I did a show called “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.” That created a stir and gave me a little more profile; it was a Fox show. So I ended up doing a lot of Fox stuff and ABC stuff and did that for a while until Mike Fleiss and I, he kind of broke away from that and started his own company, and he called me and said, “I’ve got a show I want you to do.” And that show happened to be “The Bachelor.”
A lot of people see shows like “The Bachelor” and “Jersey Shore” as humorous — something to mock, or to hate-watch. How do you see these programs?
“The Bachelor” kind of speaks for itself. Just the longevity of it, the fact that it’s been on for 30 seasons and still going strong. I think what keeps people watching is that they love to see who that guy’s going to end up with and what that decision’s going to be at the end.
The journey is still a fantasy — basically a soap opera, which Lisa Levenson, my other co-executive producer, brought to “The Bachelor.” She had experience in soap opera, and so we kind of molded the show into a fantasy sort of soap opera world and created, with all the candles and the limousines and the champagne and flowers, this kind of fantasy world that everyone wished their relationship could be like. And I think that caught on at the time. It was a good time for that — just after 9/11.
As someone who doesn’t idealize weddings or fantasize about a perfect match, I still find it entertaining. Why do you think so many women who are feminist-identifying and happily single enjoy “The Bachelor”?
I think it’s living vicariously through someone. There’s usually somebody, especially in “The Bachelor,” because there’s multiple bachelorettes, who women can relate to. And I think relatability is important. I wanted to bring a virgin on “Are You the One?” We really wanted to have that. I hadn’t seen it. And it just spoke to a different group of people, and I think each individual on the show speaks to somebody’s personality out there and their own personal issues with relationships.
The casting is much more diverse on “Are You the One?” than the casting on “The Bachelor.”
We haven’t had a black Bachelor yet, have we?
No, we have not.
And why? Why is the question. I would have liked to have had a black Bachelor back in the mid-2000s. I think it would have shown that ABC was conscious about diversity and ahead of the game. And yet they still haven’t done that. I heard that they’ve toyed with it, but still none. Viacom and MTV are very conscious about their diversity. They like to — and I like to, as a producer — have a more diverse crowd.
I think diversity is important today. Look at the population. We have to emulate our population. And for shows that aren’t, I think that’s a mistake.
I know that a lot of people were upset with Rachel Lindsay’s season of “The Bachelorette” because there was a suitor who had, deep in his Twitter history, tweets that were openly bigoted. I wonder how far antics, or missteps, like that can go. How much tolerance does the audience have for that kind of thing?
That’s a great question. With this administration, I think we’ve all found out that racism’s still out there, and it’s still very prevalent. I think it has been squelched over the last 20 years or so, and this administration has allowed people to speak up again and feel empowered with their racism. And that’s part of the problem.
I’ll be honest with you, it’s tough to discuss really intense racial issues on networks. They’re just kind of afraid of it. People tend to handle those discussions with kid gloves. And I don’t necessarily agree with that decision either. I think these things need to be discussed in reality TV and across the board, particularly now. I’d love to see the networks kind of loosen up and let these conversations happen and let these things be discussed.
What you’re saying is that a good cast, a representative cast, is diverse and relatable to viewers. To what extent are you involved in the casting process, and has that been different from one show to another, or one network to another?
Absolutely, yes. I’m involved deeply in casting, particularly “Are You the One?” “The Bachelor,” I was. You’re talking about the difference between ABC and MTV. And there is a difference, there’s a cultural difference there. ABC is a Disney-owned network, and although they do go for diversity in their casting now, more so than when I was there, they haven’t highlighted it. I think they should.
In “Are You the One?,” we try as much as we can to be as diverse as we can. We try to not let race play a part in it. What we want is to find really good matches, based on our criteria. We want romantic and personality traits that are highly compatible and that would provide the best relationships. While also looking for great characters, let’s not kid ourselves. There may be somebody that may be a 95 to 98 percent match, but we may do a 92 percent because that person’s a much better character for the show.
