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Bachelor producers blindsided by obvious questions

Bachelor producers blindsided by obvious questions
Jason Ehrlich, Claire Freeland, and Bennett Graebner, producers for The Bachelor franchise, at ABC's winter TCA 2024 appearance (Photo by PictureGroup via Disney)

At the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Saturday, producers for ABC reality TV shows—The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Golden Bachelor, Shark Tank, Judge Steve Harvey, Dancing with the Stars—but especially those who work on The Bachelor franchise, were blindsided by several questions posted by TV critics and journalists.

I was thrilled for this press conference: reality TV producers, answering questions. It was a vibrant session, too, with interest in various shows, and questions about everything from Jeopardy!’s host(s) to changes coming to Dancing with the Stars.

So when some of them absolutely choked, that was surprising, because unlike some gotcha moments on reality TV shows, these were questions that should not have been a surprise.

I’ve learned from ABC sources that The Bachelor producers, in particular, were prepared for a question about the franchise’s treatment of race—that’s not to say the question was planted, but it was likely that it’d come up when they sat in front of journalists. Yet those producers still sat in stunning silence instead of answering with the answers they prepared.

People sitting on stage in two rows of chairs; the screen behind them has the ABC logo and says "unscripted storytellers"
The ABC Unscripted Storytellers press conference at the winter 2024 Television Critics Association press tour (Photo by PictureGroup via Disney)

The press conference began with a question I asked: “Since the Dancing with the Stars cast and dancers are covered under SAG-AFTRA, I’m wondering if the other producers on stage would support efforts to unionize your cast members—to establish some kind of industry-wide minimum standards for things like healthcare, scheduling, duty of care, and compensation?”

There was silence. The Bachelor franchise’s Jason Ehrlich, Claire Freeland, and Bennett Graebner; Jeopardy!’s Michael Davies, Dancing with the Stars’ Conrad Green and Deena Katz, Judge Steve Harvey’s Myeshia Mizuno, and Shark Tank’s Yun Lingner and Clay Newbill all sat silent, perhaps because there were so many people no one knew who would answer.

The silence lasted for a few seconds, long enough for there to be some uncomfortable murmuring in the crowd.

I did not expect them all to leap from their chairs, tear off their mics, and scream that they were on strike until their casts and crews were all unionized and paid more. I honestly thought this was a bit of a softball; talk of unionization—however logistically difficult that might actually be—has been a point of conversation in the unscripted industry lately.

One person talking; another in the background is looking on
Bennett Graebner and Claire Freeland avoid answering questions at ABC’s winter TCA 2024 appearance (Photo by PictureGroup via Disney)

Eventually, Jeopardy! executive producer Michael Davies—perhaps wanting to avoid silence that could be set to the Final Jeopardy! music.

“I’m just going to say, on Jeopardy!, I don’t know if that really applies for our contestants,” he said. “They signed SAG-AFTRA waivers, but we’re a SAG-AFTRA show. Very proud to be a SAG-AFTRA show. That’s my answer.”

No one else answered, so I said, “I guess I’ll point it to The Bachelor producers then, since you have the biggest group of people, and the ones who probably talk the most about how they’ve been treated over the course of filming. So, would you support those kinds of efforts to establish a union or those kinds of standards?”

Claire Freeland, who was showrunner of Canada’s Bachelor and joined the ABC series last year, said:

I mean, I think for our show, we tell the love stories of real people, not actors, and we are feeling like our relationship with the cast are really strong. I mean, Jason and I joined in January of this year, and Bennett’s been making this show for 16 years, and I think our cast are quite pleased with the experience that they’ve had on the show and, for us, a successful ending engagement, long-term relationship is really what our mission is, and I think our cast are all feeling pretty excited about it. I mean, Charity and Dotun are together, Gerry and Theresa are together. I won’t give away the end of Joey’s season. But, yeah, we just want to tell the stories of real people who people can root for and get behind. So we’re pleased with our cast relationships.

I’ll defer to former Bachelor cast members to share whether they are “all feeling pretty excited.”

Rachel Lindsay on The Bachelor: Listen To Your Heart week 4.
Rachel Lindsay on The Bachelor: Listen To Your Heart week 4. (Photo by John Fleenor/ABC)

Later, NPR’s Eric Deggans asked The Bachelor producers “about the way the show has struggled with race—in particular, when you’ve had Black people as stars of the show. During the 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,—and some other things. Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, has been critical of how the show talks about race. Why does it seem that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have such a hard time dealing with racial issues in-depth? And have you learned anything from these past scandals that led to the departure of Chris Harrison?”

