Chris Harrison Calls Comments a "Mistake" in First Interview Since 'The Bachelor' Controversy

BACHELOR IN PARADISE - CHRIS HARRISON
John Fleenor/ABC

Chris Harrison is addressing his racially insensitive comments amid an ongoing controversy for the Bachelor franchise.

The veteran host and executive producer, who has been the face of the ABC series and its many spinoffs since the franchise launched in 2002, sat down with Michael Strahan for a pretaped interview that will air on the network's Good Morning America on Thursday morning.

"It was a mistake," Harrison says in a preview of the sit-down. "I made a mistake. I am an imperfect man. I made a mistake and I own that."

Harrison first found himself under fire after a Feb. 9 interview for Extra that was conducted by The Bachelorette alum Rachel Lindsay. After allegations of past racist behavior had been leveled against a contestant on the current season of The Bachelor with Matt James, Lindsay asked Harrison why that contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell, and the ABC franchise hadn't addressed the claims. The result was a 14-minute interview in which Harrison refused to condemn the allegations and his defense of the contestant exposed a larger, systemic race problem that has long existed within the hit reality series.

Lindsay — who was the first Black Bachelorette in 2017 and has become a vocal advocate for change from the series, particularly in wake of the 2020 national race reckoning — has been sharing her reaction to the interview and the ensuing dialogue surrounding the franchise on her Higher Learning podcast for The Ringer. (She is also contracted by the franchise due to her Bachelor Nation podcast Bachelor Happy Hour, from which she was absent for the March 2 episode.)

Kirkconnell, who is a top-three finalist heading into Monday's penultimate episode, spoke out after Harrison's interview to apologize. Her cast, which includes 25 women who identify as BIPOC, denounced any defense of racism. James, who is the franchise's first Black Bachelor in 25 seasons, made a rare statement saying he is reevaluating his experience in the wake of the events that have come to light since filming on his season wrapped.

Days after his Extra interview, Harrison offered two apologies and announced the he was stepping away indefinitely from the franchise, which includes the upcoming After the Final Rose finale special (the rest of the season had already been pretaped). Emmanuel Acho, the New York Times best-selling author and host of Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, has since been tapped as his replacement. Acho, who has said he was approached to appear on the franchise previously but turned it down, had been publicly suggested to fill Harrison's finale chair by Lindsay. According to ABC, Acho will sit down with James and his three finalists — Bri Springs, Michelle Young and Kirkconnell — to discuss the season, James' final decision and where he is now, as well as cover the current events about the franchise.

Acho, who describes his book as "answering all the racial questions you've been too afraid to ask," said on social media of the opportunity, "It’s been a pivotal season, and this episode will hopefully be one of the most storied shows in TV history. Empathy is needed and change is coming."

The franchise has traditionally avoided hot-button topics such as religion, politics and race. But heading into the 2020 cycle of The Bachelorette, the executive producers made changes behind the scenes and in casting in order to present a more inclusive show. More producers of color were hired, a diversity team was brought in for both The Bachelorette and The Bachelor, and historic leads and casts of color debuted.

The revelations of another frontrunner having a problematic past, compounded by Harrison's defense of the situation, however, have raised questions among the stars of Bachelor Nation about the work that was done and how much still needs to happen before jumping into another season. The next cycle of The Bachelorette, which has yet to announce a lead, is set to go into production within the month.

"You’re going to go into another season but you still have all these issues. How have you fixed them coming into a new season? You really haven’t. So I think that they need to just take a beat, figure things out, regroup and then bring the product back to us to a way that we can all enjoy it the way that we used to," said Lindsay on the March 2 episode of Higher Learning.

ABC and Warner Bros. TV have yet to announce whether Harrison will return to the franchise to host The Bachelorette. The show's network and studio have not yet commented on the ongoing controversy. After Lindsay deactivated her Instagram account over online bullying, the show's executive producers released their first public statement since her interview with Harrison to condemn the bullying and support their former star.