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Business News/ News / America’s New Most Eligible Bachelor Is a 72-Year-Old Grandpa
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America’s New Most Eligible Bachelor Is a 72-Year-Old Grandpa

wsj

Gerry Turner is a retired restaurateur who fills his days with pickleball. He’s about to date 22 women on national television.

Gerry Turner is ‘The Golden Bachelor.’ Premium
Gerry Turner is ‘The Golden Bachelor.’

Gerry Turner isn’t your typical “Bachelor" lead. For starters, he’s retired. He didn’t join Instagram until this year. He’s not a prince or a former professional football player. And he has grandchildren.

ABC is betting those differences will make him a star.

The network is going all in on “The Golden Bachelor," a spinoff of its popular reality-dating franchise, which premieres Thursday. The show takes the well-worn conceit of “The Bachelor"—more than 20 women vying for one man’s proposal—and moves it into a new age bracket. All the participants are at least 60.

Turner, a tanned 72-year-old with a passion for pickleball, comes to the show looking for a second shot at love. The former restaurateur married his high-school sweetheart, Toni. For 43 years they built a family and life together before she died in 2017. Six years later, Turner is ready to find a partner for the next season of his life.

In an interview, Turner said he was only casually aware of “The Bachelor" before seeing the casting call for senior contestants. His daughters, enthusiastic viewers, encouraged him to apply. He quickly caught the showrunners’ eyes from nearly 30,000 total applicants. Then the pandemic put everything on hold.

“We were really fortunate that he was, frankly, still single and still interested in 2023," said showrunner Bennett Graebner.

In February, Turner said, he was on vacation in Florida when he got the call offering him the lead. That led to a frantic search for a clinic nearby where he could get an STD test—a standard evaluation for “Bachelor" contestants—which he passed. On Memorial Day weekend, it was official: Turner would be the first Golden Bachelor.

He says viewers don’t need to worry about him or anyone else being on the show for the wrong reasons—“Bachelor" parlance for seeking fame rather than romance.

“People in their 60s and 70s, we don’t care about being influencers," he said. “We want to find a partner. We don’t care about finding a podcast."

On the first day living in the mansion, when contestants typically toast to love or to the Bachelor, the women toasted to Social Security. Hometown visits featured contestants’ children and grandchildren, rather than parents. Filming days were shorter, and episodes will run for an hour instead of the usual two. Though many dates will feel familiar—Turner teased a one-on-one that challenged his fear of heights—viewers can expect to see far fewer petty fights and rejection meltdowns, producers said.

“They have been through a lot worse, many of them, and they know that they’re strong enough to get through this, that they’ll be OK," showrunner Jason Ehrlich said. “That’s different from someone who may be 25 and they have the perspective of, ‘This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.’"

Though they didn’t plan it this way, showrunners and ABC executives said they had noticed a cultural shift toward celebrating senior citizens with the spotlight, such as Martha Stewart on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a swimsuit.

“The timing has sort of worked out in our favor," Ehrlich said.

It is a radical move for a show, first aired in 2002, that has sometimes treated contestants over the age of 30 as if they were AARP-eligible. Producers had been looking for more second-chance love stories since season 13, which starred a divorced father raising a young son, said Rob Mills, executive vice president of unscripted and alternative entertainment for Walt Disney Television.

Though the show strikes a hopeful tone, Turner’s search still required him to reject more than 20 women in the span of a month, an experience that became more painful as he grew closer with the women, he said.

“When it got down to the end, I remember having to leave the room, walk outside the front door of the mansion, and I was pretty much doubled over with my hands on my knees," Turner said. “It took some time to compose myself on a couple of those." Jesse Palmer, the host, had to come outside to check on him.

“There were no villains in that house," Turner said. “There was nobody going rogue. So it was really hard to tell them to go home."

Fantasy Suites, the next-to-last round of dates where three finalists can spend the night with the Bachelor without cameras or microphones, have always been a pivotal moment on the show.

“My family had input on the Fantasy Suites," Turner said. “They wanted to make sure that those never happened."

Alas, the overnights are part of the deal. Turner was gentlemanly about the details of his dates but said they gave him a chance to determine intellectual and emotional compatibility.

“I think at an older age, the priority of what you want to accomplish in a Fantasy Suite is a little different than when you’re 30," he said.

Showrunner Ehrlich had this to offer days before filming ended: “Twice in the past few days, we’ve heard reference to, I can’t believe I’m saying this here, ‘knockin’ boots.’"

Despite previous efforts to pump new life into the show’s format, viewership has dropped off over the years. According to Nielsen, the most recent season of “The Bachelor" drew about 3.7 million viewers on average—not bad for a network show facing stiff competition from streamers, but a far cry from the nearly 10 million average of season 18, less than 10 years ago.

Executives are hoping “The Golden Bachelor" will win back viewers and draw a broader audience.

“The opportunity is that we could potentially welcome new viewers to the franchise who may have felt that the ‘Bachelor’ franchise was not for them," said Shannon Ryan, president of marketing for Disney Entertainment Television. “My mom has never seen an episode of ‘The Bachelor,’ but she’s really on board for Gerry’s season."

Ryan said promotion has placed less emphasis on scandal and more on romance and optimism. In the YouTube video announcing the contestants in August, the women dance and laugh to the tune of Cher’s “Believe."

“Your average season of ‘The Bachelor’ would not have tracks by Cher and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye and Barry White," Ryan said.

The show is sponsoring watch parties for more than 200 retirement communities, providing kits containing sparkling cider, Werther’s Original candies and a “Golden Bachelor"-themed bingo game. In a nod to a favorite pastime for many seniors, they’re also promoting the show during USA Pickleball tournaments.

Turner wants to show viewers that getting older doesn’t mean losing the desire for romance, love and new adventures.

“That theme, I hope, carries through the show, that you never give up," he said. “You never, never give up on trying to be social and finding someone to spend your life with."

Write to Ashley Wong at ashley.wong@wsj.com

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