Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure

by Amy Kaufman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101985908
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/06/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 46,936
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Amy Kaufman is a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, where she has covered film, celebrity, and pop culture since 2009. On the beat, she reports from industry events like the Academy Awards, the Sundance Film Festival, and the Grammys. In addition to profiling hundreds of stars—Lady Gaga, Julia Roberts, Stevie Nicks, Jane Goodall—she has broken major investigative stories on sexual harassment in Hollywood. Amy currently lives in Los Angeles with her Australian shepherd, Riggins, and dreams of living in a Laurel Canyon tree house.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

A Budding Idea

At his family reunions, there was always one person Mike Fleiss gravitated toward: his second cousin, Heidi. As teenagers, the two would meet up at the gatherings and hide out behind the garage, sneaking beers and sharing a joint.

Heidi Fleiss, of course, would go on to become known as the notorious "Hollywood Madam," running an illegal prostitution ring that catered to wealthy celebrities like Charlie Sheen-a crime that eventually landed her in prison in her early thirties.

Mike Fleiss, meanwhile, hasn't ended up behind bars. But as the creator of The Bachelor, the long-running reality television series on which more than two dozen singles compete for an eligible suitor, he's displayed an understanding of the human desire for love that his cousin was also able to tap into.

Growing up in Fullerton, California, where his mother was a nurse and his father owned a Baskin-Robbins ice-cream shop in nearby La Habra, Fleiss never felt like the guy who could get the girl. The young ladies at Sunny Hills High School were "unbelievably hot," he once told Vanity Fair, but he had a reputation as "the alienated, parking-lot stoner" who had long hair and rode a moped.

Still, he managed to land the interest of class president Alexandra Vorbeck, his high school sweetheart who would travel with him to study at the University of California-Berkeley. They wed in August 1987 and stayed married for twenty-four years until divorcing in 2012.

At Berkeley, he studied journalism and became the executive editor of the college paper, The Daily Cal. His first job out of school was at the now-defunct Sacramento Union, where he was paid $323 a week to write about sports. "I thought it was the dream job," he said years later in an interview with the Contra Costa Times. "I got tears in my eyes the first time I walked into Arco Arena."

He got laid off in 1989, but quickly found work at the nearby Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The job, however, was temporary: The reporter who covered the San Francisco 49ers was out on medical leave, so Fleiss could only have the gig for nine months. It was a prime beat, and he was tasked with writing features and game previews about the team that could stand up against the other Bay Area newspapers.

"He was a very, very good writer," recalled Glen Crevier, the Democrat's executive sports editor and Fleiss's boss at the time. "He definitely improved the quality of writing in the sports section. He found good stories and told them in a way that was entertaining."

So when the 49ers reporter returned from leave, Crevier tried to find a way to keep Fleiss on staff. The only job available in the newsroom, however, was an opening on the copy desk, where the shift ran from four p.m. to midnight.

"That didn't go well for him," Crevier said with a laugh. The job didn't allow for much creativity and required a lot of structure, which Fleiss struggled with. Soon, his colleagues noticed him watching Married . . . with Children on the overhead TV when he should have been editing NBA roundups, and Crevier was called in to reprimand him.

"These were professional copyeditors who took pride in what they were doing, and they saw Mike just sort of blowing off the assignments," said the editor. "So I had to take him in a room one day and give him a warning, like, 'Hey, you've got to care more about this job. You've got to really engage in it.' "

But Fleiss only grew more frustrated at the paper. One night after he got home, he turned on the syndicated Howard Stern Show and found himself envious of the "complete creative freedom" the program's employees seemed to have. "I was being restricted by the facts all the time!" he said in that 2003 Vanity Fair interview. "I felt like I couldn't really do anything creative, because I was always running down what Jose Canseco said."

As his behavior in the newsroom continued to deteriorate, Crevier decided he'd have to let Fleiss go. The young sports editor had no writing positions available, and so-for the first time in his career-he fired someone. Fleiss was mad, but it also seemed as if he was resigned to his fate.

"He said, 'You know, that's all right,'" remembered Crevier. "'I had some other things I wanted to do anyway. I want to get involved in the television industry. I'm going to move to L.A.'"

True to his word, Fleiss retreated to the Northern California apartment he shared with his then-pregnant wife, churning out one spec script after another. But no one was biting. After roughly a year of being unemployed, he heard about a low-paying gig at Totally Hidden Video, a Fox hidden-camera series where actors pulled pranks on unsuspecting victims. In order to get the job, Fleiss was asked by the show's producers to write five sample stunts; instead, he came up with forty. He found out he'd landed the position just as his wife was going into labor with the couple's first of two children, Aaron, named after TV impresario Aaron Spelling and baseball legend Hank Aaron.

Fleiss was so thrilled that he agreed to take the job, even though it paid $400 a week-less than half of what he'd been making at the Democrat. Soon, the family piled into their Jetta and decamped to Los Angeles.

