A round of applause on the Warner Bros. lot is probably in order for Samantha Mirabello. She’s the Warners attorney and investigator who, I’m told, looked into Bachelor franchise creator Mike Fleiss’s behavior after several staffers complained about racially discriminatory casting and emotional bullying. The results of Mirabello’s probe led Warners and Disney to finally push Fleiss out this week after 21 years as a notorious figure in the unscripted television community.
I won’t summarize Fleiss’s well-known Bachelor scandals—resisting diverse contestants; that civil rights complaint claiming outright race bias; allegedly beating his pregnant wife (he denied it); waging a war on his Malibu neighbor David Charvet that included “loud barking sounds emanating from loudspeakers in the wee hours of the morning.” Behind the scenes, Fleiss has always been a consensus first-round pick for Reality TV’s All-Asshole team, not to mention a classic right-place right-time guy.
By most accounts smart and savvy, Fleiss happened to be pitching shows during that crazy 1999-2002 period when the juggernaut broadcast formats that still define the genre—Survivor, American Idol, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Big Brother, and The Bachelor—all debuted. He initially brought a dark genius to the concept of women desperately jockeying for a man, and in those early years he constantly pushed to up the humiliation and shock value, all while packaging the degradation as wish-fulfillment, fantasy romance and soap opera. Then he rode that Bachelor franchise train for two decades, never creating another hit show.