How ‘The Golden Bachelor’ Could Revitalize the Reality TV Franchise

The Golden Bachelor

Gerry Turner, the 71-year-old "Golden Bachelor," already became something of a pop culture phenomenon before the first episode of the eponymous reality series even aired. Photo: Courtesy of Citytv

He has fewer sunsets ahead of him than he has behind him.

A cold truth, but also a liberating one, that sits like dew atop the roses that Gerry Turner is set to begin handing out this week on network television.

A 71-year-old silver fox from Indiana, better known now in the zeitgeist as the Golden Bachelor, he has become the thing he probably never expected: a pop culture obsession unto himself. Not to mention, a Marco Polo of sorts of the reality TV arts: the first-ever septuagenarian in a genre-busting iteration of a massive reality show franchise more than two decades in (27 seasons of the youth-obsessed The Bachelor, specifically; 20, likewise, of The Bachelorette; innumerable globe-spanning copycat shows; even its own hornier spin-off known as Bachelor in Paradise).

Having lived through Beatlemania, Reaganomics and the arrival of the World Wide Web, a marriage and widowhood, children and grandchildren, a lot is riding on the taut shoulders of Gerry (pronounced Gary) Turner. For one, he will be representing a generation that was the first reared on TV — on TV. Secondly, he will be helping put older love squarely in the mainstream (building, in an even more quotidian way, on stories that have only in recent history been captured in movies, like It’s Complicated and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or shows such as Grace and Frankie).

Score one for the boomers?

Ironically, “ABC is looking to a widowed Midwestern retiree to save The Bachelor, as Variety pointed out not long ago in a feature article. On the cusp of the strikes that had shaken Hollywood recently — and brought scripted production to a stall in the TV sphere — plus the fragmentation, in general, of the TV audience due to streaming and social media (The Bachelor still gets outsize viewers in this context, but it has also had inevitable slippage), executives are said to thrilled by the scale of excitement around The Golden Bachelor. That buzz only soared when Turner was revealed to be the leading man in July.


The Golden Bachelor
Gerry Turner presents one of the eligible women with a red rose at a closing ceremony on ‘The Golden Bachelor.’ Photo: Courtesy of Citytv


“The reaction is bigger than anything we could have dreamed of,” gushed Rob Mills, executive vice-president, Unscripted and Alternative Entertainment, at Walt Disney Television, who has overseen the franchise since 2006. “Instinctually, we knew this had the opportunity to really touch a nerve, and become something bigger than even The Bachelor.”

Get this: since Turner’s casting, there have been more than 250 million online hits and press mentions. Turner’s reveal marked the most successful launch of any Bachelor — ever. When his cast of suitors (all women, age 60 and up) were unveiled some weeks later, that video alone drew 36 million views on social media within days.

Ranging in age from 60 to 75, these 22 women hope to find a forever love with the Golden Bachelor. Photo: Courtesy of Citytv


Love is love: which is the reaction the show seemed to tap into. Also, of course, this all-consuming, root-able conceit: It’s never too late.

The only question I personally have for this shiny, new lane of The Bachelor/Bachelorette: What took them so long? Human stories are universal, for sure, and can cross generations, if they are told right.

To that point, I found myself thinking back to the very young me who was obsessed with daytime soap operas as a kid a devotee of The Young and the Restless, All My Children, Guiding Light, Days of Our Lives, etc. I bring this up mainly because even though those respective shows usually had younger set storylines, which kept me coming back and had me in thrall, they featured mostly older characters! Their foibles, their twists and turns, their love sagas, not to mention characters like like Katherine Chancellor (played by the late Jeanne Cooper) on Y&R or Erica Kane (a.k.a. Susan Lucci) on AMC. It went against the grain of the idea that young people are only interested in younger people’s stories. If anything, the lives of more mature people were more layered, more poignant.

And, hopefully, The Golden Bachelor leans into that, for what are these kinds of continuing reality shows if not modern soap operas using many of the same tropes?

Similarly, it is what one content creator, Bach Rants, expressed when she tweeted: “One of the things I’m excited for about Golden Bachelor is a cast of women who won’t necessarily be impressed by the Bachelor by default. They’ve lived lives! They’ve had deep loves already! They know what they want!”

The Golden Bachelor
Turner meets one of the ladies of ‘The Golden Bachelor’ at the opening ceremony. Photo: Courtesy of Citytv


Something else that The Golden Bachelor potentially promises to longtime denizens of what is often called Bachelor Nation: A return to a more innocent era of the shows, pre-social media. While there was, of course, always an element of some contenders only going on the shows to become famous or use this TV platform to leverage their own careers — rather than finding love, or in addition to finding love — it has become much more common in the last decade. Many contestants on the show see The Bachelor/ Bachelorette chiefly as a foray to be become influencers.

Turner himself touched on this when asked about this phenomenon of the reality franchise in an interview. Yes, he agreed, That also helps me make good decisions. I don’t have to [worry] someone’s trying to launch a TV career or increase their followers. All I have to focus on is their reaction to me and my emotional reaction to them. Can’t say that it makes the job simpler, but it does streamline it.” 

The extent to how much this mature version of the show clings to many of the established tropes of the show remains, however, an open question. Perhaps less canoodling in hot tubs and more serious conversations about love (and life) in the third act?

I’m not looking for Toni 2.0, is what Turner has said, specifically, referring to his late wife, and his expectations for this new journey. It’s an altogether different game at 70 than with your high school sweetheart.

The Golden Bachelor premieres Thursday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m., EDT on Citytv and stream anytime on Citytv+.


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