LEILA FADEL, HOST:
On the dating show "The Bachelor," one man hands a rose to each woman he wants to keep around at the end of every episode. Over the years, host Chris Harrison had a specific way of letting everyone know when the bachelor was going to give out his last one.
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CHRIS HARRISON: Ladies, Ben, this is the final rose tonight - when you're ready.
FADEL: But yesterday, it was Harrison who failed to get that last rose. As producers of the show confirmed, he would be leaving the franchise after 19 years. Harrison had stepped away from hosting duties in February after a controversial interview about a racism scandal involving one of the show's contestants.
Here to talk about the fallout is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hey, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.
FADEL: So what exactly happened here? Do you have details on Harrison's departure?
DEGGANS: Well, Harrison seemed to have negotiated an exit from the show months after he stepped down from hosting. The website Deadline reported that he got a midrange eight-figure settlement, which would bar him from saying too much publicly. ABC Entertainment and the show's producer, Warner Horizon, issued this joint statement on Tuesday confirming his departure and saying, quote, they "wish him all the best on his new journey." And Harrison put out a short statement of his own on Instagram saying he was, quote, "excited to start a new chapter." So both of these sides seem to be using the kind of platitudes that the show's known for to kind of say he's gone without really saying much beyond that.
FADEL: But his departure didn't come out of nowhere, right? I mean, why did Harrison stop hosting a few months ago?
DEGGANS: Well, he stepped down from "The Bachelor" franchise back in February. And the franchise includes these spinoff shows like "The Bachelorette" and "Bachelor In Paradise." He'd given this interview about contestant Rachael Kirkconnell. And pictures had surfaced on social media showing her at this 2018 party themed around the antebellum South, which is a time when slavery still existed. And given that this was the first season that the show featured a Black man as the bachelor, some critics question whether she should stay on the show.
DEGGANS: Harrison tried to downplay it. He called the critics the, quote, "woke police." And he suggested it wasn't controversial to attend a party like that way back in (laughter) 2018. So when the backlash exploded, he put out two apologies on Instagram, and he announced he was temporarily leaving this franchise that he's been the public face of since it started in 2002.
FADEL: So is this just about Harrison and those comments, or does this point to deeper issues about race and "The Bachelor"? I mean, it took them almost 20 years to film a season with a Black man as the bachelor, as the star.
DEGGANS: Exactly. You know, I think Harrison's initial comments about Kirkconnell reflected the show's profound cluelessness about racial issues. I mean, this show has always presented a white-centered princess fantasy about romance. But instead of facing that issue, producers have tried to avoid criticism by putting nonwhite people in more prominent roles. Now, I suspect one reason Harrison wound up leaving the franchise was because producers really didn't want to do the kind of open examination and discussion of the show's missteps on race that would have been necessary before the public would accept him coming back.
FADEL: And he left with a lot of money. So do we know who will take his place as the franchise's new host?
DEGGANS: We don't know if they even will replace him. I mean, right now, they've got two women who are former bachelorettes, Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe. And they're hosting the latest edition of "The Bachelorette" that started on Monday night. People Magazine says a rotating lineup of guest hosts are going to handle the next edition of "Bachelor In Paradise," including comic David Spade. Whoever they hire to replace Chris Harrison better be more adept at answering all these thorny questions about race and class that "The Bachelor" often generates.
FADEL: NPR's Eric Deggans, thanks.
DEGGANS: Thank you.
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