“I actually think you’re going to see ratings rise more exponentially than you would during previous seasons because people are going to start talking about it and word-of-mouth is going to kick in,” Mills told Variety on Tuesday, January 19.
The executive attributes the decrease in viewers — the overnight audiences have been under 5 million during the past two weeks — to James, 29, being new to Bachelor Nation.
The ABC Food Tours founder was originally as a contestant on Clare Crawley’s season of The Bachelorette. James was named the new Bachelor in June 2020, after season 16 production was halted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“When the numbers are down, we look at every single reason, but I certainly think it’s more to the fact that people are just getting to know Matt,” Mills said. “It’s the first time in so long we have someone who has no connection to the franchise whatsoever, and when you have a Bachelor who comes through that season, everybody knows who this person is and what their story is and wants to watch them get their turn, after seeing them get their heart broken on TV.”
Mills noted that all fans knew about James coming into his season was that he is “a stunningly beautiful man who has a great career and is charitable and is looking for love.”
The North Carolina native, who has been friends with Bachelorette alum Tyler Cameron since college, has already grown during his time on the series.
“Now, through the dates, we’re learning a lot more about him. You learn more about his backstory during the dates,” the exec continued. “You’re not just listening to the women, but also what Matt says, because viewers really don’t know him.”
“We’ve been very public about our shortcomings and how we have to really do better, and we’re certainly trying,” Mills said. “Starting with Rachel [Lindsay] as our first diverse lead, hopefully now, we are really showing a person of color that, ‘This is a show for me,’ where gosh, I hate to say that even five years ago, that probably wasn’t the sentiment.”
When asked if James’ race could be part of the reason behind the show’s lower ratings Mills said, “I just don’t know, but I think that’s a quick dismissal, if you say that.”
He continued: “Obviously, we could look at everything and we could do studies, but I don’t think anyone is going to say, ‘I’m not watching The Bachelor because the lead is diverse’ — and if that is anyone’s reason, then you’re missing out and it’s your loss.”
Despite having a smaller audience, The Bachelor is still leading Monday nights and beating other networks in the key 18-49 demo, Variety reported.
Before James’ season premiered earlier this month, host Chris Harrison told Us Weekly exclusively that the former athlete had a challenging time on the show — having never been in front of the cameras before.
“It is contentious at times, it’s emotional at times, it’s gut-wrenching, it’s anger. You’re going to get it all,” Harrison, 49, said in December 2020. “Bless him for going through this because he went through the wringer.”
He also recalled James telling him, “I’ve never done [this]. I don’t know what a rose ceremony is. And we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
The Bachelor airs on ABC Mondays at 8 p.m. ET.
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