Facing tough questions from reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour on Thursday, CBS Entertainment executives rather bluntly defended their network's decision to order more seasons of Bull after sexual harassment allegations surfaced against star Michael Weatherly.
"It's a very popular show," said CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. "More than 10 million people watch every week. Michael is loved by our audience. Even after the allegations came out, people continued to watch."
Last December, the New York Times reported CBS paid $9.5 million to actress Eliza Dushku—who'd joined Bull for a three-episode arc that lined her up for a full-time role on the series—in order to settle harassment claims she made against Weatherly.
Dushku alleged that the show's star, also an executive producer on Bull, repeatedly made lewd remarks regarding her physical appearance in front of cast and crew members, made a graphic joke about taking her to a "rape van," and commented about his desire to have a threesome involving her.
When Dusku confronted Weatherly about his behavior and demanded it come to an end, afterward filing a formal complaint, she claims she was abruptly written off the show.
Dushku's settlement with CBS, which had been kept confidential before the Times story broke, was agreed upon by both parties as roughly the equivalent of what the actress would have earned had she remained a cast member for four seasons.
In a detailed Boston Globe op-ed published not long after the New York Times story, Dushku described a toxic work environment on Bull in which constant harassment and lewd remarks from Weatherly were normalized and anyone who attempted to curb his behavior was greeted with ridicule and then retaliated against.
"Everyone should be allowed to work without harassment," she wrote. "Weatherly sexually harassed and bullied me day-in and day-out and would have gotten away with it had he not been caught on tape."
Despite the scandal—which led Steven Spielberg's Amblin TV to cease its work as a producer on the series—Bull has continued to perform strongly in ratings for CBS. And according to Kahl, that popularity was reason enough to ride through the storm of controversy surrounding Weatherly; CBS renewed the legal drama for a fourth season in May.
“I can’t speak for Amblin, but to us, it’s a show that does very well,” noted Kahl.
The network head claimed at TCA that he and Bull's executives, presumably excluding Weatherly, learned of the $9.5 million settlement between Dushku and her former co-star only when the Times story was published.
"We found out about the settlement the same time you did," he said. "We took a 360-degree view of the entire situation. What we found, in Michael's case, was no incidents and no complaints during his time on Bull — none outside of the isolated incident. At the time, he was remorseful and apologetic. He is undergoing leadership coaching."
Of note: Glenn Gordon Caron, showrunner on Bull, is also receiving leadership couching, as part of a decision mutually reached by him and the network.
CBS Addresses 'NCIS' and 'Big Brother' Controversies
Further bad press for CBS has revolved around Pauley Perrette's assault claims against former NCIS co-star Mark Harmon, which first emerged, cryptically, over Twitter a year ago. Perrette had alluded to "multiple physical assaults" on set while shooting the police procedural and in tweets written this past June seemed to identify Harmon as her assailant. Perrette shared that she remained "terrified" of Harmon "attacking" her, saying she'd suffered through nightmares about it. She later shared photos of a crew member's injury, which allegedly occurred when the individual was bitten by Harmon's dog.
“You think I didn’t expect blow back? You got me wrong,” Perrette tweeted. “THIS happened To my crew member and I fought like hell to keep it from happening again! To protect my crew! And then I was physically assaulted for saying NO!? and I lost my job.”
Perrette is set to return to CBS in 2020, in a midseason comedy titled Broke. Though the series will not find her working with Harmon, Kahl alleged that her return to the network should be seen as proof the matter was resolved amicably.
“I can’t speak to what she’s addressing in her tweets," Kahl said at TCA. "She did come to us a couple years ago with a workplace concern. We immediately investigated it and we resolved it to everyone’s satisfaction.”
Of her return to the network, Kahl added, "We are very happy to have her on the air again this year with us, and I don’t think she would be back with us if she had huge concerns.”
Reality show Big Brother has also been embroiled in a scandal related to its editing, which some have alleged made a contestant of color appear unnecessarily (and inacurrately) aggressive. Contestant Kemi Fakunle, in addition to claiming she was the victim of bullying on set, told other contestants in a recent episode that producers told her to "act black" for the cameras. The reality competition has also come under fire for a recent elimination round that saw three people of color removed from the house.
Senior Executive VP of Programming Thom Sherman, responding to the first issue, attributed the editing decision to an unnamed producer who "overstepped" in attempting to procure a juicy sound bite for broadcast. He stated such a situation is unlikely to arise again on the series.
One answer Sherman and Kahl proposed in response to the recent CBS scandals: leadership and unconscious bias training, to be completed by high-ranking executives across the nework.
“I don’t want to tell you every single person has taken every single course," Kahl later told Variety. "But we’ve had a lot of it offered and I encourage all of our people to take it because you can learn a lot and it’s good for all our executives to be exposed to new ways of doing things."
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