Credit: Matt Klitscher/ABC

Sure, single papa Jason Mesnick’s Bachelor finale showdown — and subsequent After The Final Rose specials part 1 and part 2 — brought record ratings, but will the fan backlash end up hurting ABC’s hit reality series? Pick up a copy of Entertainment Weekly this Friday for our full report, including what advice season 2 Bachelor Aaron Buerge — who knows a thing or two about, you know, being despised for making a girl cry on TV — has for the ever-fickle Mesnick. Meanwhile, we checked in with the man who’s really behind the roses, exec producer Mike Fleiss, to find out what the hell went down over the course of what will now be known as The Best Season Of Reality TV Ever (well, at least to me it will)!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are rumors that the outcome was manipulated and that you guys knew all along how it was going to turn out. What do you have to say about those accusations?
MIKE FLEISS: It’s completely untrue! Don’t you think if we were into that and playing those kind of games that somebody who it happened to would be saying that and not some “unnamed source?” We’ve had 500 people on the show, find one that says we told them who to pick — you won’t because we’ve never done that. The rumor stuff is just appalling because we all work so hard on this show. We really make every attempt possible to keep this pure and let people make their own decisions. You can’t have people staging this, they’re not good enough actors. If they were all actors, that would be the best acting on any network. [Laughs] If he was acting, then Jason is the nation’s finest actor, better than Javier Bardem, better than Brad Pitt, and Molly is the new Meryl Streep!

Another question irking many fans: Why did he have to break it off with Melissa on camera?
It’s a simple answer: It’s a TV show. He would have done it on the radio if this were a radio show.

But you could argue that in the past not all Bachelors have felt compelled to break up on camera.
In the past it didn’t involve our other girl. I understand that people are a little ticked off that we put it [the breakup] on TV, but I think a lot more people would have been ticked off if we didn’t put it on TV. They watch the show, they invested in this whole season, they care about the characters, they’re looking forward to the finale, and then we don’t show them the defining moment of the season? I think that would piss some people off.

After the jump: “Once you’ve made the commitment to be on one of theseshows you have to assume a certain level of emotional risk.”

addCredit(“Matt Klitscher/ABC”)

Did he have a choice in the matter?
There was never a discussion like, “Oh, this is going to have to be part of the show.”

So he could have chosen to break up with Melissa off-camera and then talk about it after the fact on the After The Final Rose special?
[Melissa]had certainly been given a heads-up. I don’t think she realized it wasgoing to go as far as it went with her giving back the ring and himtaking it back. But she knew there was trouble in paradise. Don’t youthink if your husband or boyfriend is about to break up with you andyou spend every day with him for six weeks and you spend time talkingon the phone with him every night that you’d have a little bit of aclue? Melissa is a wonderful girl and we were really happy she was theone chosen, but there’s no way we could make a show like this and notinclude the most important moment of the season.

Still, so many people think that because it was such a personal moment, she must be humiliated.
It’s a reality TV show about people falling in love. If you’re going togo on a reality dating show I think it’s a safe assumption that some ofthis is going to be possible. These people that are saying, “God, Iwould never want to go through something like that.” I agree. I couldnever do it, but once you’ve made the commitment to be on one of theseshows you have to assume a certain level of emotional risk.

People just think Jason made the wrong decision in doing that so publicly.
He did everything else publicly, so what’s the difference?

Everyone had thought he’d chosen Melissa, that it was set instone, and then it was just a surprise that he’d changed his mind inthat amount of time.
Believe me, that heartache that Mollyexperienced the first time was probably not that much different thanthe heartache that Melissa experienced in the ATFR. He was dumping the both of them on camera.

It was a little surprising that Molly wasn’t more hesitant to take him back.
She’sin love with him. If you’re in love with somebody, you’ll put up withthat. You put up with s— that you wouldn’t put up with from anyoneelse in the world because you do love them and you want them back. Youwant to spend your life with them because you’re dreaming of them everynight, that’s the place where Molly is.

Are you worried now that some fans are going to walk awayfrom the show because their disappointed or angry by Jason’s decision?If that were true, we wouldn’t have held our numbers in that second half hour during Monday night’s ATFR.If there was going to be this mass exodus from the show, it would have[already] happened. If we make a great show, people will watch a greatshow and that’s the bottom line.

Why do you think it is that Jason’s season did see such a ratings spike for the show?
Ithink by keeping the ongoing soap opera alive it allows viewers to comeback and reinvest more easily. By going from Brad’s season to Deanna’sseason to Jason’s is what’s allowed the audience to stick around. Youtry to do new things to keep the show fresh, but by keeping the threadof the characters through, the audience is watching a continuing soapopera and it’s easier for them to reinvest. Had we tried to launchJason cold, not from The Bachelorette, and say, “He’s our newBachelor!”, I don’t think we would have even gotten him approved,necessarily, by the network. He’s not a doctor, he’s not a captain inthe Navy, he’s not Mr. Hunkalicious of the Century. I mean he’s a goodlooking guy, but we had better looking physical specimens for thatrole. But the audience came to like him and care about him so muchfrom the previous season that watching him as the new Bachelor wasreally easy.

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