Chris Harrison is offering his side of the story surrounding his public exit from The Bachelor franchise.
With the launch of his new iHeart podcast The Most Dramatic Podcast Ever … With Chris Harrison, the TV personality speaks for the first time about his split from the show. The first two episodes of the podcast, released on Jan. 9, also mark his return to media.
Harrison, who took an unplanned hiatus in the middle of The Bachelor‘s 25th season and never returned to the ABC reality dating juggernaut, explains his silence amid the firestorm that ultimately led to his departure in early 2021. He tracks how the events unfolded behind the scenes, and how he was “counseled” to stay silent in the press and on social media.
“The playbook had been thrown out the window,” he says of responding to the snowballing backlash after an Extra interview with former Bachelorette star Rachel Lindsay nearly two years ago, on Feb. 9, 2021. “The toughest thing for me was where to turn, what to do,” he says. “I was heartbroken. I was gutted. I was embarrassed. I was mad at myself. I was disappointed in myself.”
Adding, “I was sick to my stomach. I lost 20 pounds, I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat.”
In the interview with Lindsay, Harrison did not denounce allegations of past racism against a contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell, who would go on to win that season with the first-ever Black star of The Bachelor, Matt James. (“Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference,” he said of the outcry over Kirkconnell attending an “Old South” antebellum-themed party in college in 2018. “It’s not a good look, ever,” replied Lindsay, who was the first Black star of The Bachelorette.)
Harrison’s misstep came amid a pivotal time for the majority white franchise, which was being criticized for mishandling its Black lead. Such behavior from its host highlighted a then-lack of diversity among the franchise’s decision-makers, and it ignited a firestorm for the Warner Bros. TV-produced series.
“I have not spoken publicly since I left the Bachelor franchise,” he says, sharing regrets for not offering an “unedited and unfiltered” explanation sooner. “One point I was trying to make [in the infamous interview] and did not make eloquently, is people need time to think and to process. … I wanted to step away. I wanted to think and learn and change and go through everything I went through personally before I had this talk.”
The official decision for Harrison to leave the franchise after hosting The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and its various spinoff series for 19 years came after weeks of a failed apology tour and behind-the-scenes discussions that ultimately led to his ouster. The Hollywood Reporter reported at the time that Harrison walked away with a confidential settlement and sizable payday.
Before that decision was made, Harrison made several public apologies. First, a statement on his Instagram (since removed) apologizing for “wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism.” Saying, “I will always own a mistake when I make one, so I am here to extend a sincere apology.” He followed that by announcing he would step aside from the franchise so the “historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions.” He then appeared on ABC News’ Good Morning America, where he told Michael Strahan about the work he was doing and his plans to return: “I am committed to progress, not just for myself, also for the franchise.” The latter proved to be the “nail in the coffin,” per sources to THR.
“It was messy, it was disappointing, and it’s just not me,” he says of the initial interview, while apologizing: “There is nothing in my soul that would ever want to harm anybody, make you [the viewers] feel less than, not seen, belittled and in any way marginalized.”
But Harrison says everything “spun out of control.” And that no one behind-the-scenes was prepared to handle the response. “There was much more egregious things going in the world, and things that had happened, and so people didn’t really think that it was going to amount to much and that if I apologized, we would be able to move forward,” he says. But “even after that apology, we were still at ground zero.”
He continues, “The decision was made, ‘Ok, apologize,’ which I did. And then, ‘Don’t speak.’ And that’s what I was counseled. And I tentatively agreed. ‘Ok, this too shall pass.’ We’ve been through things somewhat like this before, and this too shall pass. Not a big deal. But that noise, in this moment in time, didn’t stop. And that’s where the playbook was thrown out the window and that’s what none of us were prepared for, and that’s what I wasn’t prepared for. Because all of a sudden, this moment and my name because synonymous with this political lightning-in-a-bottle moment.”
