When The Golden Bachelor was filming, star Gerry Turner discovered his celebrity doppelganger.
Then unknown to the world — months before the golden-era Bachelor spinoff would premiere to record ratings for the ABC franchise — the 72-year-old retired widower was filming one of his hometown dates at the New Jersey shore. People started gathering, noticing the cameras, and executive producer Jason Ehrlich recalls that everyone was freaking out: “A woman was like, ‘Look, it’s Will Ferrell.’ Now, Gerry can’t even go to the pharmacy without people taking his photo.”
The result of that date aired Nov. 2, as Gerry headed to the hometowns of his final three women: Faith, Theresa (the N.J. native) and Leslie. The Women Tell All reunion, highly anticipated Fantasy Suites dates and two-hour finale will follow in the weeks to come. And things have changed for the now very recognizable star of the long-running reality dating franchise, which has seen renewed life thanks to the hopeful senior spinoff that follows Gerry on his second search for true love among 22 age-appropriate women.
Gerry, of Indiana, was married 43 years to his high school sweetheart, Toni, who died suddenly after falling ill from a bacterial infection in 2017. He is the father to two daughters and grandfather to two granddaughters — the women who are ultimately responsible for Gerry landing the ABC gig when they convinced him to apply years ago. When the Warner Bros. series finally began casting the long-gestating spinoff in 2019, they called Gerry — years after he applied — to ask if he was interested. “The call was initially a Zoom, and it did take him a while to get onscreen, because he doesn’t have a laptop with a camera and he couldn’t figure that out at first,” recalls Ehrlich in the below chat with The Music news, where he’s joined by fellow executive producers Claire Freeland and Bennett Graebner. Among thousands of submissions, Gerry’s tape had stood out. “It was really hard to beat him.” Adds Freeland, “It’s very easy to say yes to Gerry. He’s so deserving. He’s like America’s dad.”
Below, the three EPs take THR through the casting process to find their star, share how the women infused life into the show and look ahead to continuing the series — will there be a Golden Paradise? Read on, below.
A golden-era Bachelor series was in the works for years, nearly a decade. What was the impetus that finally got you back to the table to do this?
Bennett Graebner: This is certainly an idea that’s been kicked around for at least a decade. It’s the one idea that comes up when I’m talking to moms and dads at my son’s school. They will often say, “What about a Bachelor for older people?” So, it is the one thing that’s kind of been in the ether forever. And it was in 2019, I believe, that we really decided to pursue it in earnest, but because of the pandemic we had to push pause. And then we came back to it last year and I think, Jay, maybe you’re the best to speak to why we came back to it and our guy Gerry.
Jason Ehrlich: I think the three of us took leadership of the franchise at the beginning of this year and one of the initiatives was that we have this project of… it actually wasn’t even called The Golden Bachelor at the time.
What was the show called?
Ehrlich: (Laughs) It didn’t really have a title, actually. There was a lot of conversations about it. We had been casting for it for a while. And so I think we decided together, “Now is the time. COVID is over, let’s get this going.” We brought in Jacqui Pitman to start casting, and she actually went through the files of people who had submitted over the years; there were thousands of files and she submitted those. It was within the first week that the network wanted to see: “What do we have? What’s in there? Show us somebody.” So we went through and we found this small batch of gentlemen, and Gerry was in that batch. And honestly, once we saw that tape with Gerry, it was really hard to beat him.
Gerry had submitted himself a few years prior. He was watching the show with his daughters. They were fans of the show, he was a fan of the show. They said, “Oh, you should sign up!” And he kind of brushed it off and later that night they called him and he said, “What have I got to lose here, why not?” Then it was years later when we started this new casting initiative that they went through the files, they found Gerry and they really fell in love with him. And once we had Gerry, Jacqui really refocused to find the women. It was then that she put the flier together and it was like, what are we going to call this show? And that’s when The Golden Bachelor title came up, and we really started casting for women. And I will say, Gerry is amazing. He’s an unbelievable find. But it was the marriage of Gerry and these incredible women who we saw in casting that really gave life to the show.
