Harrison’s departure comes following a media spectacle of a controversy that erupted when the longtime host made racially insensitive comments, defending a contestant from the franchise.
Numerous insiders tell Variety that Harrison wanted to stay with the hit franchise, which he has hosted since it premiered in 2002. Harrison is said to be very passionate about Bachelor Nation, and was hoping to make it work to keep his job. But as the situation escalated, his team became outraged with the dragging-out process and was unhappy with the network and studio not publicly supporting Harrison, since he has been with the show since the very beginning and is an integral part of its success. Within the past few days, Harrison’s lawyer began to quickly explore an exit package.
In the midst of all the off-screen drama, Harrison had hired power attorney Bryan Freedman, who represented Megyn Kelly in her $69 million exit deal from NBC News and also Gabrielle Union in her highly publicized departure from NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
Representatives for Harrison did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
Warner Horizon and ABC Entertainment issued a joint statement confirming Harrison’s departure: “Chris Harrison is stepping aside as host of ‘The Bachelor’ franchise. We are thankful for his many contributions over the past 20 years and wish him all the best on his new journey.”
Harrison made a statement, posting to his Instagram, “I’ve had a truly incredible run as host of ‘The Bachelor’ franchise and now I’m excited to start a new chapter. I’m so grateful to Bachelor Nation for all of the memories we’ve made together. While my two-decade journey is wrapping up, the friendships I’ve made will last a lifetime.”
Harrison has been on the sidelines and embroiled in controversy ever since February when he made highly criticized comments during an interview about the controversy surrounding “The Bachelor” contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, who ended up winning the season with Matt James, the first-ever Black lead of the dating series. Kirkconnell attended an antebellum-themed fraternity party in 2018, while she was a college student, and when the controversial images resurfaced on social media this year, Harrison defended Kirkconnell during an interview with former “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay on “Extra.”
The current season of “The Bachelorette,” which premiered last night, is being hosted by former fan-favorite “Bachelorette” stars Kaitlyn Bristowe and Tayshia Adams, who received warm reception on social media during the episode last night.
Last week, Variety reported that Harrison would not return to “Bachelor In Paradise” this summer — that announcement sped up negotiations behind the scenes, specifically, after David Spade was announced as one of the rotating hosts for the summer dating series. Harrison’s team was perplexed at the choice of a white man who has spoken out against “cancel culture,” having defended former fired “SNL” cast member Shane Gillis, a few years back. (However, Variety is hearing that Spade is not the sole rotating host, and will be joined by a number of other celebrity comedians.)
As negotiations were underway, Harrison’s team came to the table with ammo of their own — one example is bringing up former allegations against “The Bachelor” creator Mike Fleiss, who was accused by his wife of domestic violence, which led to a police probe in 2019. (Fleiss and his wife have since reconciled.)
Harrison’s team was said to be upset about their client taking so much heat when part of his job, as the face of the franchise, requires him to defend contestants during media interviews. But Harrison’s comments during his interview with Lindsay were widely-panned, as he increasingly came under fire. Later, during an interview on “Good Morning America,” Harrison apologized and said he planned to return to the dating juggernaut, saying, “I believe that mistake doesn’t reflect who I am or what I stand for. I am committed to the progress not just for myself, but also for the franchise.”
As for Lindsay, she has since parted ways with the franchise, opting not to renew her contract to host a “Bachelor” podcast. Last Friday, while guest-hosting “The View,” Lindsay said that she was labeled as an “angry Black female” by Bachelor Nation, and noted that she recalled the host — Harrison, who she did not mention by name — asking her why she was “angry” during an episode.
“The Bachelor” franchise has been long-criticized for its lack of diversity. Despite inclusion efforts for the past few years, which has resulted in many more diverse contestants within the casts, last season with James, who was the first-ever Black Bachelor in 25 seasons, was the boiling point. ABC and Warner Bros. have committed to increased BIPOC representation behind the scenes, including among the executive producer ranks, which has yet to be announced.
As the controversy with Kirkconnell escalated earlier this year, James and the contestant briefly broke up, speaking about the issue on the finale episode, “After the Final Rose.” Today, the duo is back together and have publicized their relationship on social media and in the press.
When Harrison’s interview with Lindsay blew up this past February, Harrison apologized and announced he would be stepping aside for an undisclosed period, first starting with “After the Final Rose,” which was guest hosted by Emmanuel Acho. At the time, Harrison stated, “I am dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before.”
At that same time, ABC Entertainment and Warner Horizon issued a joint statement, which said, in part, “We support Chris in the work that he is committed to doing.” Before negotiations escalated this week, the network and studio were said to be in “wait-and-see” mode throughout this season of “The Bachelorette,” which would be the first without Harrison hosting.
The news that Harrison would be leaving “The Bachelor” franchise was first reported by entertainment lawyer and journalist Matt Belloni in his “What I’m Hearing” newsletter.