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Serving as the franchise host since the series’ 2002 debut, Harrison has played an integral role throughout the contestants’ roadmap to a TV proposal. Acting as the confidant and, at times, referee, the onscreen personality is no stranger to challenging drama or “traps” set up by story narration — especially with Bachelor Nation still reeling from former Bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. and ABC’s cameras blindsiding new Bachelorette Becca Kufrin during last season’s controversial finale.
“I’m not asking you to forget and just flush it all down, but maybe move on like Becca has,” Harrison told The Hollywood Reporter during a recent conversation ahead of The Bachelorette premiere. “Becca’s okay. So, I think it’s all okay for all of us to move on.”
Indeed, Becca has already announced that, despite her history with the show, she does get engaged during her season, which premieres Monday. The news comes as a surprise, given that Arie himself said he regretted proposing to Becca on the pre-taped finale. (Arie went on to propose for a second time to runner-up Lauren Burnham during the live After the Final Rose special; the pair recently announcing a non-televised wedding date.) “There needs to be more flexibility if that person needs more time,” the former Bachelor told THR one day after the live finale in March.
As far as the criticism the show has received since for appearing to apply pressure on contestants to propose for the fairytale TV ending, Harrison argues that it’s simply not true. The show “asks nothing” and “promises nothing,” he says, confirming there is no contract. “Honestly, great TV would be no proposal or a bad breakup. Ratings will be fine either way.”
ABC’s longtime host spoke further to critics of the show in the chat with THR below, where he also touches on the new Bachelorette season, the “pressure” for a fairytale ending and why some of the show’s mechanisms are misunderstood.
What is your overall consensus of the group of men competing for Becca Kufrin’s heart this season on The Bachelorette?
A good diverse group from all walks of life. I know people think we try to cast crazy or people that will make good TV. You don’t have to. What you’re looking for is good stories and people that bring something different and a different dynamic to the table than the next guy. That means geographically from all across the country, all different backgrounds, ethnicities, jobs, ages. Every Bachelor and Bachelorette says, “I never would have dated a person like that or a person from this place.” But if you’re on the Bachelor and Bachelorette, obviously your type isn’t working. So our job is to break that comfort barrier. Becca’s group personifies that.
The reaction to Becca being this year’s Bachelorette has been positive, given her on-camera heartbreak. What about Becca sets her apart from previous leads?
She’s relatable and that was with just a glimpse of her on The Bachelor. Wait until you get to see her on The Bachelorette. You’re going to really fall in love with Becca. You’re really going to root for this girl. She’s the home team and you root for her in the game, and it was easy for all of us — and myself included — to just fall in love with this woman, root for her and admire her. She brings that dynamic to the table that makes it fun to watch.
America has gotten rather protective over Becca.
And I am as well. I’m always protective of my Bachelorettes, and there was one point in this season where I basically was like, “I got this.” Things were getting a little sideways and some people were getting a little unruly. There was some drama and I said, “I’ll take care of this” and she kind of put her hand on my shoulder and was like, “No, no, no. I got this.” One thing I appreciate about her is that while we saw that she was vulnerable, open and honest with the breakup with Arie, she has a backbone and she takes care of her own business. I like that about her as well.
Some viewers are still upset about the circumstances behind her breakup with Arie — there were even articles about why people should quit the show in the aftermath. What do you say to those who are feeling cautious about watching this season?
We’ve all been Becca. Many of us have been Arie — when you have to break up with somebody you care about and maybe you did it really poorly like he did. But I think a lot of people relate to Becca and some people haven’t let go of that. I will say this, Arie and Lauren are good. Becca’s good. I’m not asking you to forget and just flush it all down, but maybe move on like Becca has. Becca’s okay. So, I think it’s all okay for all of us to move on. Let Arie and Lauren be. They’re happy. They just got a house together. They’re in love. Even I say he was a knucklehead. He made some really dumb decisions. He didn’t perform as perfectly as he probably would’ve liked. If he could go back, he’d probably fix some things. But he and Lauren are in love and at the end of the day, the most important thing is that he’s with the girl he should be with and Becca’s good. I would say: Just watch. She is over Arie for sure, but she takes those lessons and what happened into this season.
Being that you have been with the franchise from the beginning, do you think that not having a proposal in the end could benefit couples and is something worth exploring for the show?
First and foremost, people need to know that nothing is guaranteed. There is no contract and there isn’t pressure from the cast or crew. The pressure that Arie succumbed to was his own pressure. It’s his own internal issues. I like the fact that the show promises nothing. We ask nothing and we promise nothing. It’s all up to you. It’s free will. It’s a scary way to produce a show. All shows have a beginning, middle and end. Well our show doesn’t promise that. You don’t have to. You can walk away.
I think in recent history, there have been a lot of proposals. I don’t mean this to be callous, but I don’t care. I really don’t. Because you may think, “Oh you need that for TV.” I don’t. That’s what we try to tell the Bachelors and Bachelorettes: “Don’t do anything for us. You going through this is what we need. The rest is up to you.” And that’s what’s relatable. We told Becca the same thing we told Arie: You don’t owe us anything at the end of this. Do what you want. If you want to accept a proposal, great. If you don’t, walk away. We’re going to shoot it, by the way.
How do you find that balance between being the host, but also dealing with the emotions unraveling in front of you with every season?
It’s something I’ve grown into. It’s something that comes with experience and respect. Early on, if you go back and you ask me 16 years ago when I’m sitting across from Trista [Sutter] or Andrew Firestone or Jason Mesnick, I’m not the same man I am today. I’m not the same host. Early on, I was just a host and going through the motions. Bbut now, having been at every single event and I’m the only one that’s been there every time; I’m a producer and I’m also a historian. I know the traps we’ve fallen into and the things to avoid. On a personal level, I know how to help you as the Bachelor or Bachelorette a little more. The short answer would be: It’s something you have to earn. It’s something you have to learn and it takes time. There are times when I am a friend and there’s times I’m a therapist or referee, then sometimes I’m the priest or rabbi. That’s one of the things I love about my job. The situation will call something different and to me that’s the challenge and the fun with it.
The new season comes after upfront season where many shows learned their fate as to whether they’ve been renewed or canceled. How has The Bachelor franchise separated itself, now going on 16 years and continuing to expand with spinoffs?
This show and this success doesn’t exist in television and it really makes no sense. To not only be successful 16 years later — that’s impossible — but to be growing, to be expanding and to be more successful and more socially relevant than we were 16 years ago, really doesn’t make sense. I think it goes to the way the show’s produced, how hard everybody works, how good the show is, how honest it is, but also how relatable it is. It’s a show that spans generations and stays relevant because of the cast. Becca’s not the same person we had 16 years ago. So it stays fresh and relevant, but at the same time, my grandmother still loves it. My mom still loves it. My daughter still loves it. It’s not lost on me how, how successful this franchise is because in the history of television, it’s pretty rare.
The Bachelorette premieres Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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The Fien Print
William Jackson Harper