A year later, however, Fleiss was out of another job when Totally Hidden Video was canceled in 1992. Fortunately, he now had become acquainted with Bruce Nash, a producer best known for making TV specials filled with outrageous clips. While working for Nash, Fleiss helped put together World's Deadliest Volcanoes, World's Scariest Police Shootouts, and Greatest Sports Moments of All Time.

The biggest hit, though, was 1997's Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.

Mike Darnell-who served as the president of alternative entertainment at Fox for nineteen years, overseeing hits like American Idol and Family Guy-decided to buy the magic special after meeting Fleiss. They shared the same vision for the show: an irreverent approach that poked fun at the magicians.

A friendship was born between the two Mikes, and so was a ratings boom. Despite being sued multiple times over exposing trade secrets and for copyright infringement, Fox would go on to air five more of the magic specials.

Darnell proceeded to purchase Fleiss's next big pitch-an idea he was calling The World's Meanest People Caught on Tape. The show, Fleiss explained, would feature people doing despicable things-and he already had secured a clip of a bartender stirring a martini with his penis.

"Mike Darnell made that happen for me," he told Vanity Fair about the special, which was eventually renamed Shocking Behavior Caught on Tape. "Even though it was a sleazy, disgusting little show, with a bartender stirring a drink with his penis, I was proud!"

Clearly, Fleiss excelled at pushing the envelope. He and Darnell almost pulled off crashing a plane in the desert on a special aptly named Jumbo Jet Crash: The Ultimate Safety Test, but Fox blinked as production was about to get under way. While many television producers were fixated on creating prestige programming bound for awards glory, Fleiss wasn't ashamed of the fact that many critics considered his shows trashy. On the contrary, he got off on making headlines-and getting ratings-as a result of tapping into a viewer's basest nature.

Darnell, meanwhile, was itching for Fox's next big hit, seething over the success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? on ABC. While at a wedding in the summer of 1999, he found himself checking the Millionaire ratings nonstop. The romantic environment and his jealousy over the ABC hit led him to his next outlandish TV idea: why not find a single millionaire, introduce him to fifty women, and have him propose to one of them at the end of a two-hour special?

Darnell brought the idea to Dick Clark. But the veteran producer and game-show host was worried the project might tarnish his wholesome reputation.

"Dick said, 'Look, I've been married three times. This is a show that's condemning the institution of marriage, and I don't want to be the guy to do that,'" said John Ferriter, a William Morris agent who represented Clark and Fleiss.

But when it was Fleiss's turn to meet with Darnell, he won over the Fox executive after he said he envisioned the special as a version of a Miss America pageant. He was given ten weeks to put the special together before it aired in February 2000.

In December 1999, the announcement went out wide: "Calling All Brides . . . a Nationwide Search Begins for Potential Brides Willing to Marry a Millionaire Live from Las Vegas on Network Television."

"Are you looking for the man of your dreams?" the press release asked, "Is he tall, is he dark, and is he handsome? Most importantly, is he RICH? . . . During the next month, the search is on for any and all women (over the age of 18) who would be willing to marry a rich man on live television and become 'Mrs. Multi-Millionaire.' A minimum of 50 daring candidates will be selected and flown to Las Vegas for an all-expenses-paid trip to compete for the opportunity to marry Mr. Moneybags during the two-hour television special."

Mr. Moneybags, Fleiss had decided, would be none other than Rick Rockwell, a forty-three-year-old writer and comedian who'd invested the money he made performing in real estate.

"Well, I'm worth about $1.5 . . . [million]," Rockwell responded to a November 1999 email from Fleiss.

"It's quite possible he was the only person on the planet who was willing to do it," Fleiss later admitted to Vanity Fair. "Our backup millionaire basically wanted me to buy him a Mercedes 500E free and clear."

On television, however, Rockwell delivered. He got down on his knee and proposed to a stranger with a three-carat, $35,000 wedding ring the network had supplied. His new bride was Darva Conger, an emergency room nurse who'd served in the air force for five years. According to their prenuptial agreement, she'd also walk away with an Isuzu Trooper, a pair of diamond earrings, and a $2,500 jewelry spending spree.

Viewers were stunned.

Ferriter, who was in Nashville on business when Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? aired, stopped into a steakhouse that night to get a sense of the local reaction.

"I walk in and everyone's packed around the bar," he told me when I went to visit him at his office in LA. "I couldn't get to the ma”tre d' to go grab my table because nobody was working. They were all around the bar. I said, 'What's going on?' And everyone was like, 'These people are getting married on TV and they've never met each other!' So I sidle up to the side of the bar and guys are watching, shaking their heads. Women watching, nodding their heads. I went, 'Oh my God, this is going to be a hit. This is going to be a big hit.'"

Indeed, a whopping 23 million people tuned in to watch Conger and Rockwell get married on TV. To give you a sense of how big of an audience that is, during the 2016-2017 television season, the most-watched program was NBC's Sunday Night Football, which attracted 19.6 million viewers. On network television, hit shows like NCIS and The Big Bang Theory average around 14 million viewers these days.

