Why Ten and Osher Günsberg are still banking on the Bachelor franchise

Ahead of tonight’s premiere of the second season of Bachelor In Paradise, Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston speaks with host Osher Günsberg about why consumers engage with the show and what that means commercially for Australia's third commercial television network.

If you’re speaking to Osher Günsberg about his work in TV, chances are it’s regarding the Bachelor franchise. He’s been the emotive frontman of the show and its spin-offs since it first hit screens in 2013, and his name has become synonymous with Ten’s reality programming. But before we begin discussing Bachelor in Paradise, the newest addition to the franchise in Australia and the first one which will hit screens when it premieres tonight, there’s a more pressing question. Will 2019 be the year we see Günsberg take out the Gold Logie?

Unfortunately for me, when I ask Günsberg what he thinks his chances are, he looks it up while I’m on the phone. The outlook isn’t good.

“I’m looking it up now and I’m ninth on the list tied with Nick Cummins. I’m behind Waleed [Aly], Tracy [Grimshaw], [Peter] Hellier and Grant Denyer. Nup. It’s not going to happen,” he laughs. Luckily he’s not bitter.

A furious campaign has been spearheaded by Junkee Media’s Punkee for the past few months. The youth publisher, which was arguably built on a foundation of Bachelor recaps, have been pushing #Osher4Gold, culminating in a series of videos starring Günsberg.

So while it may be an unlikely prospect he takes the Gold, it won’t be for a lack of trying on Punkee’s part, and it’s an interesting tick of approval for how popular Günsberg is with younger audiences, an important factor for Ten which champion itself as the under 50s network.

2018 was a complicated year for the Bachelor franchise in Australia. Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins stepped into the Bachelor role, following the successful casting off Sophie Monk in 2017, and managed to pull a premiere audience of 940,000 metro viewers – slightly behind Monk’s 951,000.

But when Cummins didn’t select a partner at the end of his season, fans were quick to turn, countless op-eds were launched and he quickly left the country for Papua New Guinea.

2018’s Bachelorette season saw Ali Oetjen try for her third chance at love via the franchise. The series, however was plagued by scandalous claims from her exes and the growing sense that Oetjen was not resonating with large-scale audiences in the way Monk and Cummins could. The show opened to just 631,000 metro viewers, the lowest in the franchise’s history.

Last year also saw Australian consumers get their first dose of Bachelor in Paradise, the format which sees ex-Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants return and give love another go, with each other. It had a metro audience of 750,000 on premiere, but dominated social media chatter and youth-orientated publications.

Buoyed by the inclusion of popular contestants, social media was alight with discussion which is something Ten is hoping to deliver on again in 2019.

“Anytime you put a second album out you want to keep the things that made the first album great, but you also want a couple of surprises to go with the greatest hits. I think the biggest drawcard, which I can’t recommend enough, it’s incredibly compelling viewing, is Alex and Richie,” says Günsberg.

Coming off the back of season one which saw polarising contestants like Keira Maguire and Jarrod Woodgate, who ultimately found love with each other, Bachelor in Paradise season two is bringing in Alex Nation and Richie Strahan.

The couple could be viewed as a failure for the franchise. Paired together during Strahan’s time as the Bachelor, they split shortly after. But Ten has managed to get them back on board for Bachelor in Paradise, and is hoping the drama that ensues will hook viewers in.

Ten will be showing the entire scene, uncut. Awkward pause after awkward pause. But Günsberg says Ten isn’t interested in delivering trainwreck TV.

“We are the first people in the history of the franchise to have a hero, a Bachelor, and the woman that he chose come back to Paradise. And we’ve seen enough reality now to know that editing happens, and some conversation can be missed, but we’re going to show the conversation between Alex and Richie unedited. And to do that, we’re going to split the screen, which nobody has really done in primetime,” he explains of the technique.

