5:02am PT by Jackie Strause
Chris Harrison Eyes Return to 'The Bachelor' Franchise: "I Plan to Be Back"
The Bachelor is within two weeks of its finale. And one of the biggest questions looming over Matt James' historic season is: What is going to happen with Chris Harrison?
On Thursday, the veteran host and executive producer of the ABC and Warner Bros. TV franchise attempted to provide an answer.
"I plan to be back and I want to be back. This interview is not the finish line," Harrison told Michael Strahan on ABC's Good Morning America. "There is much more work to be done and I am excited to be a part of that change."
In response, Strahan echoed what many stars in Bachelor Nation have been saying in recent weeks and questioned what that change will look like. "His apology is his apology, but it felt like it got nothing more than a surface response on any of this," Strahan noted after the interview. "Obviously, he is the man who wants to clearly stay on the show, but only time will tell if there is any meaning behind his words."
The virtual sit-down, which was pretaped this week, marks Harrison's first interview since stepping away from the franchise he has hosted since 2002. On Feb. 9, Harrison found himself under fire after he was interviewed by former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay about a current contestant on The Bachelor, Rachael Kirkconnell. Kirkconnell, who has since apologized, was facing allegations of racist behavior in her past: namely, attending an "Old South" antebellum-themed party in college in 2018.
Harrison defended the contestant and did not condemn the behavior. "Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference," he argued during the widely viewed 14-minute Extra interview. His comments were swiftly called problematic and were viewed by many stars among Bachelor Nation as being representative of a larger, systemic problem with race within The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and its many spinoff series. "It's like racism is a cancer that keeps plaguing this franchise and I don't understand why," former Bachelor contestant Natasha Parker had summed up on an episode of her franchise-sponsored podcast, Clickbait With Bachelor Nation.
"I'm an imperfect man. I made a mistake and I own that," Harrison told Strahan on Thursday of his comments. "I believe that mistake doesn't reflect who I am or what I stand for. I am committed to progress, not just for myself, also for the franchise. Antebellum parties are not OK; past, present, future. Knowing what that represents is unacceptable."
EXCLUSIVE: “It was a mistake.” #TheBachelor host Chris Harrison apologizes for defending frontrunner Rachael Kirkconnell’s past racist social media posts, telling @michaelstrahan he is an “imperfect man” who is “committed to progress.” https://t.co/OfPBBzGd9s pic.twitter.com/0EgbKV99DV
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 4, 2021
Since the interview, Lindsay has received severe online bullying and has even deactivated her Instagram account. (The executive producers recently offered their first statement amid the controversy in support of their former star.) Lindsay had noted that Harrison's "privilege was on display" over the way he treated her during the interview and, on Thursday, Harrison said he had reached out to Lindsay to apologize and hopes to do so again. "To anyone who is throwing hate to Rachel Lindsay: Please stop, it is unacceptable," he said on GMA. "I am saddened and shocked at how insensitive I was in that interview with Rachel Lindsay. I didn't speak from my heart. And that is to say, I stand against all forms of racism and I am deeply sorry. I'm sorry to Rachel Lindsay and I am sorry to the Black community."
The franchise's producers, which include Harrison, had made changes behind the scenes in response to the 2020 national racial reckoning. Amid public outcry for the franchise to diversify its majority-white series, they named its first Black male lead in James, hired more producers of color and brought in a diversity team to work with the talent and crew for both the current Bachelor season and the 2020 cycle of The Bachelorette, which had also welcomed lead Tayshia Adams as the first Black and Latina star. Her season had brought with it on-air conversations about race and a diverse cast, which led into James having an unprecedented number of nonwhite contestants when his season launched in January.
"Did Chris Harrison not sit through that [diversity training]? I'm confused as to how you could have [consultants] working for you, yet what just happened, happens. So, are people going through training? Are they learning things?" Lindsay had questioned in the aftermath of her Harrison interview. Lindsay, who was the first Black Bachelorette in 2017, 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 with her Bachelor Nation podcast Bachelor Happy Hour, which she was absent from for the March 2 episode.)
Most recently, she suggested that the franchise pump the breaks before heading into another cycle with The Bachelorette, which is set to go into production within the month, in order to address its issues. The cycle also has yet to name a lead. "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.
After the backlash, Harrison had offered two apologies and announced 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 for the March 15 finale.
"My words were harmful," Harrison had acknowledged in his social media apology, speaking directly to the BIPOC community (which includes 25 contestants from James' season). "I am listening, and I truly apologize for my ignorance and any pain it caused you. I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the people from these communities who I've had enlightening conversations with over the past few days, and I am so grateful to those who have reached out to help me on my path to anti-racism." He had added that he was "dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before," ensuring the crew and viewers, "this is not just a moment, but a commitment to much greater understanding that I will actively make every day."
Speaking to Strahan on Thursday, Harrison said plainly, "I am not a victim here. I made a mistake and I own that. Racism, oppression — these are big, dynamic problems and they take serious work, and I am committed to that work."
Strahan noted that Harrison has been working closely with a "race educator and strategist," along with faith leaders and scholars like Michael Eric Dyson, who, Harrison says, talks to him about "counsel, not cancel. And that is, full accountability. Understanding what you didn't understand. Owning that, learning from that. Seeking counsel often in the community that you hurt. Learning from them, listening, gaining experience, knowledge and moving forward."
ABC and Warner Bros. TV have yet to announce when Harrison will return to the franchise or if he will host The Bachelorette. The Mike Fleiss-created show's executive producers, network and studio have not publicly commented on the ongoing controversy.