As the five broadcast networks unveiled their 2019-20 schedules over the past few days, the two biggest surprises involved a pair of returning series.
It was absolutely astonishing that CBS could be tone-deaf enough to renew “Bull,” and “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu’s reaction to her show’s renewal was just so wrong.
A WHOLE LOT OF “BULL” • News broke in December that “Bull” star Michael Weatherly sexually harassed actress Eliza Dushku on the set of the show. If it aired on another network, the reaction would be: “What? They renewed that show? With all the baggage attached to it?”
But this is CBS, so the reaction is more like: “WHAT?!? THEY RENEWED THAT SHOW?!?”
CBS lost its chairman-CEO, Leslie Moonves; one of its lead journalists, Charlie Rose; and the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” Jeff Fager, to sexual harassment scandals. It has faced seemingly unending stories about how it long tolerated a culture that denigrates and discriminates against women.
So, yeah, giving Weatherly a pass is a big deal. Among other things, he told Dushku he wanted to have a threesome with her, and invited her into his “rape van.”
This is not a he-said, she-said situation — Weatherly’s behavior is on filmed outtakes, which were sent to Dushku’s lawyers by CBS’ lawyers. And this was not a one-time incident — the harassment extended over weeks.
And yet CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl defended Weatherly in comments to reporters before the network’s upfront presentation to advertisers on Thursday.
“Michael made a mistake in his comments. He owned that mistake. He was apologetic at the time, and he was remorseful,” Kahl said. “He was willing to take any kind of coaching or training we deem necessary for him to create a positive environment on the set.”
Not only had the “Bull” cast and crew been given anti-sexual harassment training before any of this happened, Weatherly’s contrition came after Dushku was fired for complaining; after the video of his behavior was seen by lawyers; after Dushku accepted a $9.5 million settlement; and after Weatherly minimized — aka lied about — what happened to The New York Times.
Yet Kahl said he felt “comfortable” continuing to work with Weatherly. “He, I believe, took everything very seriously and wants to move forward. He’s a dad, he’s a father. He was upset by this. He wants to make it better,” he said.
Of course he wants to move forward. He’s reportedly making almost $4 million a season. And it’s OK because he’s a father? That’s a ridiculous excuse that reeks of the same good ol’ boys behavior that plagues CBS.
I like Kahl. He’s a good guy and a talented programmer. But his defense of Weatherly is appalling. And it undercuts everything he says his network is doing to reform itself.
It undercut the message that CBS — which has done a good job of increasing the ethnic diversity of its series leads in the past year — is becoming less male-centric. (Two of its five new fall shows have female leads; two more feature women as co-leads; two of those four women are African American.)
And it’s not just TV critics like me who think renewing “Bull” is a serious issue. Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment — which co-produced the show with CBS Television Studios — pulled out when the network renewed it for Season 4.
That renewal sends a message. The same old wrong message.
BITTER ABOUT “THE BOAT” • “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu made headlines when ABC renewed that sitcom and she took to social media, tweeting obscenities and “So upset right now I’m literally crying.” When a fan tweeted congratulations for the “great news,” Wu replied, “No it’s not.” And she disliked a post on the show’s Instagram announcing the renewal.
Wu followed that with a long explanation about how she was “temporarily upset” about the renewal because it meant she had to turn down “another project that I was really passionate about.” Which is believable.
Then she went on to explain that she loves “FOTB” and that anyone who took her tweets to mean otherwise is wrong. Which is far less believable.
Wu has a reputation for being difficult. I have personally seen her being rude to people who were treating her with kid gloves. For whatever that’s worth.
What I find completely offensive was the end of Wu’s explanation: “It’s meaningful when you make the choice to believe women.”
So ... she’s tying her behavior, which had nothing with her gender, to the #MeToo movement? That’s ridiculously cynical.
ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke handled the situation as well as she could. “I’m going to choose to believe Constance’s most recent communication about the show that she is happy to return and the cast and crew is happy to have her back and we’re thrilled to keep her in the show,” she said.