Anybody who thinks we live in a “post-racial” society because there’s an African-American man in the Oval Office hasn’t been paying attention to the Trayvon Martin case… or, according to the men filing a class-action lawsuit against ABC, watching THE BACHELOR.
Nathanial Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson’s suit is based on the fact that in the history of THE BACHELOR and its sister series, THE BACHELORETTE, not a single one of the folks asked to choose among a bevy of would-be mates has been a “person of color.” They go on to claim that the show’s “refusal to hire minority applicants” is part of a “conscious attempt to minimize the risk of alienating their majority-white viewership” as well as the advertisers who pony up big bucks for the privilege of pimping their products during the show.
On the surface, it seems almost impossible to deny: 24 seasons and not a single black (or Asian or Hispanic) man or woman has been given the opportunity to debase themself by making out with numerous members of the opposite sex while searching for true love. And yet, producers released a statement dismissing the case as “baseless and without merit.”
Oh, sure, every year, there are a few folks thrown into the mix of desperate-seeming contestants who are from different racial backgrounds. But any viewer who is honest with themselves knows that those folks are there for no other reason than… well, to avoid exactly this type of lawsuit. And in fact, the producers proved that by pointing to the minorities who have been cast as members of each season’s dating pool… or hot tub, as the case may be.
Apparently, someone at ABC thinks the public doesn’t know the difference between supporting player (which all of the minorities “featured” on THE BACHELOR and BACHELORETTE have been) and starring role. It’s nearly as offensive as saying, “I can’t be racist… I have a black friend!”
Interestingly, almost every other competition-based reality show I can think of would be immune from a lawsuit such as the one brought by Claybrooks and Johnson; SURVIVOR, BIG BROTHER, THE AMAZING RACE are always multi-ethnic outings. (The same can’t exactly be said for personality-based shows like THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS or JERSEY SHORE, neither of which features anyone whose shade is darker than tan.)
This appears to be a no-win situation for ABC’s franchise, which has already seen a steady decline in ratings over the past few cycles. If in the near future they name a minority as the next BACHELOR, they’ll be criticized as having only done so as a direct response to the lawsuit. If they don’t, it will only serve to prove the accusations of racism correct.
Either way, should the case move forward, it should prove to be at least as fascinating as the about-to-start-all-over-again DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES lawsuit that resulted in backstage secrets being revealed and a major spoiler hitting the streets before it made it to the airwaves. Maybe the best thing ABC can do is make room on its schedule for a reality show following its own legal battles.
Richard M. Simms is executive editor of Soaps In Depth magazine and the author of Crimes Against Civility. You can tweet him at @DispatchesFTC