Noting an “appetite to destroy and cancel” him, he says, “everybody was talking about me in this moment, and I wasn’t speaking.” He wanted to have an open dialogue, but that also wasn’t recommended: “It wasn’t that I wasn’t allowed. But I wasn’t counseled to do that.”
He says he knew of certain castmembers whose agents were putting in calls for Harrison’s job while he was sidelined. “There was blood in the water,” he says. Meanwhile, he says he called cast members, producers, executives and agents to check in, listen and talk. Harrison spoke to a crisis manager, but “nothing prepared any of them for this.” Adding, “I was also astonished at how many people had their hand out. Wanted to get paid for this. Taking advantage of this situation. It’s a bizarre thing.”
Harrison recalls the paparazzi following him and his family, and speaks of the impact to his journalist fiancée Lauren Zima, who produces the podcast with Harrison and who guests on the second episode. Each morning, they woke up to “new headlines, a new podcast, a new castmember had said something, and it started all over again.”
While noting the hypocritical nature of him now speaking about the saga on a podcast like so many others in the franchise did at the time, he adds: “It’s the business, it’s what I signed up for.”
He continues of the fallout, “It was Stranger Things, the world was upside down. And I attribute that to a lot of things. I think the timing of this is very relevant, at where we were in the world. We were all coming out of two years of being locked up [due to the pandemic], and I think we were all angry and frustrated. And then culturally, what was going on in the world with civil rights. There was a lot of confusion, anger, resentment. It was a very combustible moment in time. And my timing of being sloppy, inappropriate, wrong in that moment, that’s on me, to have not seen that.”
Because of the interview, “I rolled a grenade under all that. And I made things worse,” he says of putting a national spotlight on the ABC franchise’s race problem. “I shined a big bright light on more than what needed to be, that was on me. And to have brought that on my house? It was shameful. And it just crushed me. To the bottom of my soul, I was just sick to my stomach.”
In the weekly podcast, which posts on Mondays, Harrison says that in his nearly two decades working on the show, he never had a say in any behind-the-scenes decisions. “I never once in the 19 years that I was there hired or fired anybody. I never edited the show … I didn’t cast the show. But I can’t absolve myself because you can’t show up every day and make a big paycheck and just say, ‘I’m not a part of that.’ That’s not fair. You either are or you aren’t.”
In the aftermath of Harrison’s stepping aside, ABC and producers Warner Horizon vowed to increase the show’s diversity of leads and contestants, and added Jodi Baskerville as the franchise’s first-ever Black executive producer. The Bachelor season 27 returns Jan. 23. “We were working very hard to shift and change and be better. I would like to think I was a part of that,” says Harrison.
Ultimately, Harrison says he couldn’t figure out how to fix the situation. Without specifying, he says there was “one night in particular” that he made the call. “I went home and I drew the line in the sand, and that was it. And that was my breaking point. And it was time to take my life back. And it was time to step away and get my life back. And that has been a blessing.”
Of the humbling experience overall, he sums up, “I’m not proud of how it went down, I’m not happy about how it went down. But I’m a faithful person. … It allowed me to have a better life with my kids, to fall in love, to be engaged with the woman I love, to having a much better life than I was living.”
Now, Harrison says he doesn’t hold anger towards the show. “The show changed my life. I’m grateful to The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, I will be forever grateful … There is no animosity,” he says.
And while he hasn’t tuned in to any episodes since he left, he is following along with the ratings. He says the Hometowns episode of James’ season was the last one he watched in 2021, and that the show has changed “dramatically” and is down “50-60 percent” in viewership. “When I left, it was still the No. 1 show on TV,” he says.
The Bachelor was 5th among adults 18-49 in 2019-2020, tied for 6th with The Bachelorette in 2020-2021 and tied for 11th in 2021-2022. The 2022 season of The Bachelor was down 30 percent in total viewers and 39 percent in adults 18-49 vs 2021. The Bachelorette season 19, however, was up this summer vs. the fall 2021 season.