Claire Freeland: At this life stage, for a lot of people we met, male or female, there’s a story. He has a story. He’s experienced real loss. He is sincerely at a life stage where he wants to find somebody else, and have a new connection and find his second great love story. There were so many reasons. He’s surrounded by his wonderfully, supportive family. He’s the most articulate and thoughtful. Every word has so much meaning behind it. He just is all of the things. So it’s very easy to say yes to Gerry. He’s so deserving, too. He’s like America’s dad.
What was that phone call like, for him to get called up by casting after submitting himself years ago. Was it a quick yes?
Ehrlich: The call was initially a Zoom, and it did take him a while to get onscreen, because he doesn’t have a laptop with a camera and he couldn’t figure that out at first.
Graebner: It was hilarious. And that was something that came up quite a bit when we were casting the women as well. Very funny.
Ehrlich: You’ll be happy to know that he now does have a laptop with a camera. But we called him, we saw him over Zoom. And he was every bit what we hoped he would be; he was so kind, so sincere. Everything you see on the show. And it was at that point that we decided we wanted to go film the package with him. And that’s actually all the footage from the beginning of the show where he’s looking at the lake and he’s telling the story of what happened to his wife and their plans for retirement. We have an amazing crew who work with us on The Bachelor, and it was Christina, who is one of our audio personnel, and Jen, who is a camera assistant, and once we shot that package they just kept asking, “Is it going to be Gerry?” Everyone was rooting for him. And it just felt like: This is the guy.
And in truth, there were some other men that we looked at, and talked to and interviewed. But it just kept coming out as Gerry every time, he was so wonderful.
Graebner: I think people were thinking we were going to come out with some 45-year-old silver fox as the Bachelor. That was never going to be the case. We were really looking for someone who was age-appropriate, who had a lot to say and who had lived a life. The Bachelor, maybe in its infancy in the first couple of years, was about finding someone who maybe was wealthy or really well-educated. We now look for someone who has a really big heart. I would say Gerry is most like say [former Bachelor] Ben Higgins, who is often considered to have been a great Bachelor. Ben was working in a cubicle making minimum-wage selling software when we found him. He’s just a great guy with a great story, and Gerry is the same.
Ehrlich: There’s a real genuine quality to Gerry that Ben had. He didn’t have Instagram followers because he didn’t have an Instagram account; nor did he know how to find it and do all of that stuff. He was genuinely there thinking, “Well gosh, I’ve tried to find love. I’m ready to find love. Maybe they can help me do it and this will be a great adventure.” He was there for such a genuine reason and I think that plays through throughout the entire show. He was there to find love and he hoped that he could throughout.
You typically vet through social media, where things even come to you guys. When it comes to vetting a lead who doesn’t have social media — and perhaps, similar for these contestants — what were the challenges?
Freeland: It’s the same diligence, just less comprehensive reports on social media. And if they’re coming from anywhere, it’s really more Facebook for that generation. But, same diligence.
I’ve also seen Gerry joking about STD tests in the application, which is a thorough process. Was there anything different about that process compared to the Bachelor and Bachelorette leads and contestants?
Freeland: It’s exactly the same diligence.
Graebner: I would say, moving forward, we were careful to not subject them to the same kinds of physically intensive dates. Like, there’s no tackle football date on The Golden Bachelor, for example.
Ehrlich: That was actually Gerry’s idea. We had a call and said, “Hey, we’re looking at dates and planning ahead, what are the things you are really interested in and what are the things you want to avoid?” And he said, “I don’t think that the tackle football date would be great for the women on my series.” And I believe that’s where the group pickleball date came from.
Freeland: And I would suggest on that pickleball date, that they still left a lot of that on the court. We saw some pretty epic things on that date from these women.
It can be dangerous!
Freeland: It’s very dangerous.
