If “Bull” aired on ABC, NBC or Fox, and one of those networks renewed it, I would have been surprised. When CBS renewed it, I was absolutely shocked.
CBS is still reeling from revelations about its longtime chief, Leslie Moonves, who was fired amid allegations that he sexually harassed and/or assaulted women. The executive producers of “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Madam Secretary,” “Star Trek: Discovery” and “60 Minutes” were all accused of harassment. And the company has had to contend with headline after headline about its toxic corporate culture.
Axing “Bull” would have been a sign that culture is changing. Opportunity wasted.
The legal drama has been a lightning rod for criticism since actress Eliza Dushku was paid $9.5 million after she said she was sexually harassed by series star Michael Weatherly — he talked about having a threesome with her, invited her into a “rape van” and more — and Weatherly’s on-set behavior was caught on film. When Dushku complained, she was written out of the show.
I’ve got to hand it to CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl for showing up to take questions from members of the Television Critics Association, knowing this subject would come up. But his answers weren’t good:
• He said Weatherly was “remorseful and apologetic” and called it an “isolated incident.” It went on for weeks.
• He said that Weatherly and showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron, who actually fired Dushku, were undergoing “leadership coaching.”
What’s that? “It’s how to be a leader on the set. It’s how to set a positive example for everybody,” Kahl said. “Michael takes that very seriously. I think Glenn does as well.”
It was, he said, voluntary.
• And the real reason “Bull” was renewed, ultimately rewarding Weatherly and Caron? “It’s a very popular show,” Kahl said. “Michael is loved by our audience. And even after these allegations came out, people continued to watch.”
In other words, people don’t care about Weatherly’s inappropriate behavior, so CBS doesn’t care, either. It’s a bad look for the network, and a bad message to send to all its showrunners, actors and crews.
(Weatherly’s fans continue to claim he didn’t do anything wrong, despite the fact he admitted his wrongdoing and apologized for it. And his employers paid out millions to settle claims against him.)
I’m enormously disappointed in CBS. I like the people who run the network.
I was similarly surprised and disappointed when CBS refused to give the Asian American stars of “Hawaii Five-0” pay equity with the white stars two years ago, allowing Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park to walk. And this was when CBS was being severely (and rightly) criticized for its lack of on-air and behind-the-scenes diversity.
But the network has made huge strides in that area. In 2016 and 2017, CBS premiered 12 fall series, and 11 were headlined by white, male stars. The 2017 schedule was set before Kahl was promoted to lead the network; his first fall schedule (2018) featured four new shows — all with leads that were ethnic minorities, women or both. This fall, CBS is adding five new series, and four feature leads who are people of color, women or both.
According to Kahl’s chief lieutenant, Thom Sherman, 53 percent of the writers on CBS’ shows this fall are women; and half the directors are women or people of color.
Kahl admitted that, in terms of diversity, “We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re confident we’re on the right path.”
The network has indeed made enormous strides in diversity. But it’s got to make similar progress in rooting out that toxic, good ol’ boy corporate culture.
Despite this “Bull” misstep, I’m hoping Kahl is the guy who can make it happen. But, at this point, I can’t say I’m confident it will happen.