ABC has high hopes for Matt James' season of The Bachelor.
In a new interview with Variety, ABC executive Rob Mills said the network only expects the current season to become more popular as it goes on, despite a low start in the ratings.
"I actually think you're going to see ratings rise more exponentially than you would during previous seasons because people are going to start talking about it and word-of-mouth is going to kick in," said Mills.
According to the outlet, James' season has kicked off with fewer viewers than ever before, with an overnight audience of under 5 million for the past two weeks.
But Mills said he suspects that part of the dip in ratings is due to James being a "newbie" to the franchise. Unlike past leads, James has not appeared on the franchise before.
"We're sort of starting on a blank page, which I think is good," explained Mills. "It's definitely great to have the connective tissue over several seasons, but then I think it's good to start a new chapter."
James, 29, was announced as the Bachelor over the summer, making him the franchise's first Black lead. Before him, Rachel Lindsay served as the first Black Bachelorette in 2017.
"We've been very public about our shortcomings and how we have to really do better, and we're certainly trying," Mills said of the network's history with diversity. "Starting with Rachel as our first diverse lead, hopefully now, we are really showing a person of color that, 'This is a show for me,' where gosh, I hate to say that even five years ago, that probably wasn't the sentiment."
Mills said the network's commitment to diversity is unwavering, no matter the show's ratings.
"We are widening our audience, and that's for the better," he said. "You're seeing many more younger people's stories being told that are relevant. So, if we happen to be aging out because people don't want to see more diversity, well then, they're missing out and they're going to out of the demo soon anyway, and it will certainly allow the franchise to have a much longer lifespan."
Taking on the role as the first Black Bachelor, James said during the premiere that he felt "a load of responsibility."
"But in that, I feel like my experience isn't everyone's experience," he added. "I can only go and speak on things that I've experienced and live out my truths and do the best I can to represent who I am and how I was raised. "
Looking to the future, Mills teased that the next Bachelorette will most likely come from James' current season.
"I would say with 99.9 percent certainly, the Bachelorette is going to be someone who comes from one of our previous seasons," Mills shared, adding, "Probably Matt's, but at least someone who is familiar to Bachelor Nation."
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