In 2016, The Bachelor is as synonymous with its lack of diversity as it is with floral arrangements. During the executive session of ABC’s day on the Television Critic’s Association summer press tour on Thursday, newly-installed ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey was asked to discuss the possibility of upping the diversity of the reality juggernaut.
It’s a question that ABC has consistently been asked over the years, and one that the network has always answered positively but never reflected in the actual series. (Paul Lee, whom Dungey recently replaced as ABC chief, told reporters in January that the show was undergoing “a whole lot of tweaks” and he’d be “very surprised if The Bachelorette in the summer wasn’t diverse.” Spoiler alert: She wasn’t.)
“I would very much like to see some changes there, and I think one of the biggest changes that we need to do is we need to increase the pool of diverse candidates in the beginning,” Dungey told reporters in Beverly Hills on Thursday. “Part of what ends up happening as we go along is there just aren’t as many candidates that [get to the end and could end up in] the role of the next Bachelor or Bachelorette.”
Theoretically, Dungey said, “we could” pluck an unknown individual and recruit them as the titular love-seeker. But Dungey argued that such a bypass would undermine the value of the audience’s involvement in the formula of the show and its selection process: “The show has been very much in a cycle where the first runner-up in one cycle becomes the person who leads the next cycle and it’s worked very well for us because the audience feels really engaged in helping to choose that candidate.”
A smaller group of press asked Dungey whether she felt that the audience’s connection with the suitor was really more important than picking a person of color. “I wouldn’t say that it’s more important,” she said. “I feel as though our audience is incredibly passionate and invested in the show and we’d like to try to find a way to do both.”
Relatedly, a few minutes later, another reporter asked Dungey whether the network has had any internal conversations about UnREAL, the acclaimed (at least in season 1) drama on Lifetime that takes viewers inside the shocking inner workings of a Bachelor-style dating show. Of most interesting note with that show is its casting of an African-American suitor as the lead in season 2, thereby beating ABC to its own groundbreaking punch.
“I don’t think we’ve ever actually had a full sort of network conversation about UnREAL,” Dungey said. “I enjoy watching it as a viewer, however. Those two women are…incredibly compelling.”
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