Jessica Callaghan, 30, was scrolling through Instagram when an ad offered her a boyfriend. “There is no substitute for true love!” it reads. “Find it today with Elan! ‘The Bushwick Bachelor!’”
Ms. Callaghan, who works in public relations, had spent nearly a decade looking for dates and relationships on Tinder and Hinge, but had never seen a potential love interest promote herself with a sponsored post on Instagram.
However, she thought the bearded and bespectacled man, Elan Ashendorf, 30, a self-confessed fan of bike rides and Lego bricks, was adorable. Born on Staten Island, like Mrs. Callaghan, he lived in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, not far from her Williamsburg apartment.
The catch? If Mrs. Callaghan wanted a date with this handsome stranger, she would have to compete for him on camera.
Putting her shyness aside, she applied to be one of 10 contestants on “The Bushwick Bachelor,” a new self-funded, ultra-local YouTube series. The show was created by a group of childhood friends who wanted to help their buddy find a girlfriend.
“The Bushwick Bachelor” in question is Elan Ashendorf, 30, a software engineer who genuinely loves Pabst Blue Ribbon and is a fan of Google Sheets (a topic he discusses on the first group date).
The series, whose second episode will air on May 13, tells the story of Mr. Ashendorf’s semi-serious search for someone special. It plays with the well-known tropes of the “Bachelor” franchise, although the visual language of pop-up images and wacky cuts is more like dating game shows from the early 2000s.
The series is coming as the “Bachelor” franchise enters its 20th year. Popular spin-offs like “The Bachelorette” and even niche shows like the music industry-focused “The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart” have created something of the modern dating show template, with elaborately staged dates and abundant drama and roses.
Ms Callaghan said her response to the ABC series had always been, “I can’t believe people do that,” adding, “Then I did it myself.”
Mr. Ashendorf, whose romantic history is dotted with what he called “situationships,” or more casual contacts than regular girlfriends, had chatted with friends about how he was ready for a committed relationship. His parents started telling him, “‘Find literally everyone and be happy with them.”
About a year and a half ago, Ashley Lagzial, a friend from high school, was in his apartment discussing the latest episode of “The Bachelor.”
“I was swiping through Tinder, or Hinge, and someone said, ‘You should go on The Bachelor!'” he said.
He took it as a joke, but Ms. Lagzial, 30, and Gabby McGowan, 31, another high school friend, are committed to making it happen. They borrowed cameras from friends and took time from their day jobs in public relations and video editing to spend time as executive producers on moonlight.
In the spring of 2021, the crew of “The Bushwick Bachelor” – a volunteer team of friends and friends of friends, enlisted by Ms. Lagzial and Ms. McGowan – plastered street corners and bars with flyers depicting Mr. Ashendorf as “an engineer.” who lives alone and has his own bed frame.”
“We initially thought no one would do it,” Ms Lagzial said. “So when we got 40 to 50 responses, we were blown away.” Requests poured in from near (Bushwick and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood) and far(ish) (Crown Heights and Downtown Brooklyn). There were tattooists and aspiring lawyers, people on the cusp of Gen Z, and real millennials.
Maeve Norton, a 29-year-old illustrator living in Bushwick, heard about the casting call from friends, who shared the flyer in a group chat.
While Mr. Ashendorf wasn’t exactly her type — Ms. Norton said she’s usually attracted to “big tall guys with tattoos” — she jumped at the chance to partake in a quirky, personal dating experience.
“It was a real, weird, authentic experience that’s not just in your phone,” she said.
Nine women eventually applied after the pool was reduced due to scheduling constraints (participants had to be available to film episodes throughout the summer of 2021) and stage fright (some applicants changed their minds after learning that their dates would indeed be filmed).
“In the end, we didn’t say no to people,” Ms Lagzial said. “Whoever wanted to show up, we had them on.” While filming for the first episode, a 10th contestant joined after giving up another date, walking around the set, and signing a release form.
Produced last summer, the episodes were filmed during a group meeting at a brewery, a drawing session and on the Staten Island Ferry, a nod to Mr. Ashendorf’s home church.
Throughout the show, a panel of Mr. Ashendorf shared their impressions of his chemistry with the participants. The structure mimics “The Bachelor” and the production team asked Mr. Ashendorf not to date anyone but contestants during filming.
Friends said they noticed an impact on his personality. “Last summer we called him ‘Ego Elan,'” said Mrs. Lagzial.
At the end of the first episode, half of the contestants are eliminated. (Mrs. Callaghan earned “Immunity” by completing a Lego model of “Elan’s Heart” and proceeded automatically.)
The ABC series has been criticized for a lack of diversity. “We ended up with a pretty diverse group of women,” Ms Lagzial said. “We had a trans participant, we all had different nationalities and religions.”
The ABC show’s premise also presents a long-term monogamous partnership as an ideal. But “The Bushwick Bachelor” puts less emphasis on the prospect of a wedding.
“The end goal was a meaningful, loving relationship, but I don’t think we put any pressure on what we expected,” Ms Lagzial said.
Does Mr. Ashendorf find love?
“You’ll have to keep watching,” said Adrianna Tricia King, who hosted the series, adding, “I’ll say I was very happy with the choice.”