How Many Dating Shows Have Had Women Of Color As Leads? 'The Bachelorette' Isn't As Groundbreaking As You Might Think
It's more than a little depressing that it took 12 seasons of The Bachelorette to finally cast a person of color as the lead. However, instead of feeling disappointed it's taken this long, we should try to be happy that Rachel Lindsay will be the first black Bachelorette — as announced on Jimmy Kimmel on Feb. 13. While this is a staggering breakthrough in reality television, it also has me wondering how many dating shows have had women of color as leads? It turns out, quite a few shows got with the times before ABC. In fact, the 31-year-old attorney who is still competing for the heart of Nick Viall on this season of The Bachelor isn't the first woman of color to lead a dating show at all.
Many fans of another popular dating series, VH1's I Love New York, went to Twitter to express that, sure, this diversity news is good for The Bachelor franchise as it has only cast one other person of color, American-born Venezuelan Juan Pablo Galavis. But lest we forget — and Twitter certainly won't let us — that Tiffany "New York" Pollard, a previous contestant on the Flavor Flav-led dating show, The Flavor of Love, had her own show in which she chose a TV life partner from a group of contestants, I Love New York.
Pollard's show not only boasted high ratings and lasted two seasons, but also boosted her reality television career. Both the premiere and finale episodes of the first season pulled in a little over 4 million viewers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The publication also shared that, back in 2007, I Love New York was the "second-highest-rated season of any VH1 series ever, behind Flavor of Love." If that isn't proof that audiences were and are looking for more diverse television personalities, I don't know what is. New York would go on to appear on other shows including Botched, The Next :15, Celebrity Big Brother, Family Therapy, and yet another dating show on E! titled Famously Single.
Another woman of color who continues to pop up in the dating show scene on the FYI network, is Monet Bell. She first appeared on Married at First Sight, a show that follows three couples, paired up by relationship experts, who agree to get married upon first meeting and live together for six weeks. During the season finale, the new couples decide whether or not they will stay together or divorce. The show has carried on for three more seasons since Bell's stint in 2014 with a diverse cast each time. According to a network press release made after the Season 1 finale, the show was the most-watched telecast in FYI history.
Bell later appeared on a FYI show based around a hashtag made popular by Twitter responses to her married relationship from First Sight with Vaughn Copeland, #BlackLove. The show followed five black women in New York City as they navigated personal relationships with the help of relationship experts Damona Hoffman and Jack A. Daniels. The show hasn't yet been renewed or canceled for a second season.
Then, there's Coupled, an attempt from reality producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice) to provide Fox with a counterpart to NBC'S Bachelor and add some diversity into the reality dating show game. Burnet claimed in an interview with The Ringer, "I looked at several dating shows on network TV, and one popular one in particular, and the same things kept coming up — it’s not diverse." In Coupled, a diverse group of a dozen single working women hang out on an island paradise while men are helicoptered in. These men choose who they would to be "coupled" with until each lady is paired off. Unfortunately, the show couldn't keep up in the ratings and ended up getting canceled after one season.
From the above examples it seems like there's mixed success for diverse dating shows in this Bachelor-heavy world. As Sarah Shapiro, a former Bachelor producer and current creator of Lifetime’s reality television-mocking Unreal, explained when interviewed by The Ringer, “I think it’s really scary for people who make television to alienate audiences. We live on the coasts. It’s really hard to understand that black men dating white women, or vice versa, is still a hot-button issue for a lot of people.”
However, Shapiro's words came in June 2016, before The Bachelorette producers cast the series' first woman of color as the lead. We're living in a post-Rachel Lindsay world y'all. Hopefully other dating shows will soon follow ABC's lead, but at the very least, The Bachelor franchise is finally catching up with the reality that everybody dates and everybody looks for love. And it's about d*mn time.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that The Bachelor has yet to cast a person of color, however Juan Pablo Galavis was the Bachelor in 2014.