Chris Harrison on the ‘Bachelor’ franchise’s lack of diversity: ‘It takes a long time to turn around a big boat’

The “Bachelor” franchise has come under fire for its lack of diversity on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” and while Chris Harrison believes they’ve made strides in recent years, he knows there’s still a long way to go.

During his interview Thursday on Bevy Smith‘s Radio Andy show “Bevelations,” Smith asked the host about the franchise’s predominantly white casts since “The Bachelor” debuted in 2002 while referencing incoming Bachelorette Clare Crawley, 39, who will be just the third “Bachelorette” lead in her 30s in 16 seasons.

“Now we have diversity in age, but you guys have had a lot of problem with diversity when it comes to race. Come on, Chris, what’s the deal, babe?” Smith asked (listen above). “How can we get this fixed? My mom loves, loves, loves the show, but whenever I watch I feel very much like, OK, well, there’s no black and brown people that like go the distance really, so it’s disheartening.”

Harrison said Smith “hit the nail on the head” because POC were not represented on the shows, a result of not many applying during casting calls. In the early days, producers were “begging” people to audition, according to Harrison.

SEE Rachel Lindsay says the ‘Bachelor’ franchise won’t ‘survive in this day and age’ unless it starts to ‘reflect the real world’

“When you watch, you don’t see yourself represented, and I think that was what the issue was early on when we would ask people to come audition for the show and we were begging people to come audition for the show and we weren’t getting the numbers,” Harrison recalled. “And we had to stop and think: Why? Is it the chicken or the egg? So what we realized is if you don’t see yourself represented, no matter what it is — on TV or in a club or whatever — you’re probably not going to want to attend, you’re not going to feel comfortable. So we had to take that first step and have done better at casting and putting more diverse people on the show. Therefore, you see yourself represented more.”

He added: “I think it takes a long time to turn around a big boat, and we needed to take that step. I think we’ve done much better in the last few seasons for sure and we will continue to do that. I think you had to show that, hey, you’re going to be seen if you come audition, so now we are getting better numbers in audition.”

While the contestants on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” may be more representative of the real world now, there’s only been one black lead in either show’s history, Rachel Lindsay, on Season 13 of “The Bachelorette” in 2017. Her casting was announced early, before she was eliminated from Nick Viall‘s installment of “The Bachelor,” to encourage men of more diverse backgrounds to apply. Mike Johnson, who finished in sixth place on Hannah Brown‘s season of “The Bachelorette” last year, was considered for “The Bachelor” and would’ve been the show’s first black lead, but Peter Weber, who’s half-Cuban, was cast instead for the recent 24th season.

Lindsay has voiced her frustrations over Johnson being overlooked and has called on the franchise to diversify in all aspects. “My biggest complaint is that the show does not reflect what the real world looks like,” she recently said. “I would have women of all ages. I mean, there has to be a cutoff point, but I’d have women of different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, ethnicities. I would change it completely. I say ‘women,’ [but] men as well, obviously.”

SEE The new ‘Bachelorette’ star is Clare Crawley, and that’s a good thing

Ultimately, Harrison wants to “get to the point where everybody feels represented and you’re just picking the right person,” adding that he’s “not really as worried about meeting a quota as I am about meeting a quota of quality people.” Lindsay, he said, was chosen because she was “the right pick,” not because she’s black. “I said that all along when Rachel was our first black Bachelorette, I said, ‘I’m glad she’s the right Bachelorette — I’m not glad she’s the right black woman.’ Because she’s just a badass woman: she’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s talented, and she’s fiery, all those great things,” Harrison explained. “And I just loved her because she was the right pick.”

The franchise was developing a seniors spin-off before the coronavirus pandemic put things on hold. Asked if he would ever consider doing a “race-specific” spin-off that he would not host, Harrison joked, “Well, first, I would rather not lose my job in this. That would be great.”

Getting serious, Harrison said he’s not sure that would solve their problems. “In this country right now with politics and everything else, the pendulum swings so far from one side to the next, and I don’t know if the answer is to go all the way to the opposite side to where then the other side doesn’t feel represented,” he added. “My goal is to hopefully find that sweet spot in the middle and just bring the two sides together. You know, I think in all issues, no matter what it is, there’s such drastic separation and there’s such fanaticism on the fringes, and I think most of us live in the middle and most of us don’t care. We just want to live in the middle. And so I think that would be the sweet spot I hope we get to.”

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