11:28am PT by Jackie Strause
'Bachelorette': Veteran Producer on ABC's "Compelling" and "Imperfect" Season
More than a year before The Bachelorette would go on to make its debut in 2003, Nicole Woods joined the team behind the long-running ABC reality dating franchise.
It was late 2001 — "Nov. 14, 2001" to be precise, Woods tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding, "I don’t know how I remember that, but that was my first day of work."
After working on the first two seasons of The Bachelor, which premiered in March 2002 with "the world's most eligible bachelor," Alex Michel, and was followed by season two's Aaron Buerge, Woods and the entire franchise team shifted gears to put a woman in charge of handing out the roses. Trista Sutter (Trista Rehn at the time) went from being the first Bachelor runner-up to starring in the female-led spinoff when The Bachelorette launched in 2003 — and she is still married to her winner.
"When we first started, there was no role model. Nobody really knew really how to do reality TV and we figured out a lot of things by trial and error," says executive producer Woods, speaking to THR after wrapping on season 15 of The Bachelorette, which is currently airing with Hannah Brown. "When we started, the show was eight one-hour episodes, and now it’s 10 two-hour episodes plus a bunch of specials. We barely traveled; it was primarily L.A.-based. Since then, we’ve doubled in size, if not tripled, as far as our staff and crew. We have more elaborate dates. We are also multi-generational. You can see it in the Chris Harrison tribute we did on the live Bachelor premiere last season that even down to the wardrobe, the show has evolved a lot."
After charging her way up the ranks, Woods is entering her 18th year with a franchise that continues to pump out season after season (The Bachelor has been renewed for its 24th cycle in 2020, and the spinoff Bachelor in Paradise returns with season six this summer). In her first in-depth discussion about the entities, the veteran female boss — who is referred to as "the glue" behind the scenes — peels back the curtain on the reality TV hit and explains why the current Bachelorette is the best pick for an evolving franchise.
When did you start working on the franchise and how has your role changed?
I started working in production when we were casting season one of The Bachelor. I began in production management and kind of grew up that way, handling a lot of the logistics. At one point, we were bridging the gap between story and creative and the logistics, and I started to transition over. People say that I’m kind of the glue that helps hold it all together. (Laughs.)
As a big-picture producer, what is your day-to-day like on a season like Hannah Brown's?
A couple of years ago I would have gone to all the various locations to make sure everything was put together and ready for the cast and crew — we have teams everywhere. Then I started traveling with the lead and the other executive producers and that worked much better. I was able to be with them when the story was happening, anticipate how things might happen and then help broadcast that to the masses within the show. Being with the core group that is filming in the last couple years has really helped the flow of communication.
What is your vantage point on night one?
I actually get to sit back and watch it all unfold, which is really exciting and interesting and different for me. This season, specifically, I’ve never laughed so hard because Hannah is just so funny. I’m behind the scenes and not out there with the cast or moving them around. I certainly cannot stay up until the sun comes up like the rest of the producers.
Since wrapping Bachelorette, you are now into prep for Bachelor in Paradise. How many months out of the year are you working on this franchise?
We try to find pockets for everybody to have downtime. December is usually a quiet time — except this last year we had the live Bachelor premiere, so that kept us all busy, and then the year before that we had [Olympics-themed spinoff] Winter Games. The three shows take up the whole year for everybody, between press and production. But as far as being out of town and on the road filming, it’s about four-and-a-half months total for everybody. Maybe five.
What are some of the biggest personal challenges of the demanding schedule? What keeps you coming back?
I’ve been with the show for 17.5 years, so I have had a lot of ups and downs. But what I've appreciated is that especially now, I do think the world is embracing life balance a little bit more and we support that on the show. We let people bring significant others or their kids on the road if they want. I wasn't there to film the ending of The Bachelorette so I could bank some home time before we go to Mexico [for Bachelor in Paradise]. We help cover each other and if a personal crisis comes up, which happens, that's real life. We’re all a big family. My whole family lives in LA., and I see the people that I work with more than I see my family. (Laughs.) We also have people on the show — if you’re single, it’s a little bit hard to date — who are no longer single and who met their spouses on the show. And I take pride in the fact that I’ve been able to stay on the same show for 17-plus years. Someone else just had her 10-year anniversary and that’s pretty remarkable. Our turnover rate is not very big at all and to have that job security in the world of reality/freelance television is really rewarding.
The Bachelorette has a very quick shoot and on-air turnaround compared to The Bachelor, which airs in January. How does that make The Bachelorette more challenging? What's different about the process?
As far as the timeline goes, the air dates are an obvious difference. When it comes to The Bachelor, we don’t have a grand finale to keep it fresh in everyone’s mind where we can keep the momentum going like we have when going into The Bachelorette. But they do have the same amount of responsibility and the same amount of pressure. When the lead signs on, they really are looking for it to work with us. And they really are treated as equals. They have to juggle the same amount of relationships, kiss the same amount of people — by choice, of course — and they have to break hearts. They learn a lot about themselves and struggle with their own insecurities and fears along the way.
There has traditionally been a sexist response to the intimacy that a Bachelorette shows compared to a Bachelor. How does having a female lead differ from the male stars? And are those conversations that you have with Brown, for example, when it comes to the gender dynamics at play?
We really follow their lead on that. We don’t want them to feel pressured into doing something they don’t want to do, especially when it comes to intimacy — whether it’s the Fantasy Suites or kissing with someone. We’ve approached it the same with all the past seasons, but especially now. We really respect what their own personal boundaries are and yet we make sure they know that part of getting to know someone is seeing if you have chemistry.