Ehrlich: We’ve talked a lot about Gerry — everyone loves him, which is great, and is rooting for him, which is so important. But when I look at social media on TikTok and Reddit, it’s really the women who have warmed their way into peoples’ hearts. I saw this TikTok yesterday, it was a young woman, and she said, “I’m actually excited to turn 60! Because I’ve realized so many women have been identified as a mom or a grandmother or a this or that, or for their career and all of that stuff. And these women are themselves. And I can’t wait to just live for myself.” I think they’ve really shown America what being 60 or 70 looks like, and I love the reaction that people have had to that, it’s really remarkable.
Graebner: I think they’ve showed us a lot, too. We’ve really learned a lot from them making the show. I did not anticipate that, it was enlightening.
Ehrlich: I would get off the casting sessions and I would hug my family a lot tighter, because you see that nobody has it easy. Nobody goes through life unscathed. Not just the women on our show, but so many of the women we interviewed have experienced such hardships, such loss, and that’s just part of life. And it taught me, certainly, to appreciate life more; the moments and the things we currently have. I’d get off the Zooms with such a greater appreciation after hearing what people had been through and how unexpected it is.
Freeland: Also, just to normalize the desire for a relationship or a connection or love or romance at that age, at any age, was something that had a lot of meaning for me. These were women who often felt like they were not seen before. They had been the matriarchs in their families and that has been their sole focus, and so to do something for themself that they were seeking and that they were desiring was also a really beautiful thing to celebrate. I think we’ve done that.
You could have cast Real Housewives-types, or “villains.” You didn’t. These women buck ageism by promoting sexiness and grabbing your second or third chance. Was it easy to find these 22 women or difficult?
Freeland: There were so many deserving, incredible men and women, but we met primarily tons of women because of the nature of The Bachelor. Everyone has a story. Every single person at this stage of their life has experienced loss of some kind, whether it’s through the death of a spouse, the loss of children, a divorce of some kind; some of them have been bankrupt. There are just so many deserving women who could have appeared on this show. It’s really difficult, because everybody deserves a chance and it’s never been done before, so there was such a keen interest in it. We were overprescribed in a big way, in terms of applicants. So, it was not hard at all. It was hard to say no to so many.
Ehrlich: The stories that we see, certainly of loss — like Joan, Nancy and Theresa lost their husbands. Divorce with Leslie. But even Ellen, whose best friend Roberta had pancreatic cancer. It’s so heartbreaking. But when Ellen told us that story it was like, this is bigger than someone just coming to find love on the show. This is someone celebrating what real love is, and that it comes in so many different forms. These lives are so rich and filled with all of these stories, and unfortunately loss, and it was great to be able to tell those stories.
Graebner: There was just a lot of positivity from them as well. So while so many had been through loss, they looked back on their lives in a really positive way and, even though some might have lost a partner, they had found great love and spoke quite elegantly about that. So it was a look back, but it was a look back just with an eye on grief and sadness.
Did any of you predict that these would be the final three women standing?
Ehrlich: That’s a great question.
Graebner: We don’t spend a lot of time doing that, actually. People think we do. I think it’s just because I’d be wrong every time. I actually don’t even remember what I thought when we started.
Freeland: The thing with Gerry, too, is that he was so open to exploring all of the connections. He didn’t lock into someone or a couple people right away, and shut the door on any other possibilities. He was really open to the experience and really took the journey. That also helps; the women on the show can feel that. He was very open to hearing what everyone had to say, to engaging in meaningful conversations.
Ehrlich: The three of us have been doing this for quite a long time and, you never know. We always predict: “This is going to be the one!” And you are always shocked and to me, that is the best part of this. This format was set up to basically allow things to unravel and unfold, and we see it as our job to facilitate that. We never know what direction the story is going to go on any given day; it’s why we don’t sleep a lot, because we’re always adjusting for what is happening. But it’s the most exciting part of our show, that it is unscripted and that it does play out. You never know where it will go. And as you get to the end of this season, you will see that play out in a major way. It’s this term we have called, “You ride the lightning.” You just try to let it all unfold as organically as possible, and it’s exciting for us.
