'The Bachelorette': How Sex Sold Kaitlyn's Season to Viewers

Ratings were way up this season, which was by far the most sexualized run of the venerable dating franchise.
Nick Viall and Kaitlyn Bristowe on 'The Bachelorette'

ABC may start seeing future sex scandals on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette through rose-colored glasses.

The Bachelorette suffered through series lows during 2014's run with Andi Dorfman, but it bounced back in a major way with its recently concluded 11th season, starring Kaitlyn Bristowe. This season averaged a 2.5 rating in the target adults 18-49 demo, compared with season 10's 2.2.

The ABC dating show broke numerous long-standing traditions en route to its ratings resurgence — starting with a lot more sex. The season's promos highlighted Bristowe sleeping with eventual runner-up Nick Viall in an early episode, along with the fallout as she tearfully told eventual winner Shawn Booth about her night of passion.

Sex always has been a presumed part of the equation for the franchises, but they long have been loathe to directly suggest that the contestants consummate things on the show, instead merely hinting at such activity during evenings referred to euphemistically as "fantasy-suite dates." But this season was different, as the episode in which Bristowe and Viall first did the deed featured an onscreen caption of Viall's line, overheard from behind their closed bedroom door: "I want to know every part of you."

Speaking of those fantasy-suite dates, this season was the first time the show aired footage of the couples in their hotel room on the morning after the night of off-camera bonding. This meant viewers got to see Viall shirtless and Bristowe in her sleepwear while they enjoyed room service and discussed the finer points of Canadian bacon (Bristowe is from British Columbia).

But the differences between this season and previous ones were not limited to those of the carnal variety. The year's journey began with the 25 men voting between Bristowe and her fellow Bachelor season 19 also-ran Britt Nilsson to determine which woman would be the focal point of the season — a gimmick attempted only once by The Bachelor, back in season six.

Viall's presence itself was a major difference from previous seasons. Never before has a returning castmember become such a key figure — not to mention that Viall widely was seen as the villain of Dorfman's season, in which he was also the runner-up. In past seasons, a former contestant would often ask to join the fray and be permitted to participate for an episode or two, until the star got fed up with the pushback from the other competitors and showed the returnee the door. But this season, Viall had a previously established romantic connection with Bristowe — another typical no-no for the franchise.

The show's format itself even was tinkered with this time around. Since The Bachelor's debut back in 2002, each rose ceremony — in which the star bestows flowers on the lucky contestants who survive to the next episode — has taken place at the end of each episode. For Kaitlyn's run, the rose ceremonies were seen well before each episode's end, with the final scene instead featuring a fight or conflict that was concluded in the following episode in order to entice viewers to return. Indeed, almost every episode in Bristowe's season ended with the words "To be continued."

Can The Bachelorette continue to build on this momentum in years to come, particularly if there's no buzz-generating storyline like the one Bristowe and Viall provided? The answer to that is "to be continued," as well.

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@THR.com
Twitter: @_Ryan.Gajewski

comments powered by Disqus