‘The Bachelor’ Creator Mike Fleiss Departed Franchise After Investigation Into Racial Discrimination
Elizabeth Wagmeister, Variety, March 30, 2023
When Mike Fleiss announced he was leaving “The Bachelor” franchise earlier this week, he released a chipper statement to the media, congratulating the latest winning couple from the reality dating show that he created more than 20 years ago.
In fact, Fleiss left his mega-franchise after an investigation into allegations of racial discrimination was conducted by Warner Bros. TV, Variety has learned.
During the investigation, sources say, producers complained about Fleiss’ “bullying” behavior, as well as his resistance to increasing diversity on the show over two decades. Individuals who spoke during the investigation expressed that when production staffers suggested casting more diverse reality stars, Fleiss would not take their suggestions and would “lash out” against them. The individuals, who spoke anonymously with Variety, said that throughout the investigation, a common theme that repeatedly came up was that the fight for change was a source of frustration for many staff members.
“People said he would retaliate against people for having minorities and Black people on the show. He favored certain people over other people,” says an individual familiar with the investigation. “He would say, ‘Minorities don’t get ratings.’”
When Variety reached out to Fleiss for comment regarding the investigation about his behavior, he sent a statement via email, acknowledging that he could’ve done more to diversify the show. He said he hopes that the franchise will continue to move in the right direction, as it continues without him.
Over the years, “The Bachelor” has suffered criticism for its lack of racial inclusiveness, though it has increased its efforts in recent years by widening the pool of contestants across its casts. The next star of “The Bachelorette,” which will air this summer, is Charity Lawson, a Black contestant from the most recent season of “The Bachelor,” who will become the fourth female lead of color on “The Bachelorette” in its 20 seasons on the air. The flagship show, “The Bachelor,” has only had one Black lead in its 22-year history with Matt James in 2021. The first-ever Black lead was Rachel Lindsay in 2017 on “The Bachelorette,” who has become a vocal critic of the franchise’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Behind the scenes, the franchise named its first Black executive producer in 2021 with Jodi Baskerville, a veteran “Bachelor” producer who had been with the show for a decade when she was promoted to the executive ranks.
The announcement of Fleiss’ sudden departure came as a shock to “The Bachelor” team. An individual on the team says many employees learned he was leaving the show just moments before it broke in the press.
Many employees had no idea there was an investigation into Fleiss’ behavior. Two “Bachelor” production staffers who have been with the franchise since the beginning tell Variety they were shocked to hear about complaints made against Fleiss. Both of these men said in the two decades working with him, they never witnessed any bullying or discrimination in the workplace and considered him to be an inclusive, hands-on boss.
“I’ve been there almost since the beginning. It’s been fantastic,” a high-level crew member tells Variety. “I found him really supportive and really creative and collaborative. Nothing negative at all. He’s all the things you’d want in a showrunner and boss. I don’t have a bad thing to say about him, and it’s upsetting to hear that others do.”
One of the show’s executive producers similarly conveys a positive working relationship with Fleiss, telling Variety, “He’s been nothing but respectful. He asks everybody’s opinion. I’ve never seen any racist behavior from him. He’s never discriminatory to anyone on the staff. I’m just perplexed where these allegations are coming from.”
“Mike does get heated in creative discussions,” the producer continues. “But it’s because he’s passionate about the show and constantly wanting what’s best for our audience. I’ve been with him for 22 years. If anyone is saying he’s a bully, it’s just because he’s passionate about the show. I’ve never witnessed him bully another person.”
This producer notes that Fleiss promoted Baskerville to executive producer in 2021, which came as the franchise was navigating a race scandal that eventually resulted in the exit of longtime host, Chris Harrison. “Mike was instrumental in promoting an African American woman into the executive producer position. To me, there is proof that he was trying to diversity our show,” the producer says.