The Purely Accidental Lessons Of The First Black 'Bachelorette' Television shows don't have to be good or smart to tell you something about the culture that spawns them, and you might be surprised how much The Bachelor has to say about power.
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The Purely Accidental Lessons Of The First Black 'Bachelorette'

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The Purely Accidental Lessons Of The First Black 'Bachelorette'

The Purely Accidental Lessons Of The First Black 'Bachelorette'

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

OK, so we don't always talk about reality TV on this show, like who's going to be the next bachelor or bachelorette. But today, we are going to talk about it. The dating show "The Bachelor" and its sister show, "The Bachelorette," have been roundly criticized for years over a lack of diversity.

But last night, it was announced that an attorney from Texas named Rachel Lindsay will be the next bachelorette. And she's black. Here to talk about this is NPR pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes. Hey.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: OK, so how is it that a show like this went on for 15 years and 33 seasons and never cast a black person as a lead before now?

HOLMES: It's kind of amazing, isn't it?

MCEVERS: Yeah.

HOLMES: So when the show first started, they would just kind of, like, pick somebody. Like, he's a doctor. He's a prince. He's the - he's a relative of the Firestone Tire people. And they would just pick someone.

MCEVERS: Of course.

HOLMES: But as the show "matured," quote, unquote, and they started to alternate bachelors and bachelorettes, they started using, like, a runner-up from the previous season as the main bachelor or bachelorette on the new season. So you had this kind of perpetuating cycle where they would have a white bachelor. They would give him mostly white women to date. And so whoever he didn't pick would also be a white woman because they cast a small number of black women and other women of color as candidates in the first place. And the ones they did cast were often gone fairly quickly.

So for the most part, what that resulted in was a lot of white people who picked other white people. And there was one guy who was an American-born Venezuelan soccer player named Juan Pablo. But for the most part, it has been, you know, white leads, season in and season out.

MCEVERS: OK, so has diversity, though, been an ongoing issue for the show?

HOLMES: Absolutely it has. Not only have they been criticized for it quite a lot, but in 2012, there was actually a lawsuit that was filed by a couple of black men who had applied for the show and not gotten on it, claiming that it was in violation of discrimination laws. Now, that lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but the issue never really went away.

And as a matter of fact, last summer when the entertainment president of ABC talked to the television critics at their annual meeting, she talked about - her name is Channing Dungey, and she talked about the fact that she was trying to introduce more diversity into the show by diversifying that pool of people that the bachelor or the bachelorette has to pick from in the first place, which is basically what they did. They had more black women in the cast when this guy they currently have, Nick, was picking. And one of them was Rachel, who isn't the "winner," quote, unquote, again. But she's the next bachelorette.

MCEVERS: Does this come up on other reality shows, or is this the one that's particularly prone to a lack of diversity?

HOLMES: Well, there are other shows. If you look at shows like "Survivor," they have, you know, kind of changed over time. I think some of them do a better job than they used to at having a broader group of people. There are actually some shows - I always single out "America's Next Top Model," believe it or not, as a show that in a lot of ways was ahead of scripted shows in bringing in a variety of folks. They had a transgender woman on "America's Next Top Model" before, you know, you saw very many on scripted TV.

MCEVERS: I mean does this really matter for "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," or I mean is this like way long past the point of embarrassing at this point?

HOLMES: Well, it is past the point of embarrassing to me. But what's interesting about a show like this is it always does tell you certain things about the culture that it exists in and how the entertainment industry is working. So the fact that they have finally, you know, gotten to this point might say something. But I think, boy, least they could do is, you know - perhaps the only way to describe it.

MCEVERS: NPR pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes, thank you.

HOLMES: Thanks, Kelly.

(SOUNDBITE OF OSCAR PETERSON SONG, "SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES")

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