Behind the Scenes of 'The Bachelor'

Show creator and host Chris Harrison dish on casting, drama, awkward moments.

March 15, 2010, 12:30 PM

March 15, 2010— -- The Bachelor franchise has become a phenomenon. Behind the exotic locales, picture-perfect landscapes, and steamy shirtless scenes, a small army of producers, casting directors, wardrobe assistants, makeup artists, trainers and more, plan and plot their way to another hit season.

When ABC's "The Bachelor" began its run in 2002, everyone, including the show's creator and executive producer Mike Fleiss, was convinced an on-camera proposal was a must-have climax.

"I remember during Season 1, getting a panicked call from the network," Fleiss recalled, "and hearing on the other line that, 'Mike, you've got to do something about this! They're not falling in love!'"

As it turned out, everyone was wrong. Real love and a marriage proposal were less important to the audience than a dreamy prince charming and a cast of gorgeous, even villainous women.

"We need our fair share of villains every season," Fleiss said. "And now we're very careful in our develop characters that the audience is going to root for and root against."

Watch "Inside the Bachelor: Stories Behind the Rose" on a special edition of "20/20," tonight at 8 p.m. ET

Out of the 25 women chosen to compete for the Bachelor's affection, only half need to be sincere to make a successful season, Fleiss said.

Casting has become critical to the show's success. Contestants go through a rigorous screening process, including multiple rounds of producer interviews. The 50 finalists must take STD tests and complete an 800-question psyche evaluation.

"It can be a somewhat emotionally taxing, people don't realize how fast emotions get involved," said Dr. Catherine Selden who conducts psychological evaluations with the finalists. "We want to make sure that people are going to be OK with coping with the stress involved, and make sure that they are going to be offered the help that they need if it's the case."

Click here to see Jake, Vienna, Ali and Gia's never-before-seen audition tapes!

Contestants must be willing to discuss every single event that occurs and share every emotion that crosses their mind during their time in Bachelordom.

"If you aren't able to be vulnerable, whether it's to the person and therefore to the cameras, despite the cameras around you, you might as well go home," said executive producer Martin Hilton.

'Bachelor' Grooming to the Extreme

To prepare for their TV debut, the Bachelors are cleaned up by professionals. Cary Fetman has been the resident stylist to bachelors and bachelorettes for a combined 17 seasons and pulls out all the fashion stops to make the stars shine on camera.

"Before I did 'The Bachelor' I didn't know none of my clothes fit," said bachelor Jake Pavelka, who shocked fans when he chose contestant Vienna Girardi in the most recent season. "Cary Fetman does their wardrobe, and ... everything's basically custom-tailored."

But for those in the know, a tailored suit can't conceal the bachelor's abject terror -- especially before the first limos arrive to reveal throngs of female contestants.

"Every time those limos pull up they are scared to death, they're nervous as hell," said Bachelor host Chris Harrison. "I slap them in the butt and I say, good luck, go get 'em. Don't let me down."

Nerves slowly give way to confidence as Bachelors grow into their roles as the big man on campus.

"By the time they've been fawned over by 25 gorgeous women, they start to really, you know, feel it a little bit. Night one, they'll come up to me and say, 'Mike, Oh, thank you sir, for this wonderful opportunity.' And by night two, they're ordering people around: 'Where's my Evian?'" Fleiss joked.

Contestants are barred from watching TV, and using phones, laptops, or ipods, during the show.

"It's kind of shocking because for the first few days you're going through withdrawal of everything in your life. And it definitely feels like a bubble," said ABC News special correspondent Melissa Rycroft, who was a contestant on the 13th season of the Bachelor. "We are our chefs and own housekeepers, our own makeup artists…We did it all ourselves."

The total isolation and extreme dating amp-up the intensity and speed compared to a traditional courtship.

"It takes [dating] back down to the basics," said Pavelka. "That's what 'The Bachelor' franchise is all about is cutting away, just the crud that the world inundates you with, that makes a relationship tough."

Rose Disasters, More

For Harrison, who's been front and center for 19 seasons, the awkward moments keep it interesting.

"I relish, and maybe it's because I've been a part of this so long, I really enjoy awkward moments," Harrison said. "I mean, I love creating them, I like seeing how people react. I don't mind it at all."

Harrison recalls how Season 5 Bachelor Jesse Palmer forgot a woman's name during the rose ceremony.

"He's looking over here at a girl whose name is Ashley, and Kelly walks up, and he's like, ooh! That is still one of the greatest Bachelor moments ever. It was great," Harrison said. "And I don't know why he tried to pull it off and didn't just stop and go, I, you know, it's 4:30 in the morning, I forgot the girl's name."

Even the roses, which are famously given to each woman when she advances to the next round, have been the source of some trouble.

"I went to say the girl's name, and the top of the rose fell off," Season 4 Bachelor Bob Guiney. "I was like, oh my God, what am I going to say? Will you accept this stem?"

'It's a Show About Love'

Amid the off-camera hook ups and the behind the scenes drama, the essence of the Bachelor is the emotion.

"It's a sweet show," Fleiss said. "It's a show about love and it has a lot of heart."

Fleiss said they shoot each season over the course of seven weeks -- longer than most reality shows -- because they want real emotion and real connections to develop.

"Our blood, life, tears -- everything -- are vested in these people," Harrison said. But "the reason this show has always remained very genuine, there's nothing to it at the end. There's no million dollars. There's no promise, there's no gimmick. At the end of this what you're given is your life. Go. You want to stay with this person, great. If not, great."

For the show's creator, a season where emotions go beyond a proposal is his fantasy.

"One of my dreams," Fleiss said, "is that a couple will fall so madly in love during the course of production that when it comes time to shoot the final episode, the final rose ceremony, they demand a justice of the peace be present, and they actually get married right there on the spot."

Watch "Inside the Bachelor: Stories Behind the Rose" on a special edition of "20/20," Monday, March 15 at 8 p.m. ET

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