Can ‘The Bachelor’ Survive Its Creator’s Shock Exit?

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Someone call Jesse Palmer, because we’ve got another emotional breakup to discuss. On Tuesday, The Bachelor and its creator, Mike Fleiss, parted ways after more than two decades of (mostly) happy matrimony. Fleiss gave no reason for his exit, but the timing of the announcement—which comes one day after a disastrous finale of an especially boring Bachelor season—does the show’s narrative no favors.

But what will become of this compulsively controversial series without its equally controversial creator, who has remained in his position for more than two decades in spite of his own personal scandals?

In a statement about his departure, Fleiss congratulated Bachelor Zach Shallcross and this season’s winner, Kaity Biggar, and thanked Bachelor producer Warner Bros. and ABC “for 21 extraordinary years.” Regarding the future, he wrote, “They’ve found the perfect creative team for me to entrust The Bachelor franchise and keep this lightning in a bottle bold and moving forward. Let the journey continue.”

‘The Bachelor’ Finale Was a Tearful, Tone-Deaf Dystopia

For better or worse, Fleiss’ exit marks a sea change for a franchise that’s mostly stayed the same course for upwards of 20 years. Chris Harrison might’ve been The Bachelor’s longtime familiar host, but it was Fleiss who most seemed to reflect the show’s ethos by becoming an avatar of sorts for its implicit sleaziness and zeal for controversy. On Twitter, he has become known for teasing plot details and character twists—that is, when he’s not sneering at Kelly Ripa for criticizing his creation. In the summer of 2019, life began to imitate art even further. After multiple back-to-back scandals within the Bachelor franchise, a judge ordered Fleiss to stay 100 yards away from his now ex-wife, Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss, who at the time alleged that he’d verbally and physically abused her during an altercation in which he allegedly demanded that she get an abortion and called her a “$50,000 whore.” Fleiss denied the allegations, and Kaeppler Fleiss withdrew the complaint weeks later, after the two settled their divorce for $10 million.

Months later, former Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe claimed that Fleiss had blocked her from appearing on Dancing with the Stars when she was asked to join the series. “Mike Fleiss is a piece of shit… and he hates women,” Bristowe said at the time, per People.

Fleiss’ work on The Bachelor has continued until now, but the franchise has been languishing for years amid ongoing scandals and diminishing ratings. There was contestant Lee Garrett, whose publicly available racist tweets somehow evaded the show’s background screening for Rachel Lindsay’s 2017 season as the first Black Bachelorette. That same year also saw a production-halting sex scandal on Bachelor in Paradise between Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson. There was also Garrett Yrigoyen, whose problematic Instagram “likes” got the show in trouble, as well as the unmitigated disaster that was Matt James’ season as the first Black Bachelor. (For those who don’t remember, that season ended with longtime host Harrison leaving the franchise on a golden parachute after defending season winner Rachael Kirkconnell’s choice to attend a plantation-themed party in 2018.)

Was ‘Bachelor’ Host Chris Harrison’s Huge Payoff About Creator Mike Fleiss?

To some, Fleiss’ exit might seem like an opportunity for The Bachelor to course-correct. While his exit as an executive could provide an opportunity for a rebrand, however, sources told Variety that Fleiss has not been involved in the show’s day-to-day production for more than a decade. His incoming replacements, meanwhile, all have long-term ties to the franchise, the trade notes: There’s Claire Freeland (former showrunner for The Bachelor in Canada), Jason Ehrlich (who has overseen several Bachelor seasons in the U.S.), and Bennett Graebner, whom Variety reports “has worked on all shows across the franchise for more than 15 years.” All three are coming on board as executive producers and showrunners, and all three are already working on Chastity Lawson’s upcoming Bachelorette season.

This might be the end of an era, but only time will tell how much Fleiss’ exit actually changes The Bachelor. Should producers choose to seize the opportunity, they could make real changes that some fans have been suggesting for years, including revamps of the casting process and the show’s increasingly dated format. Given how this franchise traditionally moves, however, it seems far more likely that we’re in for more of the same. After all, no matter how exciting a new relationship might be, it’ll only work if both parties are really ready and willing to let themselves be changed.

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