How Can 'Bachelor in Paradise' Possibly Avoid Cancellation?

The "misconduct" investigation, which halted production, is said to have occurred on the first day of filming and involved two well-known contestants.
Courtesy of ABC

The investigation into an incident on the set of Bachelor in Paradise has given rise to several important questions, namely if this season of the hit reality show can go on as planned and if the scandal will tarnish the ABC franchise as a whole.

News broke Sunday that producer Warner Horizon Television had suspended production on the upcoming fourth season of Bachelor spinoff Bachelor in Paradise, which is currently slated to bow Aug. 8. After "allegations of misconduct" on the show's Mexico set that are said to involve a sexual encounter between two intoxicated castmembers, Warners halted filming and opened an internal investigation. As of Tuesday afternoon, the fate of the series remains in limbo, with a formal decision on whether Bachelor in Paradise will continue expected to come after the investigation has been completed. Representatives for ABC and Warners maintain the series has not been canceled despite rumors to the contrary.

But several key factors suggest the show will not be back this season, if ever.

"The real question is if the advertisers will stay with the show and how much financial damage has been done," media valuation expert Larry Gerbrandt tells The Hollywood Reporter. "If advertisers stay with the show, then it goes back on the air; but if they turn away in disgust, then you have real problems. The knee-jerk reaction is to pull out [of buying air time on the series] because that's the safest course of action — that's what killed Bill O'Reilly's show; it wasn't ratings, it was advertisers dropping out."

The incident at the center of the investigation is said to have occurred on the first day of filming and involved two well-known contestants (some outlets have named them, citing sources). Sources tell THR that a producer who suspected misconduct on the set followed protocol and reported it to her supervisor at the studio. Criminal charges have not been filed, and neither of the two castmembers allegedly involved have spoken publicly.

Gerbrandt points to the history of scandal on programs like American Idol — which was able to overcome a flap involving judge Paula Abdul and a contestant — and the famous quiz-show scandal in the 1950s that ultimately ended in cancellation after it was discovered some contestants were provided answers in advance. If ABC is able to contain the damage and remove those affiliated with the alleged wrongdoing, the Disney-owned network could salvage this season, he says. "How ABC handles it will be critical to whether or not the show survives," Gerbrandt says. "We're operating in a factless vacuum, and that's never a comfortable place to be. There are times when people make poor decisions. The question is who has made them and how do they fix them?" 

As of Sunday, all of the Paradise castmembers were on their way home and plugged in again (no social media devices are allowed during filming) and began sharing their disappointment via social media. It remains unclear if those who spoke publicly about the incident were voicing concern over the situation or in regards to the up-in-air status of the season.

Amid the investigation and tarnished brand of the spinoff, the chances of the show going back into production with the same cast seem slim. Host Chris Harrison said Tuesday that the studio is "moving quickly to gather all the facts, and once that's done a clear concise decision can be made about where we go from here."

This type of investigation, however, is likely to take one or two weeks. Considering the season is filmed in about a month, it's unlikely that Bachelor in Paradise could be completed in time for the planned early August premiere date. And even if does air at a later date, will audiences want to watch a raunchy reality soap opera knowing that something inappropriate and possibly illegal may have occurred during production? Bachelor in Paradise typically features a series of drunken hookups and fights, and viewers might not find them as entertaining this time around. There likely would be outrage, especially on social media, if Disney-owned ABC decided to proceed, even if the investigation determines that no inappropriate behavior occurred. On Tuesday, a petition was launched by Care2 to convince the network to cancel the show. 

Then there's the question of the impact on the entire Bachelor franchise, which, while tamer than Paradise, also features boozy courtships and, at times, sex between contestants. The Bachelorette is currently airing on ABC.  

"How it's going to have long-term effect on an entire brand is anybody's guess," says Henry Schafer, exec vp at branding specialist Q Scores. "I'd recommend to clearly distinguish that this investigation has nothing to do with The Bachelorette and is confined to Bachelor in Paradise. That has to be made clear, otherwise things can get misconstrued." 

However, since the Bachelor in Paradise contestants hail from previous seasons of The Bachelorette and The Bachelor, it will be difficult to distance this incident entirely from its sibling shows. Although production on The Bachelorette has wrapped, there are two big episodes yet to be filmed: the annual Men Tell All reunion special and the live After the Final Rose finale special. Both episodes serve as a big platform, should Harrison or ABC chose to address the controversy. (This is the first time in 15 years that production has been halted on a series under the Bachelor franchise umbrella, aside from delays due to weather and location changes.) In addition, a handful of the Bachelorette castoffs who are due to appear on the Men Tell All were also a part of the Bachelor in Paradise cast.

"There is considerable damage done to this season, but to the franchise, the question is if they can clean it up, will people come back?" Gerbrandt says of Bachelor in Paradise's impact on the franchise as a whole. "The window is tight, but unfortunately we're living in an era where controversy sells rather than something that is more wholesome, and this is a show that is known for its fairly outrageous behavior."
There also is the issue of the Bachelor in Paradise wedding between two former contestants. Last year's cycle ended with three engagements, though only one couple, Carly Waddell and Evan Bass, is still set to walk down the aisle. Waddell and Bass' nuptials were scheduled to be filmed while the season was in production and air during Bachelor in Paradise this summer. How ABC would handle televising the nuptials if the season were to be nixed also remains up in the air, according to sources. 
Beyond the future of Bachelor in Paradise as well as the wedding question, ABC next has Bachelor Winter Games set to air in February opposite the Olympics on NBC. That series will find former contestants from both shows competing in winter sports-themed events, a potential good sign for a franchise best known for drunken hookups.