Eliza Dushku claims series star Michael Weatherly sexually harassed her on set and when she complained about it, she was fired in retaliation.
CBS has the right to handle sexual harassment allegations as they see fit, but it matters how those decisions are explained to reporters and audiences. The allegations brought against Michael Weatherly by Eliza Dushku from the set of "Bull" were serious and credible enough for the network to award her a $9.5 million settlement.
So why did they stick with Weatherly and his show, which is coming back for its fourth season in the fall? At the Television Critics Association press tour on Thursday, CBS President Kelly Kahl gave a surprisingly candid response, saying simply that their decision came down to ratings, which of course translate to money.
"It's a very popular show," he told reporters per Variety. "More than 10 million people watch every week. Michael is loved by our audience, and even after these allegations came out, people continued to watch. It's a popular show we want to keep on our air, and it's a very good show as well."
In a larger discussion about accountability at the network, Kahl did go on to explain that both Weatherly and showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron are in leadership training as well. "It is implied in the name that is how to be a leader on the set, it's how to be a positive example for everyone," he explained.
But it is also not mandatory, per Kahl, so what exactly were the consequences Weatherly and Caron faced? Dushku's settlement was in response to allegations that she was sexually harassed by Weatherly and then fired by Caron when she brought it up, but those appear to have been paid by CBS.
Dushku appeared in the final three episodes of Season 1 with the intention of joining the cast for Season 2 onward.
In response to Dushku's settlement going public, Amblin Television stepped away as a production partner on "Bull," as did Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey and Steven Spielberg as executive producers.
Calling it an "isolated incident," Kahl assured reporters that Weatherly expressed regret and remorse both when the incident was first brought up and again when the settlement was paid. He further said that all is well on the set now and there have been no further incidents.
For many, though, it feels like CBS is basically saying that the reason Weatherly has effectively paid no significant consequence for his alleged behavior is because he's on "a very popular show." That's an incredibly dangerous and reckless thing to say.
Imagine if the allegations against Bill Cosby had surfaced when "The Cosby Show" was the number one show on television? Imagine if FX had decided to stand by "Louie" and "Louis C.K." simply because the show was popular? More extreme examples to be certain, but justification at one level can easily lead to justification at more elevated levels.
Conversely, is Kahl suggesting that were "Bull" struggling in the ratings or on the bubble, the allegations might have mattered more to the future of the show? Coming from the network that saw its own head toppled when credible sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against Les Moonves, it's a little surprising how candid Kahl was about why "Bull" is still on the air.
It's the kind of statement, though, that could empower abusers and harassers into believing that all they have to do is have an incredibly successful show and they can get away with more inappropriate behavior than their colleagues on less "popular" shows. It also suggests that CBS might just wait to see if and how allegations affect a show's ratings before deciding how to respond to them.
The popularity of a show should have nothing to do with how credible harassment allegations are dealt with, and it certainly shouldn't be given as a reason why a show is still on the air after serious allegations and a settlement have been handed down. That can be the ultimate decision, but there simply have to be better reasons behind it than ratings.
We get it. Television is a business. But it is also about people and it is about fostering safe work environments free of prejudice, harassment and worse for the people creating it.
At some point, the bottom line has to be about more than the numbers, doesn't it?
Check out some of the online reactions to Kahl's comments below:
CBS's answer to why there weren't harsher consequences for Bull boiled down to: "We paid a multi-million dollar settlement, but found no wrongdoing. And people kept watchin! They like sexual harassers! Whaddaya gonna do?"
.@cbs is failing miserably by renewing Bull & only putting Michael Weatherly in "leadership training". Especially after Moonves. There are no protections for women at CBS. "Who cares if women are being harassed and assaulted when we are making so much money?" #FireWeatherly
.@CBS just confirmed what I have told you for months. $$$ trumps all. Even though Michael Weatherly is a scumbag who caused @elizadushku to have to quit #Bull because of his harassment, the star and show stay because it is popular. #MeToo doesn't matter if $$$ can be made.
@BULLCBS, @M_Weatherly must be fired.@elizadushku is a riveting young talented actress. Instead of supporting her, he sexually harassed and then bullied her. As with Moonves, you have proof that Weatherly is guilty.
I have watched #Bull before all this came out, but I never would again. It's disgusting that @cbs does not hold these men accountable for their sexual harassment and bullying. Shame on you CBS. His ass should have been fired, not Eliza. https://t.co/5K0PjyZhRA
CBS, you are horrible for keeping Weatherly. He should have been fired and it's not too late to do so. Inexcusable, unacceptable and unforgivable to me and others!😖 CBS on Keeping 'Bull' Despite Accusations: 'It's a Very Popular Show' - Variety https://t.co/17pT3lXOc3
@TheMarySue CBS response on BULL: "Even after these allegations came out, people continued to watch". There's the official statement that harassment is ok if it helps our star do his job. Settlements are already part of the show's budget.
CBS has learned nothing: The head of CBS defended the network's decision to continue airing the show "Bull" despite sexual harassment allegations against its star and executive producer -- by citing the show's popularity. https://t.co/NUAcNq3jDm the dude is a predator
I quit watching Bull after I read your items earlier . So sickening to think these men can get away with this treatment of women. CBS needed a major housecleaning with real consequences for these actions not a slap of the hand!