Since “The Bachelor” debuted in 2002, the TV series and its numerous spinoffs — including “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor Pad,” “Bachelor in Paradise,” “Bachelor in Paradise: After Paradise” and “Bachelor Live” — have been a ratings juggernaut for ABC.
Now, after 15 years of ratings success, a scandal surrounding one of those spinoffs, “Bachelor in Paradise,” is threatening to burn the house to the ground.
Soon after “Paradise” began filming its fourth season in Mexico this month, a producer complained that camera operators filmed contestants DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios engaging in non-consensual sexual activity in a swimming pool — reportedly because Olympios was too drunk to consent.
What followed was a tsunami:
• On June 11, the show, which generally portrays contestants drinking too much alcohol and doing things they may regret later, was suspended indefinitely.
• On June 12, a company executive confirmed that the cast and crew had been sent home.
• On June 13, the show’s host, Chris Harrison, apologized to viewers for the "inconvenience and disappointment" the suspension caused and urged people to be patient during an investigation of the “allegations of misconduct.”
• On June 14, in a statement sent to Fox News, Olympios said, “I am a victim and have spent the last week trying to make sense of what happened the night of June 4. Although I have little memory of that night, something bad obviously took place…. As a woman, this is my worst nightmare and it has now become my reality.”
• Also on June 14, in a statement sent to E! News, Jackson wrote: “It's unfortunate that my character and family name has been assassinated this past week with false claims and malicious allegations. I will be taking swift and appropriate legal action until my name is cleared and, per the advice of legal counsel, will be seeking all available remedies entitled to me under the laws."
What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture for the Media Research Center, questioned the producers’ motives in filming the incident.
“The ‘Paradise’ controversy is bound to undermine support for the show,” he said. “Apparently, the staff actually filmed a drunken sexual encounter where one or possibly both people were reportedly unable to give consent.
"What the hell were ‘Bachelor’ employees thinking? They were thinking ratings. Not morals, ethics, law or humanity.”
He added, “The whole ‘Bachelor’ concept is built on a foundation of sex and sleaze that are somehow supposed to blossom into love. That’s not reality. The reality is the show is encouraging contestants to get drunk and hook up, and that’s inexcusable.”
Most observers doubt “Bachelor in Paradise” can come back from this scandal, and some even think this could spell the end of the 15-year hook up between ABC and viewers.
“This scandal is a PR nightmare for ‘The Bachelor’ franchise, which is why Warner Bros. Television acted so swiftly to launch a formal investigation,” Elizabeth Wagmeister, TV writer for Variety, told Fox News.
“Shutting down production entirely on a series that brings in millions of dollars is insanely expensive and not something to be taken lightly. At this point, it's probably safe to say that ‘Bachelor in Paradise’ will never return, because the brand name is tainted…”
Lindsay Miller, news and culture director at PopSugar, agrees.
“I cannot envision a future in which ABC would not permanently cancel ‘Bachelor in Paradise,’” she said. “I do think it's highly unlikely this will derail the broader 15-year-strong ‘Bachelor’ franchise, but it should absolutely prompt a serious review of its practices and policies — especially considering that some sources claim producers either witnessed or participated in the reported ‘Bachelor in Paradise’ misconduct.”
Marc Marcuse, owner of Reel Management, which represents over 200 reality TV stars, believes the scandal won’t affect the franchise’s mainstays, “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.”
“I think it is going to be restricted to ‘Bachelor in Paradise,’” he said. “There has been no alleged sexual assault associated with the primary show.
“What happens with these shows is they try to get crazier and crazier people... Sometimes, the cast members will go over [the line] in ways that you couldn't have predicted based upon your background check and psychological testing.”
And entertainment lawyer Julian Chan said the show could become a liability for ABC if it sticks with the franchise.
“Being sued, and having a show that seems to encourage drinking, irresponsible and dangerous behavior, may not be in line with where we are culturally headed in terms of perceptions of sexual conduct,” Chan said.
“If it is perceived as going against the trend, the show may be perceived as representing a cultural viewpoint we are outgrowing.”
You can follow Blanche Johnson on Twitter @blancheFOXLA.