Behind 'The Bachelor'

Mike Fleiss learned a thing or two from "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire." After all, he was one of the producers on the Darva Conger debacle back in 2000. After waiting a couple years, Fleiss retooled the concept and refashioned it as "The Bachelor," which is now in the middle of a far less controversial six-week run on ABC. Still, one female critic called it "degrading, debasing, desperate, depressing, dull and dopey."

"We made an effort to make it more like real life," says Fleiss, who hand-picked Alex Michel, the tall, dark and all-too-happy Harvard grad who began the show with 25 potential mates and who has now whittled his choices down to four. On Monday, April 15, he'll meet each of their parents, and the next week, on April 22, he'll have "overnight intimate dates" with three of them. Now guys, before you download that application for "The Bachelor II," read on. You might find yourself asked to be on "The Bachelorette," which will turn the concept on its ear once again. NEWSWEEK's B. J. Sigesmund ran a few questions by the producer.

NEWSWEEK: What lessons from "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire" did you take to "The Bachelor"?

Mike Fleiss: Well, "Millionaire" was the completely opposite concept. It was about people who didn't know each other getting married. This is about people getting to know each other. In this, we're trying to mirror a natural courting process.

Why did you pick Alex Michel?

He was what we were looking for, the prototype bachelor, relatively good-looking and successful, well educated and funny. He had a vulnerability that we liked. He was also sincere about trying to find a woman.

On the show, each of the women has an option to refuse Alex's offer to go on to the next round. Where did that idea come from?

It's all part of the mirroring of the courtship process. That happens in real life, too. No one's forced to stay with anyone. Those are the normal dating ground rules.

What has the viewer e-mail been like?

Thick and intense. The network's amazed. People feel very strongly about the show. Some people can't believe we're allowed to put this on TV. Other people love it as great drama or sometimes comedy. But everyone's talking about the show.

What do you think this show keys into that's made it popular?

It's certainly voyeuristic, and it's something you've never seen before. People want to see two things. First, they want to see how women compete for the affection of a guy. Second, they want to see what goes through a guy's head when he's trying to figure out the best woman for him--his true love--and to understand the psychology that goes along with it.

This show's been called many things, but mostly sexist. How do you respond to that kind of criticism?

This is for entertainment. The people on the show were happy to be there. Everyone involved said they'd do it again in a second. In fact, we hope to do "The Bachelorette."

Can't wait. Please go on.

Well, this is just a starting point for us. We want to do the concept in reverse, with one great woman selecting from 25 guys. We're talking about it now.

"The Bachelorette" would be a very different enterprise. Would men be willing to do this?

Yeah. Men would behave differently in that situation. They probably won't be as conversational about things. They'll either shut up or fight.

It would really say a lot about how men operate.

It would be a weird sociological experiment, that's for sure. It would be a different type of competition, men competing for women. Ultimately, it boils down to the same stuff, but it would play differently on TV.

Is there interest at network level?

Absolutely. I would love to do it, and I hope we get the chance.

Will you make it before "The Bachelor II"?

No, most likely we'll do another "Bachelor" first.

Let's talk about the women on the current show. They're really together--they're strong, smart, really gorgeous. Yet a lot of them complain that they have trouble finding boyfriends. In your opinion, why is that?

I don't know. I've been married for 15 years. I have no explanation for that.

C'mon, you're a pro at this. Give it a shot.

In my limited experience with single women, I've noticed that most of them are looking for boyfriends. But I will say that it's not uncommon to meet a single guy who wants to stay single.

Now we're getting somewhere. So why is that?

I don't know. I have no f-cking idea. I love marriage.

So here's what we all want to know. Is Alex the bachelor actually going to be able to go to bed with any of these women before he marries one of them?

Yes, in Episode 5, and it's everyone's favorite. That's when they all go on their overnight intimate dates.

Whoa! Sex? On TV? So he can actually sleep with these women?

He can sleep with them anytime he wants. He's a consenting adult. But yes, Episode 5 is running on all cylinders. Not just for the intimate dates, either. It's a great episode. Huge drama. And a shocking end.

Why is the series finale on Thursday, April 25, instead of a Monday, April 29?

They had a scheduling conflict. The Gilda Radner movie [a biopic starring Jamie Gertz] is on that night.

My understanding is there's a reunion special at 8 p.m., followed by the finale at 9 p.m.?

Right. Two hours of "Bachelor" action. It's a compliment that ABC thinks we can go in there and fight it out, since Thursday night is the toughest night in TV. First we have a reunion special that's going up against "Friends" and "Survivor" at 8 p.m. Then the finale's against "CSI" at 9 p.m. and the rest of the NBC shows. But we think people are going to tune into us for sure.

Last question. Does anyone get paid for this show?

I get paid.

Not Alex?


And none of the women?

They get little stipends, but not money. A couple hundred bucks here and there, only for the people who have to spend a month on the show, to cover phone bills and stuff. There are no prizes. Everyone we picked was there because they were looking for love.