Graebner: I’ll tell you where we had some anxiety, I really didn’t know what it was going to feel like when we first saw Gerry in the throes of a passionate makeout. How would that feel? And, turns out, it felt great! And it was romantic and sweet and moving. And if I remember correctly, I think we all cheered when Gerry had his first kiss. That just felt right.
Hometowns has this fun twist where Gerry will meet kids and grandkids, instead of the lead typically meeting parents. There’s been a lot of talk about what the Fantasy Suites will look like. Were there any rules or restrictions from Gerry or the women; how will it play out?
Ehrlich: I will tell you that one big difference is that you will hear the term “Knockin’ boots” more than once, which is so odd and weird! But other than that, they really used the Fantasy Suites and were open to them, and saw them as an opportunity to really get to know these women. And I will tell you, one thing that really was great about Gerry is that he was always open, until he knew that he wasn’t. And so when he’s with someone, that relationship is all that matters. And so as we get down towards the end, it gets really intense and difficult and emotional, and things play out in ways we’ve never seen before. And it’s because he stayed open and really wanted to get to the end of this with a person that he was sure he explored everything with, and he was sure his decision as right. In order to do that, he didn’t close off. He stayed open. And it’s really powerful.
Graebner: We also realized something different at the end. On The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, these are people who are looking to start a life together. And I did not anticipate this, but it was really two people looking to join lives together, and that’s very different.
Freeland: The criteria and conditions are different. Things that they have to think about when they are at that life stage versus when they are starting have a little more strings attached. Like, “Where are we going to live because I need to be with my grandchildren?” is a little different than, “I’m going to leave my parents,” which we’re all conditioned to do. “Are we retired?” and “Financially, are we secure? Do we have a plan for these things?” The different considerations were something that I don’t think we anticipated as much, but I think really showed up towards the end. It was just mature adults being really thoughtful of: How do we have a life together with all of our responsibilities and obligations?
You see the record ratings and positive feedback. Where are you in expanding this franchise: Will there be The Golden Bachelorette? Golden Paradise? Will there be a Golden Girls-style spinoff with the “ASKN Crew”? And, to follow up on that: Since there is such a positive reaction to this show’s wholesomeness, will you infuse any of that into The Bachelor and The Bachelorette?
Ehrlich: To answer your first question, we’re really hopeful that this continues to expand. People are really liking the stories that we’re telling, and so I’m really interested to see. It will be different; it will be almost like doing it for the first time all over again with The Golden Bachelorette. What is it going to be like with 20-some older men living in the Bachelor Mansion? We don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it will be different and interesting. And that’s what makes me want to watch.
And in terms of your other question, I think those genuine qualities are what’s always made The Bachelor great: hope of finding love; real relatable, genuine people who are looking for love. And as you’ll see play out in Gerry’s ending, what’s so brilliant about it is the impossible decisions that come along the way. And watching people navigate those feelings where they have deep feelings for more than one person. And it will affect the rest of my life so, what do I do? That’s always inherently what I find interesting to watch.
Freeland: For me, looking ahead, to your question about the wholesomeness, what I have loved about making this show for a long time is that people always ask me, “Why has it lasted so long?” I think it’s just because the themes and this pursuit of a great love is completely universal and timeless. I’m interested in the thoughtful, complete love stories and so if that means more wholesome? Sure. Inevitably, there will be more conflict along the way, and setbacks and obstacles and all of that is good for any interesting story. But I just want to keep telling full, thoughtful, complete love stories.
Graebner: I think I’ve worked on 40-plus seasons of The Bachelor franchise. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt better in my heart than while working on Golden Bachelor, and I hope we have a chance to do it again.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
The Golden Bachelor airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC, leading to a Nov. 30 two-hour finale.