“We are trying to get people to fall in love, and we’re trying to get people to put a ring on it. Which has happened, several times. That’s what sets us apart [from other reality dating shows]. It’s like comparing Great Australian Bake Off to Masterchef, yes there’s cooking, yes there’s a time element, but they’re two completely different shows.”

Speaking of comparisons, you can’t talk reality TV in Australia currently without mentioning Married At First Sight. Nine’s ratings winner has been untouchable, regularly hitting over 1.5m metro viewers and delivering the network with a share win any time it’s on air.

There has also been substantial backlash to the dramatic plot lines, especially in light of the suicide death of Love Island UK contestant Mike Thalassitis. ABC News breakfast host Michael Rowland called the show “the absolute cesspit of TV” and one of the contestants revealed on Kiis’ Kyle and Jackie O Sydney breakfast radio program that she had received death threats since the show has ended*.

As someone who is praised for his honest discussion of his own mental health, Günsberg says looking after contestants after the camera stops rolling has been a vital part of his involvement in the Bachelor franchise, and something he’s been involved in since his days as a host of Australian Idol.

“Back in the early days of [Australian] Idol when we were still doing Top 40, so there would be 10 or so kids every night who would have their dreams ended, I said to my EP, ‘There are 2m people watching this, this 17 year old has been the most famous person in the country for the last three days and now he’s out and tomorrow he’ll be back at Greater Union serving choc tops, so we’ve got to help this person.’”

Ten reality contestants are screened before filming begins and once they leave the show they are given ongoing support for as long as it’s required, Günsberg explains. He believes the duty of care for the contestants comes first in the Bachelor franchise, and that everyone involved in the process is focused on that first and foremost.

“There’s a way of being able to show someone having a vulnerable moment, and that’s enough. There’s a way to get that shot and show in the story that a person is heartbroken right now, but then there’s a way of really really pushing that. I’ve seen our director, on more than one occasion, say ‘Nup. We’ve got enough. We all know she’s hurt, there’s no need to go any further than that.’”

Ten is keen to highlight the engagement their programming achieves, although it may not deliver in the ratings like other reality TV franchises. This creates an interesting commercial prospect, it believes. If you’re not promised 1.8m viewers a night, you need to have something else to encourage advertising spend. Ten does this via an uncanny ability to create moments people don’t stop talking about.

Indeed last time consumers saw Richie and Alex, viewers were famously watching them in a chocolate bath, the image of which has lived on past their relationship, for better or for worse. When Ten’s reality content is at its best, it creates moments which live on long past when the show ends, which the network argues is what sets it apart from other content which may rate higher.

Australian Survivor has provided commercial partner KFC with endless GIF opportunities and plenty of Twitter mileage by offering its food as a reward for hungry contestants, Ten says.

“Our show itself plays only a part of the enjoyment people get from watching. People watch it communally, they enjoy it together. It’s terrible for the ratings, we see a couch designed for three with five people on it, but that’s the best part about the show. People go to each others’ homes, they watch together, they watch in the group chat, they watch on Twitter. Our show is just part of the experience, the experience includes the conversation that happens when people watch. The audience have become part of what’s great about this show,” Günsberg says.

Ten is quick to promote the column inches it gets from recappers, the conversation it generates on social media, and the space it takes up in the zeitgeist. It might not be easy to track, but Günsberg plays a big part in that process. He’s an active user of social media, he often joins in the conversation on Twitter and Instagram, and he’s passionate about supporting the recappers, working with his EP to find a way to get them involved in the franchise itself.

It’s harder to track how this engagement delivers for the network as a whole, but with Married At First Sight drawing to a close, offering up the chance for the other networks to begin challenging Nine, all eyes will be on how Bachelor in Paradise performs for Ten and whether that will give us an insight into the post-MAFS primetime TV landscape.

[“There is a dedicated show psychologist and support team available to every participant throughout the entire production, broadcast and beyond,” said an Endemol Shine Australia spokesperson.]


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