March 29, 2005 08:00 AM

As promised, the new season of ABC’s The Bachelor shook up the old rules and regulations Monday night, as 25 bachelorettes competed (and fought and cried) for the heart of bachelor Charlie O’Connell, the brother of Crossing Jordan actor Jerry O’Connell.

This time out, producers made a host of changes to throw some excitement into the aging franchise, including an early “speed-dating” round and a new method of handing out roses: Charlie can pick women to stay throughout the dating process, rather than just during the final rose ceremony.

The episode began with the bachelorettes asleep in their Manhattan hotel rooms as show host Chris Harrison collected Charlie at his New York apartment.

The first surprise: The women would not be meeting their smiling bachelor the next night, as planned, but that very morning. In fact, in five minutes. Only a model named Danushka took her time. The others scampered with their bras barely snapped as they entered the elevators.

Since first impressions are so important, every woman is given two minutes to introduce herself to Charlie, and he has two roses ready to hand out to the first two who capture his fancy. It clearly wasn’t the first bachelorette, Anitra, because she announces that she can’t hug Charlie because she’s yet to shower. Next up, Carrie, is far shrewder: she hugs Charlie and proffers her own flower, snatched from a hotel arrangement. (She didn’t receive a rose in trade.)

And so the parade continued. Jennye (who drinks champagne with Charlie); Kristen (a teacher, just like Charlie’s mom); Brenda (rides a motorcycle); Kristina (a dullard); Kimberly (barely dressed, much to Charlie’s delight); Krisily (admittedly bitchy – and tattooed); Kyshawn (who sniffs Charlie’s breath); Siamara (speaks Spanish); Emilie (thumb wrestles); Debby (sambas); and Sarah W. – who shows off some scars and a hickey … and gets a rose.

But that’s only the first one. So along comes Kristine (who strips down to a bikini); Geitan (makes animal sounds); Katie (a kisser, not a talker); Gina Marie (who does a cheerleader kick); Valerie (shows off belly button ring and a tattoo below); Sarah B. (a hugger); Kara (proper Southern girl with a naughty side); and Kerry – a sportswoman who gets the other rose.

Even with the first roses gone, Charlie is still seeing women: Megan, Kindle and self-assured Danushka, who says she has on no underwear.

But then Charlie’s told he must dispose of five of the women, so out go Kristina, Heather, Brenda, Debby and Katie.

From there, the weeding process continues, following three group dates – which includes playing pool, dancing at a nightclub and rock climbing – with two roses available at each pit stop.

These go to Kindle and Anitra on the first date, Krisily and nobody else on the second, and Jenny and Kimberly.

During the nightclub date, Geitan, a 30-year-old realtor from Newport Beach, Calif., broke down into tears and asked to go home, saying the dancing and body shots were demeaning and that Charlie wasn’t the guy for her. But she changed her mind and returned for the official rose ceremony – only to be snubbed by Charlie.

Instead, the remaining stems went to Sarah B., Kara, Carrie, Gina, Marie and Megan.

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