just gave himself up to us — and threw himself into the fire, the drama will follow when that happens — we don’t have to produce that. Ben did a good job of really giving up and the women had to follow. The women had to really give it up too, and that was a very vulnerable space [making for] a dramatic season in a very different way than what we’re gonna be used to.”

And when it comes to that “drama,” Harrison assures the room that once you give yourself “to the process,” nothing can remain hidden – and that leads to some shocking lows.

“You’ve heard the idea of Ben having trouble with can he be loved, and finding love —  it’s an arcing theme you’ll see throughout the season that he deals with, and inevitably, there’s that bottom out. This always happens. There’s a point in the season when everybody just gets gutted. Every Bachelor and Bachelorette gets kind of strung out, and that’s one of the great things about how we produce this show and this process that people outside the show probably don’t understand — it really does strip you down naked. You can’t fake your way through this. Whether you’re one of the 25 or 28 this season, or the guy or girl, you can’t fake your way through it. The first, maybe the second night – but you will be found out. If you come in and say, ‘you know what? I’ve never done this but I’m gonna be the wild person, like I’m — I’m usually a really quiet, you know, sweet girl.’ Can’t fake it.”

Audience reaction in 2015 is vastly different than when the show premiered – it’s initial airing 15 years ago coming before the rise of social medial. Being a father – particularly one with a young daughter, Harrison is mindful with all media is consumed and critiqued by the public at large – and he’s not always pleased with it.

“When I’m in a room predominantly filled with women (and women predominantly watch our show), you would think women would acknowledge, and often times, you’d hear that ‘Go Women! Yay Women!’ But the reality is that’s not what happens. That’s not how it happens on Social Media. There’s slut shaming, there’s body shaming. There have been things that have been said about the people on our show by women about women that’s horrifying to me. Women don’t wish other women well often times, and that is a very sad state of affairs in our society. THE BACHELOR pushes these social issues, and I love that as a dad. My Daughter turns 12 this month, and we were watching Kaitlyn Season and I was able to have a conversation with her that and a single dad would never have with his 12-year-old Daughter. It was very interesting to hear her take – did she agree with her [Kaitlyn’s] choices? That’s up to you. It’s her body, her life, her morals, her faith, her whatever, that she chose to do.”

Chris HarrisonAnother unexpected element of THE BACHELOR Season 20 is a date night planned by ICE CUBE and KEVIN HART (timed with the release of their new movie, RIDE ALONG 2).

“So it’s a Sunday afternoon, right? And Kevin Hart and Ice Cube are outside of the mansion and I’m about to walk in and I tell the women, ‘We have a date today, but I needed some help putting it together, so called a couple of friends and in walks Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, and they’re like ‘WHAT??!!’ I was amazed at how Ice Cube is on-set. You’re a little intimidated, but he was like so gracious, so on the mark – he could not have been nicer, did his thing, and actually went above and beyond.”

Harrison says that like ‘Cube, a lot has changed since the show first made it’s debut, with celebrities being really into it.

“Talk about something that’s changed in 15 years, nobody would admit to watching THE BACHELOR. We were the street girl — you wanted to watch us at night, but no one wanted to be with us in the daylight. Now it’s OK and it’s cool and Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux talk about how they watch the show religiously and Jimmy Kimmel and Howard Stern… Ice Cube or Amy Schumer, they’re die hard fans. People are now outing themselves about how much they love the show. I’m good friends with Tony Romo and and he was talking about the show with all these guys. I just had this friend of mine this morning, his agent (she represents some of the Redskins) says ‘By the way, part of the Redskins – die-hard Bachelor Nation!’ So these guys – not just the women – it’s these tough guys or actors or football players that are big fans of the show, which is pretty cool.”

THE BACHELOR airs Monday nights at 8pm ET on ABC

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