Whatever prompted Warner Bros. to send home the cast of “Bachelor in Paradise” could change reality television — but not in the ways you might expect.
The studio said on Sunday that it has halted production on the popular ABC unscripted series in the middle of Season 4 following “allegations of misconduct” and that an investigation is underway. It appears to involve questions about whether a sexual encounter occurred between two cast members, and whether one of them was too inebriated to give consent.
Mike Johansson, a senior lecturer for the School of Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology who has closely followed reality shows, believes that viewers will continue to tune into the “Bachelor” franchise, even if something terrible occurred.
“It goes back to the old P.T. Barnum thing — there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and this will make people want to watch this particular show even more,” he told TheWrap.
Johansson doesn’t expect the series to enact any significant changes or to limit contestants’ access to booze. He said the only potential impact might be that networks make it harder for productions to grind to a halt mid-season.
“You’d like to think that [a change in alcohol access] would happen, but honestly I think the only change that might come out of this is watertight contracts,” he said. “It’s such a litigious society that if there turns out to be a way that people can bail on the show mid-filming, they’ll probably want to zip that up pretty quick because it gets expensive to produce these things and not end up with anything you can put on TV and sell ads around.”
Certainly, there are previous instances of sex leading to scrutiny for the “Bachelor” franchise. In her 2014 memoir “I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends,” “The Bachelor” Season 16 winner Courtney Robertson wrote that she and Ben Flajnik had sex in the ocean during a date while the show’s cameras were rolling.
“To answer your question, yes, Ben and I did have sex in the ocean. On-camera,” she wrote. And she added that Flajnik had concerns after the fact: “He was like, ‘Well, 50,000 people just saw that.'”
Christopher Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Stetson University who has contributed to Time and Huffington Post, told TheWrap that dating shows carry “some potential for risk to be sure,” particularly when alcohol is involved. He said that “contestants may be pushed by producers toward actions they wouldn’t normally take.”
Johansson said situations like the one the show faces aren’t often in the public eye, but added: “Things like this probably have happened in the past, and I think people have been talked back off the ledge — talked out of quitting the show, deciding to cooperate — by whatever means.”
“I have heard rumors of people being offered extra monetary enticements to stay on shows,” said Johansson. “I’ve heard of people being basically getting reminded that they did sign a contract, and that breach of contract lawsuits can get expensive. There’s all kinds of reasons I’m sure that people have been kept on shows when they’ve decided to think they probably didn’t want to be on it anymore.”
Richard Gerrig, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook University and author of the book “The Psychology of Survivor,” doesn’t find it likely that the “Bachelor in Paradise” shutdown will make the “Bachelor” franchise less popular. He points out that people continue to tune in despite general questions about the level of producer interference within the reality TV genre.
“My gut sense is that if people are willing to overlook that what they’re watching is not real in the way that it is advertised as real, then this is kind of a funny situation where [the allegation] doesn’t strike me as being a game changer or a deal breaker — [although] maybe it should be,” he said.