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ABC names Joan Vassos as first ‘Golden Bachelorette’

Joan Vassos in a dark dress against a golden backdrop.
Joan Vassos has been named the star of ABC’s “Golden Bachelorette.”
(Ricky Middlesworth / ABC)
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Ever since “The Golden Bachelor” became a pop culture sensation last fall, fans have been clamoring for a “Golden Bachelorette.”

They’ve finally got one. On Tuesday, ABC announced that Joan Vassos, a widow and school administrator who chose to leave “The Golden Bachelor” early because of a family emergency, would be the first “Golden Bachelorette.”

The latest spin-off of the long-running dating reality show will air this fall at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, before the hit sitcom “Abbott Elementary.”

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The news was announced by Ryan Seacrest at the Disney Upfront presentation in New York, where the 61-year-old grandmother from Maryland waved from the audience.

Vassos appeared to be an early front-runner on “The Golden Bachelor,” connecting with star Gerry Turner, a widower, about the grief she experienced after her husband died of cancer. But she opted to leave the show during Week 3 in order to help her daughter, who she said was dealing with postpartum depression after the birth of her baby.

In February, ABC formally announced plans for a “Golden Bachelorette” spin-off. Since then, speculation about who would be cast centered on several fan favorites from Season 1, including Vassos as well as finalists Leslie Fhima and Faith Martin.

Gerry Turner may have been too good to be true, and Leslie Fhima’s reaction to their breakup and reunion on the finale of “The Golden Bachelor” was a refreshing sight on reality TV.

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But the news comes at a delicate moment for ABC’s “Golden” franchise: Last month, Turner and Theresa Nist announced they were divorcing after a mere three months of marriage, turning a reality TV success story into a grim cautionary tale.

“The Golden Bachelor” became a feel-good hit last fall, in large part due to Turner, who was portrayed as a grieving widower, devoted family man and successful restaurateur.

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The spin-off, in which Turner dated 22 vivacious women over age 60, delivered the highest ratings of any “Bachelor” show in several years and helped to revitalize an aging, scandal-ridden franchise — ironically, by casting older people who spoke openly about love, loss and romantic heartbreak.

But Turner’s too-good-to-be-true image began to crack with publication of a report in The Hollywood Reporter in November that portrayed him as something of a cad whose professional credentials had been inflated by “The Golden Bachelor.” The brutal finale, which left Fhima seemingly blindsided, also did little to help Turner’s reputation.

The split between Gerry Turner and Theresa Nist marks an abrupt reversal of fortune for “The Golden Bachelor,” a breakout hit show that was supposed to revive “The Bachelor” franchise.

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Despite the PR foibles, Turner and Nist pressed on and married in a live, televised special, “The Golden Wedding,” on ABC in January. The special was stuffed with product placement and appearances by personalities from across the “Bachelor” universe.

However, in April, Nist and Turner appeared on “Good Morning America” to announce the end of their marriage, citing an inability to agree on where to live. (Nist lives in New Jersey, Turner in Indiana.) Their short-lived union marked a bitter final twist in what had once seemed like a heartwarming tale of two widowed grandparents finding new love in their twilight years.

It remains to be seen if viewers who fell for “The Golden Bachelor” will tune into “The Golden Bachelorette.” But perhaps ABC is banking that Vassos, who was untouched by the Season 1 drama, will help viewers forget about the failed Turner-Nist union.

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