(Updates with lawsuit filed, Warner Horizon's response)
Two Nashville men sued ABC and the creators of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" Wednesday, accusing the shows of racial bias because they have never featured a person of color in the titular positions in 23 combined seasons.
The suit addresses an issue that has long drawn the notice of the shows' fans, and was even the basis of a late-night routine last week. While people of color are included in the pool of contestants vying for the lead's affection, no non-white person has ever been chosen to be the "Bachelor" or "Bachelorette" in the decade since the franchise began, the suit contends.
Plaintiffs Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson (an all-American football player and aspiring NFL player, respectively) are seeking class-action status for their lawsuit. Both men unsuccessfully auditioned for the show in August 2011.
The suit named ABC, as well as Warner Horizon Television, Inc. and executive producer Mike Fleiss (pictured), among other defendants.
"This complaint is baseless and without merit. In fact, we have had various participants of color throughout the series' history, and the producers have been consistently -- and publicly -- vocal about seeking diverse candidates for both programs," Warner Horizon said. "As always, we continue to seek out participants of color for both 'The Bachelor' and 'The Bachelorette.'"
ABC referred an inquiry to Warner Horizon, and a representative for Fleiss did not respond to a request for comment.
Also read: Tim Tebow Says No to 'The Bachleor'
In an interview with EW last year, Fleiss said non-white people simply "don't come forward" to take part in the show as often as white people.
"I think Ashley is 1/16th Cherokee Indian, but I cannot confirm," he said of "Bachelorette" Ashley Hebert. "But that is my suspicion! We really tried, but sometimes we feel guilty of tokenism. Oh, we have to wedge African-American chicks in there! We always want to cast for ethnic diversity, it’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would."
The lawsuit comes as Portland-based sportscaster Lamar Hurd is campaigning to be the first African-American "Bachelor." He released an online video last month in which he and several friends and associates talk about the qualities that would make him a good candidate.
Story continues after the audition video:
The lawsuit also lands just days after TBS' "Conan" noted the lack of African-Americans on the show. Comedian Deon Cole, one of the show's writers, appeared in a skit in which he imagined himself as the first black "Bachelor." Talk about comic timing.
Watch the video: