How ‘The Golden Bachelor’ Found Its Hit-Making Heart in Gerry Turner

The idea for “The Golden Bachelor” had been floating around ABC for the better part of a decade, before a meditation on who could be the leading man of a senior-led show finally got the spin-off off the ground.

“It felt like the public was anticipating the first Golden Bachelor as some 50-year-old shredded multimillionaire with sundrenched abs,” said Bennett Graebner, exec-producer and showrunner alongside Jason Ehrlich and Claire Freeland. “It was never gonna be that guy—that’s not the show we wanted to make. We wanted to find a guy with the biggest heart.”

The project had been in development for more than four years before casting producer Jacqui Pitman sifted through thousands of submissions—30,000 by the time production began—and found Gerry Turner’s profile. “When we saw Gerry, it was like, ‘That’s the guy,’” Ehrlich said, noting the 72-year-old widower from Indiana exuded a kindness and warmth they sensed would make for the perfect leading man.

The initial Zoom casting session hit a few bumps—Turner used a computer without a camera—but lived up to the producers’ expectations. The trio smiled during the entire call. When Gerry explained how he lost his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years to illness just weeks into her retirement, his endearing spirit set the tone for the show.

The EPs approached the series with a core philosophy they dubbed the “triple H”—hope, heart and humor—rather than leaning into stereotypes of senior dating, like a group meetup at a bingo hall. “It would have been easy for us to make a more comedic version of this show, and we knew pretty early on that didn’t feel right. We didn’t want the audience to be laughing at these people,” Graebner said. “They deserved our respect … This was really about the stories that they had to tell on the lives that they lived and the love that they were still looking for.”

Turner picked from a group of 22 women in their 60s and 70s whose stories of heartbreak and loss enthralled the fanbase known as “Bachelor” Nation, which flooded social media with appreciation for the women’s vivacity and resilience. They wore their hearts on their sleeves not only while courting Turner but also while befriending each other, styling each other’s hair before dates or playing truth or dare over pints of ice cream.

“It made getting older a little less scary to me. We’re all aging—it’s the one thing we have in common,” Freeland said, noting senior people, and especially women, are seldom celebrated by mainstream media. “Seeing the way that these women were coming at this with this sincere desire to connect not just with Gerry but with one another made me excited about getting older and the relationships that can happen when you get there.” (The three exec-producers are in their 40s and 50s.)

“The Golden Bachelor” became an immediate hit, outpacing viewership for the most recent seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” with 4.7 million average viewers and winning over both loyal fans and older newcomers. Of the three EPs, only Freeland anticipated that success. “The space is so crowded,” she said, adding that the show is a refreshing change of pace from typical reality dating shows populated by contestants in their 20s and 30s lamenting what they call their last chance at love.

Turner concluded “The Golden Bachelor” with a proposal to his final rose pick, Theresa Nist, and the pair subsequently tied the knot in ABC’s live “Golden Wedding” special in January 2024, which reunited fan favorites across the franchise. Alas, their love proved ephemeral: A few weeks after the showrunners’ interview with us, Turner and Nist announced they had filed for divorce. In the real world, marriage is hard.

But a short-lived coupling likely won’t deter Bachelor Nation fans from coming back for more. When they spoke to us, the producers were preparing for the first night of production for the 21st season of The Bachelorette, all while keeping an eye further down the road: The Golden Bachelorette has been greenlit to premiere this fall, with contestant Joan Vassos in the title role. “We lead with our hearts to make this show,” said Ehrlich. “We hope to continue to do so as we sit here ready for the next one.”

This story first ran in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.

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