Gerry Turner Is the First ‘Golden Bachelor.’ Just Don’t Call Him a Silver Fox.

Women keep approaching Gerry Turner in airports, asking to pose for pictures with him. This is not something that ever happened in the first seven decades of his life. But a lot has changed since Mr. Turner, 72, signed up to date 22 women on a reality television show.

For example: He has been spending less time at his home in Indiana. He keeps getting asked about his skin-care routine. And he has recently learned about the term “grandzaddy.”

Mr. Turner is the lead of “The Golden Bachelor,” the aged-up version of “The Bachelor” that begins on Thursday. A franchise that usually follows crease-less 20- and 30-something contestants as they search for love — or Instagram followers — now revolves around a retiree who until recently did not have an Instagram account.

If Mr. Turner feels any pressure, he did not show it on a video call from Los Angeles earlier this month. “I got nothing to lose,” he said.

Mr. Turner has enviable posture, with mousy hair that goes white at the temples and the wire of a hearing aid snaking over his ear. He had just finished filming a day-in-the-life-style segment for which he had been required to brush his teeth over and over in front of a camera.

Mr. Turner spent 43 years married to his high school sweetheart, Toni, who died in 2017. During a period of loneliness in 2020, he texted their two daughters, Jenny Young and Angie Warner, that he was considering applying for the show. “We thought he was kidding,” Ms. Warner said.

He hopes viewers will see that dating after retirement is not as unusual as reality TV might make it seem.

“People my age still fall in love,” he said. “People my age still have hope, and they still have vigorous lives.” When he heard about “The Golden Bachelor,” it clicked: “Those were the things all of a sudden that I wanted to play out on a show.”

Mr. Turner does not come across as someone who has spent his life gunning for stardom. Asked if he had ever applied for a TV show before, he laughed: “Never! Never.”

Mr. Turner grew up in Ottumwa, Iowa, the oldest of four. He is close with his daughters and his two granddaughters, Payton, 21, and Charlee, 16. He describes his retirement as a happy stream of low-impact recreation: Golf. Mini-golf. Rooting for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Each tidbit is more wholesome than the last. Is this all just the tasteful framing of a franchise that knows how to package its lead?

“This is 100 percent what he’s like in real life,” said Ms. Warner, 40, who has been trying to get her father to text with both thumbs rather than one pointer finger.

The casting team certainly could have gone in a different direction. “What we’re not looking for in a ‘Golden Bachelor’ is some sort of slick silver fox, who’s got all the money in the world, private jetting from city to city, and doesn’t feel genuine or kind or warm or anything,” said Jason Ehrlich, an executive producer and showrunner for “The Golden Bachelor.” The team’s interest in Mr. Turner was piqued by his “tragic” story of loss, Mr. Ehrlich said, but it was his sincerity that eventually won him the role.

“We were just looking for someone who had the biggest heart,” said Bennett Graebner, an executive producer and showrunner.

Mr. Turner’s first love story began in high school. On Friday nights, he played in school basketball games and then rushed to dances held at the YMCA. He “couldn’t wait to get there,” he said, because he knew that a girl named Toni, who had dark hair and wide eyes, would be in attendance.

They enjoyed the kind of love not yet complicated by mortgages or child care. “All you can think about is that one person and how completely you are drawn to them,” he said. “And that was the feeling I had with Toni.” During Mr. Turner’s junior year at the University of Iowa, they made wedding plans.

Mr. Turner worked in the food-distribution industry, and Toni, as a volunteer coordinator for a hospital. As they raised their daughters, the couple saved up to buy a lakefront home where they could enjoy their retirements together. In 2017, days after they moved in, Toni fell ill with a bacterial infection. Mr. Turner brought her to the emergency room, where she died eight days later.

When Mr. Turner looks at the picture of her that still hangs in his closet, he believes that she would approve of him looking for love again. But her portrayal was his biggest source of anxiety when signing on to a franchise that tends to milk a tragedy.

“I wanted to make sure that the story of my wife’s passing was told in a kind and sensitive way, and never sensationalized,” he said. “I really didn’t want to tell that story over and over. I wanted it to be out there for people to know, but I also wanted to move on.”

At the beginning of 2020, Mr. Turner watched a season of “The Bachelor” that ended with an engagement between a 28-year-old airline pilot and a 23-year-old-model who are, like most couples that emerge from the ABC franchise, no longer together.

Mr. Turner said he had watched seven or eight seasons of the show. He was not always its biggest fan. “I kind of felt bogged down in some of the drama,” he said. “Some of it looked a little out of place, maybe not organic. That was something that moved me away from being a regular viewer.”

But he watched closely enough to notice a casting call seeking older contestants that aired during one episode and texted his daughters. A few days later, he was feeling nervous about how his hair looked on a Zoom call with producers.

The casting process stalled because of the pandemic but ramped up again this February. “We came across his tape, which had been kind of sitting there for a while,” said Mr. Ehrlich, the executive producer and showrunner. “And he was so wonderful.”

Producers began peppering Mr. Turner with calls and texts while he was on vacation, interrupting one of his mini-golf games. He first thought the process could wait until he had returned to Indiana. “It was like, Oh no, we need to get you to a medical clinic for your S.T.D. test while you’re in Florida,” Mr. Turner said.

After each development, Mr. Turner said he called his daughters, who were both extremely excited and a little bit protective. His granddaughters told him not to kiss anyone on the first night, he said: “I failed.”

Mr. Turner relocated to Los Angeles for just over a month of filming in late July. It was a different experience than dating as a teenager, he said, not least because of the cameras and microphones that followed his every move.

He had certain conversations off camera to avoid embarrassing any of the women. But for the most part it was a mature crowd. The women he dated were between 60 and 75 and were introduced in August along with fun facts like “Sandra is very proud of her high credit score.” In his view, any drama was limited to “a very minor situation.”

Mr. Turner said he was also more deliberate about sex, which he said he hoped had not changed too much since the last time he was on the market. “It was hard enough to learn it the first way,” he said. “If there’s something new, I need to learn it right now.”

As much as the franchise has emphasized Mr. Turner as the wholesome grandfather, it has also positioned him as a sex symbol. This includes advertisements featuring an eight-foot image of him with the text “EAT YOUR HEART OUT” on buses in New York City.

Like any practiced reality TV participant, he is weighing when and how to play along.

“I don’t know what it means to be a ‘grandzaddy’ and I don’t know what ‘rizz’ is, and I really don’t know what it means to be trending,” he said. “All those things are kind of immaterial to me. They don’t matter.”

Julia Jacobs contributed reporting.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com