Lindsay Soll
May 18, 2009 AT 10:04 PM EDT

Our favorite dating franchise returns tonight on ABC (9 p.m. EST) when last season’s Bachelor cast-off, hot tub hottie Jillian, takes the throne as the star of The Bachelorette. Since it’s been oh-so-long since we last got our rose fix, we decided to check in with host (and EW blogger) extraordinaire Chris Harrison to find out what sort of madness we can look forward to this season.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you guys ever going to top the most shocking season of The Bachelor yet (a.k.a. Jason’s chapter)?
: The good news is we’ve never really tried to top anything or do anything different. I think one of the main reasons the show has been so successful is you just plug the people into the scenario and then you let it happen. Every season is different. Everybody comes in with their own baggage, their own issues — and they always surface. Nobody is the same. You can’t go, you know, Oh look what Jason did. Let’s have Jillian jump off a roof or something crazy. Halfway through the season, there is something different that happens with Jillian that we’ve never faced before. You don’t plan for it, you don’t script it — because you can’t.

Why did you decide to start off with 30 guys rather than 25?
It was really interesting with Jillian. I kind of thought that there was going to be a huge overwhelming response for Melissa [Rycroft] to be the Bachelorette considering what happened. When Jillian got voted off, there was a huge response, and that’s normal. I was thinking it would die away when everyone saw what was going to happen at the end. But the response and support for Jillian never went away like it usually does with some of these girls. Week after week, even toward the finale, people were still asking for Jillian to be the Bachelorette. Once it got out that Jillian was going to be the Bachelorette, the response went through the roof from the guys. So we thought because she’s this popular, we should bring in more men.

Read more after the jump.

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Did Jillian know going in that there were going to be 30 men going after her?
Shehad no clue that first night. The way it works is that there’s a limothat arrives and there’s 25 guys, then halfway through the cocktailparty, I come in and do my deal. I say, “By the way, we’re not done yet– there’s actually five more guys joining us.” You could’ve heard apin drop [laughs]. I looked at it as a total positive forJillian because there was more to choose from, but it was reallyoverwhelming for her because there’s so much to handle that firstnight. It think she had just gotten the grasp and then all of a sudden,there’s five more guys. Five more names to remember. Five more storiesto get to know. It was kind of a double-edged sword.

Will it still go down to 15 guys after the first rose ceremony?
No, it will go down to 20. So the whole show is different from the first night on.

We’re dying to know: how many mustard, ketchup, and general hot dog jokes do the guys make when they come out of the limo?
[Laughs]I set the over/under to Jillian at about seven or eight. I waspleasantly surprised at how few guys went for the cheap, easy hot dogjoke or whatever. There was only like two or three.

We figured about ten guys would even bring ketchup with them!
Ohtotally! I was expecting the worst. Because here’s the thing: guyssuck. We’re not very bright and we’re not really creative. I assumedevery guy would get out of the limo and make a stupid hot dog joke. SoI was very impressed with my gender.These guys actually brought somegame instead of saying something like, “I’m a kraut guy.”

Sounds like they were really trying to woo her! Why do you think she’s so likable?
She’sso relatable. She’s really pretty without being ridiculouslyover-the-top beautiful. She’s normal, she’s got a personality. She’sgot a little bit of everything. Also, she’s vulnerable. We saw thecircumstances with her mom last season and what she’s overcome. I thinkshe’s a self-made woman so there’s a lot to respect. She’s like thisperfect little package that I think everyone’s kind of fallen in lovewith.

I’ve got to be honest, though, when I came into that first roseceremony that night, I was not ready. Jason really took a lot out ofeverybody. I know people look at us and they’re like, oh you’re just producers or whatever and you really don’t care.But we do care. It was emotional for all of us whether you liked it ornot, it took a lot out of us. I came in that first night thinking, man,I don’t know if I can do this again. But when I walked in and sawJillian, she jumped up smiling and gave me a big hug, and I was readyto go. She just has that energy about her.

And, unlike Melissa, she dodged a major bullet having been sent packing by Jason just before the final rose ceremony.
Yeah,and as great as Melissa would’ve been [as the Bachelorette], I’m kindof glad to step away from that. I don’t want to make the show aboutthat. It happened, we dealt with it, and everybody’s living with it,but I don’t want it to become about that. That’s not what The Bachelor’sever been. It was a weird, freak deal. I want it to become about thisgreat girl, Jillian, who is now on her search for love, and I hope shecan find it.

Now that you’ve gotten an inside look at tonight’s season premiere of The Bachelorette,how many of you Pop Watchers out there are already setting your DVRs?And how many out there are willing to admit that you vowed to neverwatch Harrison and his rose givers ever again after Jason’sbait-and-switch last season, but are now planning to tune in tonight(you know, just to see what all the fuss over Jillian is about)? Speakup below!

Oh, and don’t forget to check back right here on Pop Watch Tuesdaymorning for Harrison’s undoubtedly stellar morning-after blog andKristen Baldwin’s undoubtedly hilarious recap!

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