Production on “Bachelor in Paradise” was recently shut down, as Warner Bros. Television began an investigation for alleged misconduct on the set of the ABC series.
To answer questions regarding what happens behind-the-scenes on reality dating series like “Bachelor in Paradise,” Variety interviewed a top reality TV producer, who specializes in the dating show genre. This veteran producer — who agreed to speak anonymously — has worked for 25 years in the entertainment industry and has never worked on “The Bachelor” franchise. The producer offered valuable insight on standard on-set protocol, safety measures for contestants, plus paperwork that protects the network and the production company behind reality TV shows.
What sort of paperwork do contestants sign before appearing on camera on dating shows? Does the paperwork say anything explicitly about alcohol or sexual scenarios?
I would describe the paperwork that you have to sign on a show like this, or any reality show where you have to cohabit with people and date them, the release that you need to sign — to say the word “comprehensive” would be an understatement. We’re talking about a document that is thick and weighty, that releases the production company and the network from almost every conceivable possibility. It is encompassing. I can’t even think of enough words to describe how in-depth that release is.
Is there language in the paperwork that states contestants may be in a situation where they are drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and are engaging in sexual relationships with other contestants?
The language in the document basically outlines the fact that you will be presented with every type of environment, people, and compromising situations by volunteering to be on the show. Now, there is nothing in there that would constitute your willingness to be in an illegal act. The agreement covers that they’ll be in stressful situations, they’ll be interacting with other people and sleeping under the same roof as other people. It covers all levels of emotional distress and all of those kind of things.
Does anything in the paperwork state that producers may put contestants in staged situations?
There’s a lot of protections in the agreements about editorial, more than staged situations. I’d say it’s more that what you’re participating may be edited and shortened in ways that don’t depict the actuality of what’s going on, but I don’t think there is anything in there that says, “You will be told what to do.”
Rumors have been swirling in the tabloid press that the two alleged contestants in question on “Bachelor in Paradise” were told by producers that their storyline was staged to become romantically involved. Is it common for producers to put contestants in staged situations?
It depends completely on the type of show. On reality TV sets, there is absolutely no question that the producers absolutely encourage people to push their limits and go for it. That absolutely happens commonly.
Tabloid reports say the alleged female contestant in question had a boyfriend at the time of shooting “Bachelor in Paradise.” Would you ever allow a contestant to come on your show if you knew they had a significant other?
No, absolutely not. We have a thorough background check. For every contestant on our show, we’re calling their family, friends, ex-boyfriends, we’re getting personality profiles on them. We’re confident going into a show knowing if they are truly single or not. That being said, this is a unique situation — this girl was a star character on “The Bachelor” and then went home in between seasons and then was asked to come back onto “Bachelor in Paradise.” So she could have originally been single and then had a boyfriend, but the network could have said, “Now you’re one of our stars, so you’ve got to come back.” In the TV world, I’ve seen many people characterize their relationships as not very serious, but then suddenly in this situation, that casual situation becomes useful.
What is the screening process for contestants on reality dating shows?
In order to make it onto one of our shows, you have to go through intense risk-management screenings, which include psychological evaluation, background checks, medical examinations. We find out every possible thing we can about the people going on the show, whether they’re mentally, physically, and psychologically capable of handling the stress of being on the show. If there are any issues in their past with regard to drinking or violence, we have that stuff flagged and if somebody is not able to handle this situation with success, then they’re screened out. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on every season of our shows making sure that the people that are participating are capable of handling it, and then when they arrive on set, we have people watching all the time to make sure they’re careful with the alcohol and whatever else is involved. They’re our responsibility for a period of time and we have to make sure that fun and games are had, but [at the] end of the day, it’s about safety.
What should a producer do if they witness a situation that goes too far with alcohol or sex on set?
Unequivocally, it is your responsibility as a producer to step in when a cast member is intoxicated beyond the ability to make good and safe choices. We are, in a sense, creating an environment in a house reality show and when you create an environment like that, you have a responsibility to those within it to protect their safety. This is a very unusual circumstance where a group of sober individuals who are working are watching this environment from a control room and see every room, every drink that is drunk. Of course, you want to make it fun, but there is a line and when that line gets crossed, it’s time for that cast member to go to bed and sleep it off. It’s not time for that situation to continue — and that could be what the problem is here.
Obviously scenes are edited, but do you let the cameras keep rolling and then cut out sex scenes that are too raunchy or inappropriate?
When I talk to my producers, I always say the same thing: we can’t use the sex footage and I’m not interested. If two people are having sex, what can I do with that? That is pornography. We’re not going to show that. You can show the kissing or those inferential moments, but that’s all you can use. If the sex acts that are being depicted in the press [about “Bachelor in Paradise”] are true, then why are even you shooting? Every reality show has had drunken hookups and all of that stuff, but for this to have occurred, there is just no way that if this was a run-of-the-mill incident that they would have shut this show down.
Do you control the alcohol intake among contestants on set?
I produce these exact kind of shows and we are extraordinary careful about the use of alcohol. Alcohol on our show is released on a drink-by-drink basis. We put out a bottle of alcohol in the house, and then we watch the night… and then we might release another bottle. They do not have an open bar on our show. We literally control their intake of alcohol. At a certain point, as the person that is in control of this environment that you’re creating and you’re watching, you have to identify whether a person is making choices with a consciousness.
Since you’ve been in somewhat similar situations having been on many reality TV sets, what do you think could have gone wrong on “Bachelor In Paradise”?
My concern about this situation is that if the person was beyond a point of making her choices and was still being shot and being put into this scenario, it’s a very weird situation. When you talk about sexual assault, it’s almost always just two people alone and it becomes a he-said-she-said situation; this is the most unusual situation because not only is there a third party, but there are cameras that watched everything that happened and everything that led up to what happened. That, to me, is the smoking gun as to why a franchise worth hundreds of millions of dollars was shut down. There is videotaped evidence of the entire transgression, and they have the ability to go back and watch everything that happened and everything that led up to what happened. If it was totally fine, why would they have shut down the set?
Do you think this “Bachelor in Paradise” scandal will impact the reality TV industry as a whole?
There’s a multitude of unfortunate parts to this. First, if this girl was victimized, that’s just unconscionably bad. Second, this has put a severe blemish on the industry of unscripted television when most of us are respectful of boundaries and respectful about the contestants’ safety on the show. What’s sad about this is that this is going to be another log on the fire of people making assumptions about reality TV — now this one incident can cause a wild fire. I want the world to know that this is not standard; it’s abnormal. It’s just horrific. I really feel like from my instinct and my 25 years in this business that a show doesn’t get shut down for any instance happening on set. It just doesn’t happen. It’s a rarity. For the high-profile level of that show, something went down that they cannot back away from — I don’t know what that is, so who knows what’s going to happen from here.