How do the Bachelorette contestants compare to the women on The Bachelor? Chris Harrison said this season gets physical, which is something that has happened before when you have 30 men in the house fighting over one woman. What surprised you about the men this season?
I think what we have learned as producers of this show is that when we lean into what’s really happening, it makes for more compelling television. To talk about Hannah, part of why we chose her is that she is as imperfect as we all are and she totally owns it. We felt that was truly authentic to her and that’s why that is a key theme for us this season because you will see that in the show. It doesn’t mean that other people haven’t been that way in the past, but I think that she really embraces that side of her.
It’s more accessible and well-received now to show your imperfections. It’s so much better to not have everything be just perfect. Because that’s real life and embracing that is what we’re leaning into. Hannah embraces that about herself, which is why it was a good fit for this season.
Brown spoke about how the experience made her feel empowered. In this post-#MeToo era and with a spotlight always on the franchise, are you happy that you have her leading the show at this time?
One of the things that we have talked about that stands out about Hannah is that she's at a point in her life where she's coming into her own skin as a woman on this journey. She's embracing that and feeling empowered by it, and she’s not afraid of the feelings that come along with it. What's great about The Bachelorette is that it's a woman in power being able to exercise her voice and be in charge. It's putting women in the forefront of the decision-making, and that goes for all of the Bachelorettes.
But I think what people will relate to is the less-polished part. The other thing I appreciate about Hannah is that this is her experience and not anyone else’s. No matter what people say to her, she’s going to make the decisions for herself and not make them until she knows they are the right ones for her. If you overanalyze everything you can easily get confused by other peoples’ opinions — I can’t imagine being in her position and dating so many people. She stays really open and engaged and treats every relationship as if it’s the only one. I commend her for that because it’s a lot to take on.
After getting got off to a rocky start with her live debut, the first three episodes show that Brown found her footing. Now that you’ve wrapped, how was she doing by the end of the season?
I think she's held onto staying true to who she is the whole time. She feels things deeply and isn’t afraid to show that, and that’s something that I struggle with still. That’s all very relatable. She will fall over her words and doesn’t know where to put her hands, and that awkwardness is also really endearing and charming. Whereas, you have the Instagram perfection — that doesn’t make anyone on the other side feel any better about themselves. So she's very relatable in that way.
Brown used her Miss USA platform to speak about anxiety and depression and said The Bachelorette was another place she wanted to be candid about those issues. Will this season open a dialogue about anxiety?
Because of my schedule I haven’t seen all of the show, but we really tried to embrace all of those things as they come up along the way and really follow her on this journey, rather than hit all the check marks. When she isn’t feeling great, she expresses it. That is what we’re going to show. And when she’s feeling amazing, we’ll showcase that as well.
How would you say Brown feels by the end?
Totally exhausted! The last couple of weeks are the most informative. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but when I last saw her, she was down to four guys and really having to make the tough decision soon. But also, she was falling for these guys.
Since you left early to prep for Paradise, do you get real-time updates?
I do but, it’s hard to keep up because they were 10 hours ahead of me. I get text messages, but it’s different than being able to see how it’s all unfolding. That’s another hard part about not being there.
What can you say about the trailer scene where Brown is sobbing into Chris Harrison’s arms: Is that this season’s “fence jump” moment?
My first question is — which time? I think that might have happened more than once! And that's another point, the fact that she feels comfortable enough to just let it out and get a hug when she needs a hug. Everyone needs that. I really appreciated that when we were filming. It was refreshing to see. I don’t know that I could tell you what this season’s fence jump is going to be. There might be a couple! I’m really excited for this season, I think it’s going to be very good.
The casting was a little different this season. Thirty-three names were released early, and 30 made the final cut after Bachelor Nation helped to eliminate potentially bad seeds, which was an idea from ABC reality chief Rob Mills after Becca Kufrin’s controversial season. On the premiere, one contestant was kicked off for having a relationship back home. (On Monday’s episode, contestant Tyler G. was also removed without viewers seeing his exit.) How has social media impacted the Bachelor and Bachelorette process?
I am not that hip to social media. Because I have no time! But it has helped us have access to more information — to Rob’s point — in a way that we haven’t utilized before. It’s a lot easier for our cast to find out about each other or connect with each other before they’re on the show. After the show, it’s hard to manage them from talking to each other, but that’s part of this age. You can’t control it. Social media has also been a wonderful thing for the show by providing us with new tools and exposure that we weren’t receiving 10 years ago. I think it’s helped us become more of a household name.
It used to be viewed as a negative if it was uncovered that contestants spoke to each before the season, but recently it’s become a part of the story and drama on Paradise. Do you keep that in mind?
The best thing about social media is that it also helps us keep track of everybody — figure out what they’re up to, what they’re doing and who they’re hanging out with. So for Paradise, it’s been a helpful tool. We don’t love that they all talk to each other beforehand, but it also hasn’t hurt us. If anything, it gives us more stories to come out where one person was sliding into the DMs of another and then that becomes a topic of conversation in the show.
Anything you can tease about the upcoming season of Paradise?
What I will say is that the cast is shaping up to be a really good one, but I can’t get into specifics!
How do you think Brown's season and this summer's Paradise will do in the diversity department — will it move the franchise any closer to having its first nonwhite Bachelor?
It depends on the person being ready for that part of his life and making that decision. I know we have a lot of great guys this season. The good thing is that Bachelor is not for six more months, so we have time to figure that out.
The Bachelorette airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.