Despite being the only producer not previously involved in the ABC version, Claire Freeland again answered:

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 with ability and body types and representing where people are from in the country as well. And I think that, again, I can speak for the seasons that I’ve been here with this team. I think, so far, we’re kind of putting our money where our mouth is and demonstrating that. 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.

Deggans asked a follow-up: “Why has The Bachelor struggled to deal with race, particularly when Black people are the star of the show?”

Again: silence. Frozen, stunned silence.

Bennett Graebner was an executive producer of Rachel Lindsay’s season, and has worked with The Bachelor franchise since 2010. Jason Ehrlich has worked with the franchise on and off since 2004.

They both could have spoken about their own personal failings, or the structural problems they’ve noticed. But they did not.

No one said anything.

Deggans said, “I guess we have our answer.”

Later, the three producers were asked about UnReal—the Lifetime show that some people who worked on the show called a documentary—and in particular, about “how much, if any, fibbing and/or disclosing of disturbing information do you do behind the scenes with your contestants?”

“We have no idea what you’re talking about,” Freeland said, and some people laughed.

Graebner said, “I’ve heard of it. I’ve never watched it.”

Freeland then returned with a defense of the series that sounded both earnest and hilariously naive:

I think it’s an easy slam for people to look at the men and women who come on our show, and suggest that they are any less deserving of a true and authentic experience to find their significant other.

We are in the business of happily ever after. We want to tell love stories, and nothing makes us feel happier than when we have that occur. It’s not always an easy journey. Inevitably, it’s going to be a challenge when you have people vying for the affection of one person, but I think to suggest that somehow we are maybe—the tropes that maybe have been displayed on some of those shows is not really fair, and we love the stories that we tell.

We have a deep appreciation and respect for the men and women who come on our show, whether it’s The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Golden Bachelor, and now soon, luckily, The Golden Bachelorette, and so that’s how we choose to conduct ourselves every day when we’re telling these stories.

The follow-up question pushed for more: “This is not about everybody is deserving of love, but how much you guys nudge things behind the scenes to create television.”

I think for us, it’s about following the reality and following the truth,” Freeland said, “and that’s what we always aim to do, and that tends to be romantic, exciting and dramatic all on its own.”

Graebner decided to actually answer a question and said, “Do we encourage people to have interesting conversations? Sure. I remember a young woman who said I’m ready to talk to the Bachelor, and I’d like to talk to him about how much I love taquitos. I said that’s probably not the best idea. Maybe we could talk maybe about something more meaningful, and she did.”

Too bad Graebner didn’t have someone to suggest he talk about something more meaningful, because he didn’t.

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Happy discussing!

William

Monday 26th of February 2024

Why try to make drama where there is none. I dont blame the producers for not answering these type of no-win questions. Why would they want to stir up more controversy when Chris Harrison was basically fired for stating that there should be no rush to judgment in a situation (where one of the contestants was wearing an antebellum type dress) until everyone was allowed to hear her side of the story. The nature and tone of your questioning was race baiting at its finest. Shame on you.

Bad Mitten

Tuesday 13th of February 2024

Just an FYI, you repeated this line twice: "Deggans said, “I guess we have our answer.” "

Bad Mitten

Tuesday 13th of February 2024

@Andy Dehnart, No problem!

Andy Dehnart

Tuesday 13th of February 2024

Yikes, thanks! I thought I cut and pasted, and I guess just copied! The duplicate is gone now.

Laura

Monday 12th of February 2024

Wow!! One of the most overscripted, staged reality shows was not capable of givng their producers a script to follow when asked to address race? Thank you for being a part of this!

Meredith

Saturday 17th of February 2024

@Laura, right?!? Did they not receive talking points from a publicist? Where is their media training? This is 101 level stuff! I presented at an academic conference right after Matt’s season on The Bachelor and race (I rewatched his season in 3 days, which my kids still refer to as “Mom’s Bachelor Slog”), and nothing seems to have really gotten better.

Eric

Monday 12th of February 2024

Thanks for your questions here, Andy! Great work.