Despite its popularity, however, Multi-Millionaire drew harsh reviews from critics. The president of Viewers for Quality Television called the special an "all-time low" in the American public's viewing taste. Salon's Carina Chocano argued it put "moral bankruptcy on parade. And if you're going to put it on parade, put it on parade, enough with the muted grays and wholesome questions. Include a talent show. Have the girls perform a song-and-dance number. Hold a pie-baking race. Make them blow a banana. But try to dress it all up in the cloak of respectability and the air goes out of the balloon and distracts us from what's really important-gawking at people who are very, very ill."

Within days, Fox would have much bigger problems on its hands than some nasty reviews. After their hasty nuptials, Rockwell and Conger were immediately sent on a honeymoon cruise to Barbados. It was there, Rockwell would later tell the press, that Conger revealed she'd only wed him in order to go on the free trip.

Back in the United States, Fleiss was busy putting together a follow-up special-Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire: A Television Phenomenon-that Darnell had ordered to capitalize on the water-cooler chatter. On February 20, the newlyweds flew back to California and filmed an interview for the special with Fox weatherman Mark Thompson-annulling their marriage shortly afterward. Following the interview, Rockwell and Fleiss hopped in a limo together, and that's where all hell broke loose. During the ride, Fleiss got a call from Thompson, who was one of his closest friends. He informed Fleiss that The Smoking Gun had published an article called "Millionaire Groom's Dirty Secret," revealing that Rockwell had "slapped and hit" an ex-girlfriend, according to a 1991 restraining order. As a result of the incident, the Los Angeles court had ordered Rockwell to keep at least one hundred yards from his ex.

Fleiss immediately began to lose it. He'd spent the past couple of months talking to Rockwell at least once a day, developing a nine-page questionnaire for Rockwell's potential wives. As Fleiss would later tell Vanity Fair, he turned to Rockwell and began to plead: "That's not true, right? That's not true, right?" Rockwell acknowledged the report's validity, but tried to downplay it, insisting he'd never done anything to his ex other than let the air out of her car's tires.

"I was laying down," Fleiss told the magazine. "I was so upset. I said, 'Yeah, Rick is saying that it's true.'"

In the following days, it would come to light that there appeared to be other holes in Rockwell's story too. His 1,200-square-foot home had an old toilet in the backyard and hardly appeared to be the lush pad of a wealthy bachelor. It also seemed he'd long aspired to become a famous performer: In 1982, he'd earned a spot in The Guinness Book of Records for "longest continuous comedy routine" after telling jokes for thirty hours straight.

"He struck me as totally honest," Fleiss insisted to the New York Times as the fiasco was unfolding. "I had no questions about his sincerity. If that was a performance, he should have a couple of Emmy Awards already."

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 A Budding Idea 15

Why I'm a Fan Amy Schumer 33

Chapter 2 The Reality of Creating the Fantasy 35

Why I'm a Fan Allison Williams 53

Chapter 3 The Roots of Television Romance 55

Why I'm a Fan Nikki Glaser 75

Chapter 4 The Road to the Mansion 77

Why I'm a Fan: Heidi and Spencer Pratt 94

Chapter 5 Drafting a Game Plan 97

Why I'm a Fan Melanie Lynskey 112

Chapter 6 Inside the Bubble 115

Why I'm a Fan Diablo Cody 140

Chapter 7 Method to the Madness 143

Why I'm a Fan Paul Scheer 168

Chapter 8 Under the Covers 171

Why I'm a Fan Joshua Malina 183

Chapter 9 Falling for the Fairy Tale 185

Why I'm a Fan Donnie Wahlberg 209

Chapter 10 Basking in the Afterglow 211

Why I'm a Fan Jason Ritter 223

Chapter 11 Riding the Coattails 225

Why I'm a Fan Patti Stanger 245

Chapter 12 Intoxicated by Happily Ever After 247

Acknowledgments 267

List of Bachelors and Bachelorettes 271

A Note on Sources 279

Interview List 281

Selected Bibliography 285

Index 295

About the Author 310

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Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heard her on a podcast, struck my curiosity. Fun read if you are a bachelor fan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are a member of Bachelor Nation, you will be disappointed in this book. For the price, the book is very short. About 1/3 of it is devoted to the actual BN events and people. Two thirds represent filler in the form of celebrity statements about why they watch the Bachelor and notes from psychology books about how/why the Bachelor experience casts its spell on contestants. Another section of the book is a long list of all of the Bachelors and the outcome of their respective rose ceremonies. I don't much care about the celebrities. I could get the psych info from the Internet. And I'm sure I could find a similar status list on the Internet too. Save your money. I am so sorry that I spend mine. Wait for paperback; maybe buy it from the library. You can skim through it in a few hours. #Disappointed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yawn! No "insider" knowledge as claimed. Reads like a college term paper on dating & relationships. Regurgitated info from many experts. Like I said, Yawn!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not great