During Saturday’s Unscripted Storytellers panel at the 2024 Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, The Bachelor producers sat in deafening silence on stage when pressed to address the franchise’s past difficulties with racial issues.
Alongside panelists from Judge Steve Harvey, Dancing With the Stars, Shark Tank, and Jeopardy, Bachelor producers Bennett Graebner, Jason Ehrlich, and Claire Freeland fielded numerous questions about the franchise with ease. When NPR’s Eric Deggans asked them to respond to critiques from former leads Rachel Lindsay and Matt James regarding the franchise’s handling of race, however, the panel took an uncomfortable turn.
“During Matt James’ season, you had a controversy that led to Chris Harrison leaving the show. Matt was a little critical of how you presented his father. Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette, has been critical of how the show talks about race,” Deggans said.
As Variety noted, Freeland (who joined the US franchise in January 2023 after working on The Bachelor Canada), initially responded to Deggans’ inquiry by saying, “I can speak to where we are now…Our goal is to represent the fabric of the country, not just in terms of diversity and ethnicity, but also ability and body types and representing where people are from in the country as well.” When Deggans pushed back, requesting a more direct answer to the question, all three producers sat in an awkward, disappointing silence for roughly 10 seconds, prompting Deggans to say, “Guess we have our answer.”
Immediately following the panel, Decider spoke with Graebner, Ehrlich, and Freeland for around 15 minutes, chatting about everything from The Golden Bachelorette to the future of the franchise. We followed up on Deggans’ question and the painful panel moment, and here’s what the producers had to say.
“Just for me, I don’t know the people on the show. Talk to me about the show in Canada for the last ten years, I got you,” Freeland said. “But all I can do is say what we as a team here are committed to doing and I would hope that the last year reflects that.”
“I was there for Matt James’ season. I was there for Rachel Lindsay’s season. I was also there for Michelle Young’s season, Tayshia Adams’ season, Charity Lawson’s season,” Graebner added. “I think as stewards of this franchise, which has been such a part of the cultural zeitgeist for over two decades, there’s a tremendous responsibility to have conversations on camera that are difficult and challenging — conversations about race, conversations about class, conversations about gender. We have done that. Have we always done it perfectly? No. We’ve certainly made some mistakes along the way. But moving forward we’re going to do everything in our power to correct this.”
When asked if the franchise is genuinely open to expanding beyond the Golden spinoffs to highlight more diverse stories in the future, Ehrlich said, “Heck yes. Diversity is a huge initiative for all for us moving forward. And I think, while it didn’t seem to appease the gentleman in the room, it was the message that we were saying — that we have strong initiative here to tell all sorts of different stories. We want people to see themselves in the show and love is universal.”
Stay tuned for more of Decider’s exclusive interview with producers.