Some people just can’t stand to see others happy. Just a mere three days from the unveiling of the latest betrothed couple introduced via ABC’s long-running reality franchises The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, some cranky reporter at the TCA Summer Press Tour spoiled the fun by asking network president Channing Dungey about the show’s dismal record on casting diversity.
Granted, the question is timely in more ways than one. Lifetime’s Bachelor-skewing drama UnREAL is exploring issues of race in its second season by casting a black man as the star of its Bachelor send-up, which the reality show itself has yet to do after 19 seasons. That season aired as Bachelorette JoJo Fletcher was selecting NFL bridesmaid Jordan Rodgers from a final four of nearly identical white contestants who could easily pass for the Axe Styling Gel street team.
According to Deadline, Dungey acknowledged that diversity has long been the show’s Achilles’ heel, but said the franchise won’t widen its casting search if it means breaking its long-standing tradition of casting within the Bachelor ecosystem. “The show has been very much in cycle, where the first runner-up becomes the lead in the next cycle and it has worked very well for us,” said Dungey, noting that viewers are more invested in an upcoming cycle when they’ve already been introduced to its star. Fletcher was the runner-up in The Bachelor’s 19th season, but instead of turning her back on showmance, she returned to star in the just-wrapped 12th season of The Bachelorette. (And honestly, no one can blame her, since you could make literally any two people fall in love by putting them in the same catamaran in Bora Bora at sunset.)
For the next Bachelor season, ABC is reportedly circling Chase McNary and Luke Pell, Fletcher’s second and third runners-up, as first runner-up Robby Hayes passed on the opportunity. That means at least one more Bachelor season focused on a white man’s search for love. But Dungey said the network will address the issue by diversifying the pool of thirsty guys or girls each season, thereby increasing the odds that a non-white lead could be selected from the group. It could be argued that Dungey is giving franchise creator Mike Fleiss the liberty to continue his homogenous casting, but with the excuse that the runners-up are who they are, and if they’re all white, his hands are tied. But that would be a deeply cynical view of a reality dating show.