There are many, many reasons Season 16 of The Bachelorette will be different than any other year — and no, I'm not just talking about reports of Clare Crawley leaving the show and Tayshia Adams replacing her as lead. As the coronavirus pandemic upended every aspect of life, reality TV was not spared. Filming on The Bachelorette was delayed for months; contestants couldn't travel, or even stay at the Bachelor Mansion like they normally do. But there were also some unexpected ways coronavirus changed The Bachelorette, according to Chris Harrison. And believe it or not, they're not all bad.
While promoting his partnership with Kelley Blue Book's newly released Auto Repair Guide (which Harrison compares to himself — "the doctors of love, but just with your car"), the TV host and producer says he's optimistic about the new Bachelorette season, despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic.
"If there's a silver lining to any of this, it would be a couple of things: One, we were able to have six more months to cast the show, and we were able to cast the show with Claire specifically in mind," Harrison tells Elite Daily. "Everybody who showed up on Night 1 knew it was Claire, knew about Claire, and were only there for her. And that's not always the case when we shoot the show and when we cast the show."
There was also the lockdown that limited filming to just one location, the La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs. "The other aspect, which I didn't anticipate, was how intimate and how emotional it was going to be to just be in one spot," Harrison explains. "It reminded me a little bit of Bachelor in Paradise ... It had that same feel of, 'We're going to stay here within the friendly confines of this resort, and we're just going to go on this journey and nothing's going to break our concentration, and tear us away from this.'"
To Harrison, this hyper-confined version of the already-insular world of Bachelorette filming just might be the ideal setup. "It was all just about falling in love, finding love, and it caused a different atmosphere that I really liked," he says. "I think we may try to hold onto [that] and use in future seasons."
But what about the end-of-season in-person segments like "Men Tell All" and "After The Final Rose"?
"We're figuring all that out right now," Harrison says. "My hope is yes. If there was ever a season that needs a "Tell All," and definitely warrants that "After The Final Rose" special, it's this one. Maybe it looks a little different, maybe we have to do it differently. My hope is that we don't do it via Zoom just because it takes a little bit of the intimacy away. But if that's the case, then maybe that's what we do."
The changes going down aren't only pandemic-related. The other worldwide news event that's been top of mind this summer and fall — the increased visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement — is also impacting the franchise. Bachelor Nation has long been criticized by viewers who believe the show lacks diversity. To date, the franchise has only aired one season with a Black lead: 2017's Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay. Soon after protests began over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Bachelor Nation announced Matt James, who was originally going to be a contestant on Clare's season, as the 2021 Bachelor.
"I won't speak for everybody else because that starts getting you in trouble, but all I can say is for myself, I'm proud of the fact that we realized there was an issue and then got to work and figured out what can we do to make strides, to make things better," Harrison says. "There are things you won't see in front of the camera because it's hiring practices from producers to crew, and promotions behind the scenes that have also improved dramatically."
Many critics believe Bachelor producers should have done more, and sooner, to rectify diversity issues. Harrison says more changes are coming.
"These are just the first steps, and I'm a big believer in actions speak louder than words," he explains. "I don't pretend to think that we're going to make everybody happy and we're going to be perfect, but we're going to continue to do better ... Part of the beauty of The Bachelorette is you want people to watch it and think, 'Hey, that's my love story. I'm represented here. And I want to watch that.' And so, if we can continue to make those strides, then I'm all for it."
The Bachelorette premieres Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.