How valuable do you think shock and deception continue to be in reality television? “Are You the One?” doesn’t leave much to the imagination, whereas on “The Bachelor,” much is insinuated.
That’s part of why I’m not at “The Bachelor” anymore, why I decided to produce louder and more honest shows. We’re showing you what a relationship is like in a bubble, of course. We’re not insinuating anything.
On “The Bachelor,” we always had to cut to a closed door and assume that they’ve slept together or whatever you want to think they were doing. On “Are You the One?” there’s never closed doors. There’s the camera, the Boom Boom Room. I think that’s just more honest. Is it more shocking? Absolutely.
At that time, these people are pretty cut off from their lives outside of the show. How do you grapple with the ethics of putting people in isolation, where they’re left more vulnerable emotionally?
That’s called the bubble. You don’t have reality television without the bubble. You take away outside influence, you take away family, friends, relationships. You take away telephones. And that’s how they focus on each other and on a relationship. They’re sucked into that bubble within a day or two; it’s all they think about. Do they miss home? Sure, but there’s 21 other guys and girls there, get over it, you signed up for this and this is how it works.
They handle it quite well actually. Many of them will tell you, after it’s over, God it was so nice not to have a cellphone. They really learn to communicate, to talk, to be honest with each other. When you break up with somebody and they’re living in the same house, that’s not easy. You’re going to have to face the music. You have to explain yourself with your words. That’s what it’s about to me. It’s not about torturing anybody. These people aren’t being tortured; they’re signing up for a reality television show, they’re looking for a relationship, these are the ground rules, and we lay them out in the beginning. And they get into that bubble and they live in it and they’re fine with it. It’s not like they’re being psychologically tortured.
These contestants, they’re entering a contractual relationship that’s consensual. Still, I wonder if there are any moments that you produced on any of the shows you worked on where you felt that you went a little too far. Do you have any regrets?
No, I have zero regrets. I have regrets that some people who have worked with me may have pushed things too far without my permission or knowledge. Our producers are there daily, 12 to 16 hours a day, and sometimes they get a little excited about something that might happen. And they push a little too hard or give away something they shouldn’t. I’m all over that; I don’t like it.
I’m a very strict producer when it comes to how you produce. Telling people to do things is not my style. And I’m very cognizant of sexuality on set and where they take it and that there is consent on both sides. Never would I allow anybody that’s not consenting to go into the Boom Boom Room or have sex if there isn’t full consent, and we’re very aware of it and we have ears on everybody all of the time. And we’ve pulled people apart multiple times. “Look, she’s not into it, sorry, you’re pushing too hard. Go to bed.”
You mentioned earlier that a part of the reason you left “The Bachelor” was because you felt that it was operating in ways that you didn’t agree with. When was that?
About 2005. It was after Season 7 of “The Bachelor.” It wasn’t necessarily that was the only reason. There were more opportunities out there. Things were just beginning to get to the point where they wanted to push things a little hard in producing.
Look, we produce hard, trust me. We can make a girl cry in an interview after a rose ceremony at the drop of a hat, and there’s ways to do that and you can get the tears. But bringing in a character to be a character wasn’t our style back then.
What would you say to people who are hypercritical of your line of work, the industry at large?
A lot of people love to watch it. Chances are, you actually watch, too. Most people who are anti-reality have to tune in and watch something. You find out that if you talk to them for a while — and look, my skin is thick as a rhinoceros’s, you can’t offend me — I’ve had people tell me directly, Oh my God, you do that trash? And I say, absolutely I do, it’s called Daddy’s Little Meal Ticket. That’s what puts dinner on my table.
Frankly it’s a passion. I love being on set with these kids. I enjoy every minute of my job. It’s something that is going to be around. Look, if it’s not for you, there’s probably something out there that is. Try Discovery Networks, try A&E. There’s some really great shows with some good content on those networks, if you don’t care for the MTV flavor or the “Bachelor” flavor. If you don’t like relationships, there’s other stuff. And chances are they’re watching some reality; they just don’t like the one I’m doing.
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