The Bachelor producers were faced with a tough question about the franchise’s history of issues surrounding race during an ABC panel at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour.
“Why does it seem like The Bachelor has such a hard time dealing with racial issues? And have you learned anything from these past scandals that have led to the departure of Chris Harrison?” Eric Deggans, a TV critics and media analyst from NPR, asked executive producers Bennett Graebner, Jason Erlich and Claire Freeland.
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Freeland, who joined the franchise from The Bachelor Canada last year, took on the task of answering.
“I mean, I can speak to where we are now. Our goal is to represent the fabric of the country, not just with respect to diversity and ethnicity, but also ability, body types… I think so far we are putting our money where our mouth is,” Freeland said. “So hopefully, audiences are feeling that, because it’s something that we’re always working on. And we’ll continue to do so as we go forward.”
However, the reporter who asked the question pushed back a bit, arguing that Freeland hadn’t quite given an answer as to why the show struggles with conversations and portrayals of race, particularly with non-white leads.
The pushback was met with silence from the producers, to which Deggans responded: “I guess we have our answer.”
Harrison departed the franchise in 2021 after Matt James led the flagship series as the first Black Bachelor. When photos surfaced of James’ frontrunner Rachael Kirkconnell at an antebellum-themed party, Harrison put his foot in his mouth during an interview with Rachel Lindsay, The Bachelorette’s first Black lead from Season 13, by suggesting that audiences should have “a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion” for Kirkconnell.
Lindsay was not happy, and neither was Bachelor Nation, and as dozens of former contestants flocked to social media to take her side, calls for Harrison’s removal intensified. Kirkconnell posted an apology, as did Harrison. But it wasn’t enough. In February, just over a month after the season premiere, Harrison stepped back from the franchise and, by June, he was permanently ousted as host.
This is not the only controversy the franchise has faced in recent years. As Deadline reported last year, the executive producers — who are part of a new regime after the departure of creator Mike Fleiss — have tried to use the past few seasons as a cautious reset to find their footing again.
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