Since 2002, “Bachelor Nation” has continuously grown into a reality dating empire. From Bachelor spin-offs to Bachelor podcasts, the franchise boasts an incredibly loyal following who never seem to forsake it. Well, until now.
Over the years, The Bachelor franchise has been met with its fair share of criticism. In 2020, the ongoing issues surrounding a lack of diversity reached a boiling point. For the first time, those behind the scenes were being publicly held accountable for who they cast, who they didn’t, and why.
Many who supported the ABC powerhouse began questioning motives, lineups, and the future of the franchise. And why wouldn’t they? With Chris Harrison leaving, it certainly seems like the end of an era. But as former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay argues, perhaps it’s time for the franchise to move into a new, more inclusive era, if it plans to survive. And ABC definitely got the memo.
The Franchise Promises to Change For The Better
When the Bachelor backlash hit its peak, producers promised to make “significant changes” moving forward. Their first step in the right direction? Casting the first-ever black Bachelor lead, Matt James. And they didn’t stop there.
Matt James broke Bachelor records by having the most women to audition for a season ever. Those behind the scenes seemingly decided “the more, the merrier.” Not only would James be dating the most women at once in the show’s history, but they’d be the most diverse batch contestants to date.
But would this effort to please be enough to win over an increasingly skeptical audience? Could they lay the growing controversy to rest with one action? The answer, of course, was no. While it was a much-needed move for the franchise, it would prove one of many efforts needed while rebranding themselves for the better.
Of course, the fact they’d only chosen one person of color as the lead for 18 years prior was hard to overlook. But the firestorm that erupted soon after Chris Harrison’s comments would make the lack of inclusion even more obvious.
Chris Harrison’s Sudden Departure
For those that missed it, Chris Harrison recently stepped down as host after almost 20 years on the job. It’s not crystal clear if he was nudged out the door, left on his own, or if he’ll ever return, but there’s no doubt why Harrison left.
In February, the longtime host sat down for an interview with Extra. At the time, Matt James’ season was still airing. The winner remained a mystery to the masses. While discussing the 25th season and its history-making lead, the topic of the remaining contestants came up. Obviously, Harrison couldn’t give too much away, but his answers proved revealing anyway.
In what appeared to be an effort to dodge some of the controversies, Chris Harrison added fuel to the already blazing fire. When asked where he stood on the racist accusations toward frontrunner Rachael Kirkconnell, Harrison came to the contestant’s defense. By doing so, he unwittingly came off as dismissive of the issues at hand. Furthermore, he created even more controversy.
The reality was that Harrison knew before the rest of us that Kirkconnell was already the winner of Matt James’ season and–for a brief moment–his heart. Perhaps the longtime host was driven to deflect due to that top-secret fact. Perhaps Harrison was also concerned about what publicly not siding with the “winner” of The Bachelor would do to the show’s ratings and reputation. Whatever the reason, the comment was a PR disaster.
After the controversial interview, “cancel Chris Harrison” began trending. Even those who still sided with the host agreed he’d likely have to step down. Rachel Lindsay said it was a great opportunity to bring a person of color on board as the host. Many began petitioning for that change.
Seemingly overnight, Harrison took a “temporary” leave of absence from his hosting duties, and gradually, his departure began looking more and more permanent.
The Ongoing Search For a New Host
With controversy still mounting, Emmanuel Acho was asked to host After the Final Rose for the Matt James season. Asking the tough questions and cultivating racial awareness, he did a remarkable job. But alas, Acho didn’t sign on for a full-time gig as host.
For a hot minute, everything seemed to hang in the balance for The Bachelor franchise’s fate. In many ways, that future still seems up in the air. Sure, it’s been revealed that season 25 contestants Michelle Young and Katie Thurston have been chosen to be the next Bachelorette leads and the show will undoubtedly go on. But for how long? Of the fast-approaching season, those behind the curtain had this to say on Twitter.
ABC may be scrambling to revitalize and revamp the formats for all of their Bachelor shows and bring ratings back up whilst trying not to alienate anyone. But no juggling act can go on forever. From the looks of it, producers are also making some strange choices to say “look over here!” rather than consistently constructive ones to breathe new life into old formats.
And if the aim is to keep the spotlight from consistently turning to an interrogation lamp, they’re not exactly succeeding at that yet. Their latest move might is just another example of the questionable decision-making at Bachelor HQ.
David Spade Will Be Hosting ‘Bachelor in Paradise’
Most recently, David Spade was announced as the new host of the popular spin-off Bachelor in Paradise. While an unexpected choice, those who petitioned for more diversity say this wacky move is hardly a solution to their real and ongoing problems.
Even though Acho was the host for a stint and two women will be cohosting Katie Thurston’s season of The Bachelorette, Spade’s casting makes those earlier proclamations to diversify appear half-hearted (excuse the pun) to many viewers. And that’s fair.
Former contestants from the franchise have also been putting themselves back in the spotlight more and more as of late. This, of course, has only drawn more attention to what really goes on behind the scenes. Take Colton Underwood, for instance.
Colton Underwood Flips ‘The Bachelor’ Script in More Ways Than One
The former contestant appeared on three Bachelor franchise shows looking for love, once as The Bachelor lead. At first, it appeared he finally walked away with what he wanted, hand in hand with Cassie Randolph. Until, of course, Randolph went public with stalking allegations. She stated that Underwood had been tracking her following their breakup and even filed a restraining order. For one reason or another, that restraining order was quickly dropped, but Colton’s story didn’t end there.
In 2021, the former NFL football player sent shockwaves through Bachelor Nation when he publicly came out on national television. In tears, Underwood opened up about the turmoil he endured while hiding who he was during each stint on The Bachelor and its spin-offs.
While this was a profound and positive moment for the 29-year-old, the highly publicized reveal quickly led to even more questions and doubts about where the franchise will go from here. More than ever, people wanted to know how much damage has been done by the show’s format and its limitations. And more so, what they plan to do about it.
Next Steps For The Bachelor Franchise
What it will take for The Bachelor franchise to be seen as new and truly improved by audiences? What does a fresh start look like two decades deep into their reality reign? And frankly, is it even possible to start fresh and keep going?
Those advocating for change argue that if those pulling production strings take inclusion seriously, maybe so. When it comes to pushing for even more diversity and doing away with continuously criticized plot points, there’s certainly a long way to go. And it might prove too little, too late, but stay tuned.
If we’ve learned anything from this franchise, it’s that they definitely have staying power. Hopefully, producers stick to their word, get with the program, and push for future programming to keep evolving for the better.