Back in March, amid escalating controversy surrounding former host Chris Harrison, ABC Entertainment and Warner Horizon committed to hiring an executive producer of color for “The Bachelor.” Now, Variety has exclusively learned that the franchise has named its first-ever Black executive producer.
Jodi Baskerville, a veteran producer who has been with “The Bachelor” franchise for nearly 10 years, has been elevated to EP, numerous individuals close to production tell Variety.
Baskerville, sources say, will begin her role as executive producer on Season 18 of “The Bachelorette,” which recently began production and premieres this fall. The upcoming season will star Michelle Young, a runner-up from Matt James’ season of “The Bachelor,” who identifies as as BIPOC, and will become the third woman of color to star in the leading role, following Rachel Lindsay and Tayshia Adams, who is biracial.
Baskerville’s promotion is a major step forward for the franchise. The hit dating series, which premiered in 2002 and featured predominately white casts since its launch, has been criticized for its lack of diversity on camera and behind the scenes. But, over the past few years, “The Bachelor” franchise has focused its efforts on increasing representation, both on and off screen.
In recent seasons, there have been more BIPOC cast members on the franchise, creating a larger pool of diverse contestants from which future leads can be selected. James’ season featured the most diverse group of contestants in the franchise’s history, and roughly half of Young’s upcoming suitors for Season 18 identify as BIPOC.
Still, in nearly two decades on air, there has only been one Black lead of “The Bachelor” (James in 2021), one Black star of “The Bachelorette” (Lindsay in 2017) and one biracial “Bachelorette” (Adams in 2020).
As for behind-the-scenes inclusion efforts, Variety reported earlier this year that employees on the “Bachelor” franchise have attended workshops with diversity experts, and that the franchise has hired consultants to recruit more people of color across departments, from set design to casting. As part of the hiring process, recruiters are approaching students from sororities and fraternities at historically black colleges and universities.
All of those efforts, however, seemed to be overshadowed by Harrison’s scandal, which put a magnifying glass on the lack of representation within “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” — of course, these issues existed long before Harrison’s comments, but the controversy seemed to be the breaking point.
During James’ historic season in 2021, the eventual winner, Rachael Kirkconnell, was embroiled in a racism scandal when photos surfaced on social media of her at a plantation-themed, antebellum fraternity party, back in 2018. During a televised sit-down with Lindsay, a former “Bachelorette” who is a correspondent on “Extra,” Harrison went to great lengths to defend Kirkconnell, speaking out against the “woke police” in an interview that immediately drew harsh criticism and went viral for all the wrong reasons.
Within a matter of months, Harrison departed the franchise that he had hosted for 19 years. As for James and Kirkconnell, after a brief breakup that was addressed on “After the Final Rose,” the couple is back together, and frequently shares their relationship on social media.
Following the media firestorm of the Harrison and Kirkconnell saga, BIPOC cast members banded together and spoke out against both Harrison and the franchise’s diversity issues. And Lindsay, an outspoken critic of the franchise, opted not to renew her “Bachelor” podcast contract with Warner Bros. and penned a scathing op-ed for New York Magazine, writing, “I thought I could change ‘The Bachelor’ franchise from within. Until I realized I was their token.”
In the aftermath of the Harrison mess, the franchise has not yet named a permanent host replacement. This summer’s upcoming season of “Bachelor in Paradise” will be guest-hosted by a rotating slate of celebrities, including David Spade, Lance Bass, Lil Jon and Tituss Burgess. The current 17th season of “The Bachelorette” is being co-hosted by Adams and fellow former “Bachelorette” Kaitlyn Bristowe, who will both return to co-host Young’s season.
When Adams and Bristowe were announced as interim co-hosts during Harrison’s absence, ABC Entertainment and Warner Horizon issued a rare statement, in which the network and studio made a commitment to hiring a BIPOC executive producer.
The statement read, in part: “As we continue the dialogue around achieving greater equity and inclusion within ‘The Bachelor’ franchise, we are dedicated to improving the BIPOC representation of our crew, including among the executive producer ranks. These are important steps in effecting fundamental change so that our franchise is a celebration of love that is reflective of our world.”
Insiders say executives felt it was imperative to have a person of color join the executive producer ranks, especially in time for Young’s season of “The Bachelorette,” which will mark the fourth time a BIPOC lead has carried a season within the franchise.
Baskerville being named a top producer for the new season is the most significant step, by far, that the franchise has made behind the scenes in its diversity and inclusion efforts. Baskerville’s new role signals progress toward more authentic on-screen storytelling, and also a better working environment to foster diverse talent as Bachelor Nation alums from over the years have expressed the desire to have more producers of color on set.
Recent seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” have incorporated more stories about diversity, most notably a conservation about Black Lives Matter between contestant Ivan Hall and Adams during her season of “The Bachelorette” in 2020. Adams previously told Variety that the conservation came up organically during her date with Hall, as the couple would have discussed the current events on a normal date, off camera, in the real world.
Baskerville first joined “The Bachelor” franchise as a supervising producer on Season 9 of “The Bachelorette,” starring Desiree Hartsock, which aired in 2013, and then on Juan Pablo Galavis’ season of “The Bachelor,” which aired in 2014. She was upped to co-executive producer for Season 12 of “Bachelorette” and Season 20 of “Bachelor,” which starred JoJo Fletcher and Ben Higgins, respectively, and both aired in 2016.
Baskerville — one of the few Black women in a leadership position in network reality TV — has extensive unscripted television experience, having worked on shows like “America’s Next Top Model” in the early 2000s. She is said to have been promoted to executive producer on “The Bachelor” franchise within the past few months, though her first season in her new role just went into production, with cast and crew members recently quarantined on-site, gearing up to start shooting Young’s season, which will air this October.