After 19 years, Chris Harrison has officially handed out his final rose.
On Tuesday morning, news broke that Harrison was negotiating a lucrative exit package from “The Bachelor” franchise, where he has served as host and executive producer for nearly two decades. The break comes four months after Harrison went on a 15-minute tirade about the “woke police” andwent to great lengths to defend a “Bachelor” contestant’s 2018 attendance at an antebellum-themed formal in an interview with former Bachelorette and “Extra” host Rachel Lindsay.
The break comes four months after Harrison went on a 15-minute tirade about the “woke police.”
“Is it not a good look in 2018? Or is it not a good look in 2021?” Harrison asked Lindsay after she pointed out that attending a plantation-themed party wasn’t a “good look” and questioned what she, as a Black woman, would have represented at such a party.
Three days after the “Extra” interview, Harrison announced he would be temporarily stepping back from his hosting duties and was “dedicated to getting educated.”
As a journalist who has written and podcasted about “The Bachelor” franchise for nearly 10 years, I have thought a lot about the place this franchise has in American culture. The franchise has endured precisely because of its ability to telegraph dominant attitudes about love, sex and dating, while side-stepping explicit conversations that might alienate segments of its politically diverse audience. In recent years, that delicate balancing act has become untenable. The snarky Twitter discourse that once seemed fresh has now curdled. And beneath the Good Tweets is a whole lot of ugliness.
In the months since Harrison’s “Extra” interview aired, his employment status remained up in the air. That back and forth ended this week, as the first season of the franchise in its 19-year-history premiered without Harrison’s steady, paternalistic presence. In his place to guide Bachelorette Katie Thurston on her journey to love, were two former contestants: Kaitlyn Bristowe and Tayshia Adams. (A rotating cast of celebrities like Lil Jon, Tituss Burgess and Lance Bass will take Harrison’s place for “Bachelor In Paradise” later this summer.)
The public reaction to this entire saga has been loud but fragmented, indicative of a politically and socially divided fan base.
Progressive viewers banded together after the “Extra” interview with social media hashtags like #FireChrisHarrison and a Change.org petition to demand Harrison’s resignation. Former “Bachelor” alums of color also spoke out, and in a first for a franchise largely defined by its overwhelming whiteness, the casts of Matt James’ season of “The Bachelor,” and Clare Crawley and Adams’ season of “The Bachelorette” — the two most racially diverse casts in the franchise’s history — put out collective statements decrying racism and standing in solidarity with Lindsay.
But the franchise’s dedicated conservative Christian base largely rallied around Harrison, arguing that the “woke police” were indeed on the hunt to “cancel” a public figure. Many promised to stop watching altogether if he was ousted. And if the low ratings for Thurston’s premiere are any indication, many of them kept their promise.
For viewers like me, who stayed the course and tuned in for Thurston’s premiere, the change was a welcome one. The show retained its same structure and ethos. (After all, the marriage market that is “The Bachelorette” is such a well-oiled machine that it basically requires no guide.) Bristowe and Adams brought a fresh energy to the episode. As Thurston’s peers, they were able to offer conspiratorial comfort, support and guidance that felt more natural than anything Harrison, who is nearly 50 and a man, would have been able to provide. The whole thing had very women-offering-each-other-hair-ties-in-the-bathroom-line energy. Frankly, it was a delight.
What the change in hosts means for “The Bachelor” franchise’s longevity and bottom line still remains to be seen. It’s hard to know exactly what caused the drop-off in viewership for “The Bachelorette” premiere, and whether the audience will grow as the season progresses.
It’s hard to know exactly what caused the drop-off in viewership for “The Bachelorette” premiere, and whether the audience will grow as the season progresses.
Did people decide not to tune in because Harrison was “canceled” (aka faced reasonable consequences for his disqualifying behavior)? Did people decide not to tune in because the discourse surrounding the franchise, especially as it pertains to race and racism, has become unbearably depressing? Or is it simply that cultural products have ebbs and flows, and inevitably become less potent, especially when they have been around for 20 years?
When “The Bachelor” premiered in 2002, Harrison was essentially a peer of inaugural Bachelor Alex Michel. This familiarity allowed him to operate as an audience stand-in asking his buddy probing questions, as well as playing the role of narrator, explicitly establishing the show’s framework and purpose. This wouldn’t be one of those run-of-the-mill, trashy dating shows audiences flipped past on MTV in the late ‘90s. “The Bachelor” was different. “The Bachelor” would be about finding true love; about finding marriage. Unspoken was the subtext: “The Bachelor” would claim universality while centering a very specific type of romantic commitment — white, Christian, heterosexual marriage.
In 2021, American culture’s dominant understanding of what romantic love can (and should) look like has changed in a million beautiful, expansive ways. The country has undergone long-overdue national reckonings centered on sexual assault and racial injustice. That work is messy and necessary; happening both at a snail’s pace and breakneck speed. If a reality show can’t keep up or evolve with the culture it’s anchored in, then the only inevitable conclusion is that it will end up relegated to the footnotes of TV history.