It may not seem like an important moment for civil rights, but ABC’s announcement this week that an African-American woman, Rachel Lindsay, would be the next star of “The Bachelorette” was groundbreaking for the show and reality TV.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to make happen,” said Rob Mills, ABC’s senior vice president of alternative series, specials and late night, “but it’s difficult.”
ABC and producer Mike Fleiss have taken heat for years over never casting an African-American “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette.” It took longer than expected, Mills said, because the “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” stars are now chosen from a pool of past contestants.
That meant a mostly homogeneous pool of white contenders. But this winter, “The Bachelor” star Nick Viall expressed a willingness to date people from a varied backgrounds. That gave Fleiss and ABC a more diverse mix from which to cast “The Bachelorette” (the women whose hearts were “broken” by Nick).
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“It would have happened many years ago when we did ‘The Bachelor’ from whole cloth,” Mills said of the show’s change in casting strategy. “Then we started using people from previous cycles.”
As a result, Mills said, it took a “Bachelor”/”Bachelorette” star like Viall, “who was interested in dating anyone and everyone,” to open the door to more diverse contestants.
The network and producers immediately identified Lindsay as a “Bachelorette” contender – but had to wait to see whether Viall would pick her on this season of “The Bachelor.”
“You knew Nick was into her from night one,” Mills said. “There was a strong possibility they would end up engaged.”
Clearly that didn’t wind up happening, and Fleiss went to work securing Lindsay for this summer’s “Bachelorette.” (The show goes into production immediately after “The Bachelor” wraps its winter season.) Mills said Lindsay expressed “trepidation” at first – “she has a high-powered career, and already had to put some stuff aside to do this. Anybody with half a brain goes into ‘The Bachelor’ with a little trepidation.”
But because she had experience working on “The Bachelor,” Lindsay also goes into the lead role with a comfort factor. “She knows the producers, she spends an insane amount of time with them, so there is a real trust factor,” he said.
With Lindsay on board, Mills said her dating pool would likely include more men of color – including more African-American contestants than in the past. “You’re going to see a very diverse cast, more diverse than we’ve seen from an African-American perspective,” he said.
Lindsay, 31, is a lawyer based in Dallas. Per ABC, “her future husband will need to be smart, funny, have a decent jump shot and be willing to compete for her attention with the two other men she holds dearly: her handsome nephew, Allister, and her adorable dog, Copper.”
Lindsay goes into the season as “hands down the fan favorite,” Mills added. “She’s funny, she’s engaging, she’s smart, she’s gorgeous.” He doesn’t expect there to be any added pressure on her despite the symbolism of being the franchise’s first African-American star.
In making the contestant pool more diverse, Mills said he believed the show was inching closer toward casting its first African-American male “Bachelor.”
“There will be a black ‘Bachelor’ soon,” he said. “I think we are taking strides to get there.”
“The Bachelorette” premieres its 13th season on Monday, May 22 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.