After Zumba class wrapped up at the Oakland Senior Center on Friday, regulars gathered around a projector screen with mocktails and plates piled with cheese and crackers to watch the premiere of “The Golden Bachelor,” the reality franchise’s latest spin on its dating show formula.
“I haven’t been a bachelor in 55 and a half years,” said John Nicolaysen, 88, one of the two dozen viewers gathered in this leafy New Jersey suburb. He wore his age proudly on a baseball cap: “Est. 1935.”
The new show features daters in their 60s and 70s, centering on a mild-mannered 72-year-old man from Indiana named Gerry Turner, who is looking for love again after his wife died several years ago. Eager to generate buzz around the spinoff, ABC has helped to facilitate watch parties at retirement homes around the country, targeting a television audience — people over 60 — that has effectively become the core constituency for broadcast networks.
This watch party, however, was homegrown.
As the center’s director, Arielle Preciado, arranged chairs for the incoming audience, she recalled the disapproval of some regulars when she screened a movie about 20-somethings falling in love. “Everybody was like, ‘No one wants to watch our grandchildren getting together!’” Preciado said.
So when chatter about “The Golden Bachelor” reached her social media feeds, Preciado decided to organize a viewing in Oakland, where members of the Greatest Generation flocked to after World War II. The senior center now sees a few hundred visitors a week, offering exercise classes and free activities such as Mahjong and knitting.
After attending the morning Zumba class on Friday, three girlfriends who met at the senior center more than a decade ago returned to the building for the 2 p.m. “Golden Bachelor” screening. (The premiere aired on ABC the previous night.)
Their take on Turner, whose bronzed image has been plastered across billboards, buses and commercial breaks for weeks?
“He’s too young for me!” Joanne Craw, 78, said.
“Well, he’s right up my alley,” her friend Toni Pflugh, 68, replied. “Except I have a husband.”
“I do, too,” their friend Chris Lill, 73, said, joking, “but we’re ready for a change after 50 years.”
Pflugh, once a devoted “Bachelor” viewer who fell out of the habit after getting tired of what she considered a lack of realism, hoped that this version would be different.
As a beaming Turner greeted a cast of hopefuls in the premiere episode, the senior center crowd tittered at attention-getting strategies like riding up to the Bachelor Mansion on a motorcycle, groaning at the franchise’s wink-wink, nudge-nudge innuendo.
The group of friends offered guesses on which women had “had work done,” while others simply watched silently. The room broke into gasps and cheers when one of the contestants shared that she was from Teaneck, N.J., a short drive down the highway.
“She’s only 60, she’s a baby!” Pflugh called out as one contestant stepped out of a limo in a shimmering golden gown.
“I need alcohol,” cut in Craw as she ventured out to the snack table.
(She was joking: The senior center does not serve alcohol, so the best Craw could do was an “Orchard Spritzer,” a mixture of pear juice and sparkling white grape juice.)
As the episode concluded with a preview of a season of flirtation, heartbreak and a heavy dose of messaging around aging and female empowerment, the reviews trickled in.
“Not my cup of tea,” Nicolaysen said, though he found seeing Turner putting on hearing aids while getting ready relatable. He was certain his wife would ask him to turn it off at home.
“I think reality TV is the downfall of civilization,” offered Vicki Wyan, 69, as her group of friends debated how “real” this reality show actually is.
Linda Arns, 78, was far more charmed. “I just fell in love with his laugh — and his blue eyes,” she said of Turner.
It was an innocent crush: Arns has been with her husband for more than 50 years. But she offered Turner some advice in case he decided to be married again: “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener,” she said.
ABC’s efforts to capture audiences are off to a decent start, with 4.4 million viewers watching the show the day it premiered, according to data from Nielsen.
Not all of the singles at Oakland Senior Center bought its message, though. Sure, a “second chance at love” is good for some people, but what if their era of dating is simply over?
“I couldn’t do it again; I had the best, so I really couldn’t do it again,” said Ann Bernhard, 84, who has been visiting the senior center since shortly after her husband died more than 20 years ago.
Another widow, Marilu Irizarry, 78, was also thoroughly uninterested in joining the population of older single women searching for love — either on television or in real life.
“I don’t know,” she said, looking around at the other women sitting at her table. “Maybe just a good friendship.”
John Koblin contributed reporting.