TV Preview

The Ladies' Man

Reality TV's self-deprecating anti-hunk has Oprah's seal of approval and may be ABC's best BACHELOR yet

THE BACHELOR ABC. 9-10 PM STARTS SEPT. 24

It's the perfect date night in Los Angeles. The late summer Santa Ana wind is fragrant with the scent of jasmine. A miraculously smog-free sky reveals a brilliant canopy of stars overhead. On the outdoor patio of the almost ridiculously romantic restaurant Asia de Cuba, Coldplay's ''Clocks'' strikes seductive chords as heat lamps give young couples that flush-with-love glow. At one secluded table, Bob Guiney, a.k.a. Bachelor Bob, is attempting to explain his irresistible appeal. Not that he needs to tell me. At the moment, my foot is grazing the inside of his calf.

Purely for journalistic reasons, of course.

Beginning Sept. 24, Bob's quest to find a wife will unfold on ABC's The Bachelor. It is imperative that this journalist uncover why the seemingly average guy who failed (by a long shot) to win Trista Rehn's heart on last year's The Bachelorette has become reality TV's pinup boy.

Furthermore, it is nothing short of crucial for the sake of this story to break into my life savings to purchase the elegantly low-cut, backless dress I'm wearing. (Note to IRS: It was for work!) How else could I investigate why ABC would bet the fifth installment of its top-rated show (not to mention the granddaddy of the find-a-spouse-on-TV genre) on a guy who made his small-screen debut as a chubby, Midwestern, divorced mortgage broker with no qualms about doing an unfortunate Running Man -- meets -- Lord of the Dance jig before 17 million viewers?

''I never really thought anyone was hot and bothered by me, but I definitely thought that people related to the fact that I was a real person,'' says Guiney, 6'3 1/2'', with tousled brown curls, boyish dimples, and mischievous hazel eyes. ''I'm damaged goods. I've made mistakes but I still have a positive attitude. I don't have any skills. I'm just a nice guy. I was as shocked by the response I got as everyone else was.''

Anyone who watched The Bachelorette knows Bob was the real star of The Trista-Ryan Show. Oprah was so smitten by the 32-year-old reality reject that she invited him to be a recurring guest on her show. On a fortuitous plane ride (first class, natch), a Penguin editor met the love loser and quickly signed him to write about his divorce (Bob's ex-wife dumped him by leaving him a note) and post-breakup recovery. (What a Difference a Year Makes comes out Nov. 10.) Even Fat Amy, Bob's post-college band, best known for, well, nothing, is getting major industry attention. ''I'm on every record label's speed dial now,'' he laughs. ''That's very comical to me.''

OKAY, I JUST HAVE TO SHARE THIS STORY:

''You drink bourbon?'' he asks me as I take a sip of Maker's Mark. ''A girl after my own heart. One of my first songs was called 'Bourbon.'''

Honestly, I think he loves me. I mean, right?

''The fact that he's the most popular character to ever come out of the franchise and his total screen time was almost nothing tells you everything,'' says Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss. ''He has this magic power with people that we knew would make him the perfect Bachelor. He's sexy and charming and not-so-incredibly good-looking. Every woman in the world thinks she has a chance with him.'' (Whatever, Mike. I'm every woman; it's all in me.)

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