It’s going to be one hell of a brofest on this season of The Bachelorette: wacky dates (they are mimes in France!), dinners for two on a castle lawn, awkward pedestal dancing at outdoor concerts, and the compulsory leaping from boats. We’re in for some pushing, partying, and general alpha male clashing, puffed chests and all. “I’m gonna test his manhood,” one contestant warns in a three-minute sneak preview. Then someone whispers something that sounds like, “If he fucks with me, Imma burn his house down.”
There’s way too much testosterone in this house. It’s like a real life fight is going to break out any minute. That sort of violence—even the threat of it—ruins the whole “going on a journey to find your prince charming” storyline. Who wants to see a bunch of alpha dudes bro-fight for this lady lawyer? Clearly fewer than tuned in to The Bachelor. Seven million viewers watched The Bachelorette’s yawner of a first episode—an 18 percent drop from the night ABC dropped Juan Pablo on us.
And so I offer a modest proposal: Get rid of The Bachelorette. It’s time for a gay Bachelor. America is ready. I am ready.
Remember when people worried about the first Bachelorette spinoff? They thought a woman courting a dozen men might look slutty. ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne answered the promiscuity question before the 2002 premiere like this: “The show will force all of us to look at what these double standards are.” And at the very same press conference one forward-thinking reporter dared to ask about the possibility of a gay or lesbian love interest. “Right now, there are no rules,” ABC VP Kevin Brockman said. “Anything is possible.” (Brockman is now an executive vice president as well as chairman of the board of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a group that advocates for LGBT youth.)
It’s now been 12 years since that ABC “maybe.” So where is The Gay Bachelor?
Unfortunately, host Chris Harrison addressed this in The New York Times Magazine in February, saying, “Look, if you’ve been making pizzas for 12 years and you’ve made millions of dollars and everybody loves your pizzas and someone comes and says, ‘Hey, you should make hamburgers.’ Why? I have a great business model, and I don’t know if hamburgers are going to sell.”
That’s quite a leap, Chris. No one’s asking you turn The Bachelor into a cooking show. I’m still talking about people, in a house, going on fake dates, and falling in love. Those people would just be all men.
Gay couples can marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia and legal challenges are being fought in 30 states over existing bans. The country’s support for same-sex marriage just reached an all-time high of 55 percent. The first openly gay man was just drafted into the National Football League, which he celebrated by passionately kissing his boyfriend in front of an ESPN audience. Sure, some people were grossed out, but those who reacted in disgust got a well-deserved public shaming. And the outcry only proves that there are simply too few displays of affection and sexuality from gays and lesbians seen every day.
Meanwhile on television, ABC Family’s The Fosters features a multiracial family with two moms and several children both adopted and biological. And Mitch and Cam’s Modern Family wedding last week showed us that simply being gay isn’t the story anymore. As an audience we’re demanding and relishing in the broader, richer portrayal of gays and lesbians. Reality programming already “features some of the most diverse representations of the LGBT community found on television,” according to media advocacy organization, GLAAD. It’s most recent report found ABC tied with Fox for the biggest share of LBGT characters on primetime shows at 5.4 percent.
It would be easy to find The Gay Bachelor’s cast. As Salon’s Daniel D'Addario wrote, “gay people are capable of the same cant and silly sentimentality as straight people. Isn’t that the very idea of gay marriage—that gay folks are entitled to not just the rights inherent in a legal union but all the dopey rhetoric like rings and doves and throwing rice?”
Still “No!” some, gay and straight, will invariably protest. Gays, they’ll say, just won’t work on a show all about finding one true and traditional love (while making out with a dozen on the way). Gay men aren’t so puritanical when it comes to sex, they’re more open, more free to be with the one they love while loving the one they’re with. Or as Juan Pablo inexpertly put it, gay men “are more pervert.”
Slate’s Nathaniel Frank convincingly contends that this view of gay men is an outdated one, based on outdated statistics. He says gays and straights aren’t so different after all, noting that the AIDS crisis and the marriage equality movement have made committed relationships more of a priority for gay men.
Even if gay men are more honest about their sexual desires and habits, they don’t own the rights to sexual non-exclusivity. Experts claim somewhere between 4 million and 15 million Americans are “swingers.” Season 4 Bachelor Bob Guiney reportedly slept with over a dozen of the women on his show. “I heard he went in the bathroom during dates to have sex with the girls,” former Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky said in a recent interview. It should come as no surprise that there are also heterosexuals who engage in a wilder courtship rituals and relationship rules than their more vanilla counterparts.
But back to business: Let’s talk untapped market potential.
In researching this piece, I conducted a very unscientific poll of my gay friends and some of their friends. Only one in twenty had seen a full episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, another had tuned in for a rose ceremony. Another had seen the German version...once.
“The show doesn’t really have natural gay appeal,” says Danny Petre, vice president of Target 10, a marketing agency that helps brands attract gay consumers. By omitting LGBT contestants, ABC is missing out on a huge demographic.
There are no hard numbers when it comes to people who identify as LGBT, thought estimates suggests it probably falls between 3 and 10 percent of the U.S. population. If we split the difference and say 7 percent of people over 16 years old in the U.S. are LGBT, that translates into roughly 17 million possible new viewers, more than twice the number of average Bachelor viewers. And gay and lesbian consumers are just the kind of audience you want to attract.
“Especially with gay men, there’s a social currency in pop culture, just like with straight men, whose social currency is sports,” Petre explains. And, he says, gay men “don’t just talk to their gay and lesbian friends; they talk to their families, their coworkers, and extended social circles and networks. You can get more bang for your buck, so to speak, by targeting gays and lesbian audiences.”
And yes, it might mess with everything we love about The Bachelor. The thought of producers editing gay contestants to look their worst makes me cringe—but while I feel slightly uncomfortable about similar treatment of straight contestants, it doesn’t stop me from watching. And how to make a show about gay men finding love using a construct that is so at odds with the way gay men actually meet and fall in love? The thing is, real straight people don’t meet and fall in love Bachelor-style either—thus the disappointment and almost universal eventual breakup of contestants after the show airs.
What if none of the contestants compete for the chosen one? What if gazes turn toward another contestant? What if the pool parties we’ve come to expect as down time in the Bachelor house turn into one primetime network television gay hookup? (See Funny or Die for this.)
Let me allay producers’ fears: I would watch that so hard. I would watch it with friends and tweet about it with strangers. And there’s no issue with stuffing a house full of people with blurred romantic feelings. Love triangles are what make Bachelor Pad watchable. Season 2 gave us Holly playing romantic ping pong with Michael and Blake. And remember the Chris, Blakeley, Jamie, Sarah square in Season 3? Don’t get stuffy on me now. (And for the actual too-racy-for-primetime moments, edit them out just like you do for the straights.)
ABC is not going to lose the moral majority anyway. Surely that group has long gone since Bachelor No. 1 invited three separate ladies into the fantasy suite (where they have sex). If by some chance the network has managed to keep the church crowd, they’ll definitely lose them by summer if the franchise’s newest creation, Bachelor in Paradise, is all that the network is promising. It’s basically sex on an island. Grantland’s Mark Lisanti says, “Think Temptation Island meets Paradise Hotel”—only the two trashiest, hedonistic, and most beloved hookup reality shows of all time.
Is anyone still holding on to the idea that any of these shows are about love, or family, or values of any kind? Let’s remember our last Bachelor had sex in the ocean with a near stranger. Also everyone is pretty much wasted the entire time. The Bachelor is a show about hooking up, breaking up, and sometimes falling in love. Gay men do that, too.