PBS has suspended late-night talk show “Tavis Smiley” amid misconduct allegations against its host and namesake.
“Effective today, PBS has indefinitely suspended distribution of ‘Tavis Smiley,’ produced by TS Media, an independent production company,” the public broadcaster said. “PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley. This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.”
Sources close to the production told Variety that PBS hired attorney Sarah Taylor Wirtz of the firm MSK to oversee an investigation into Smiley’s behavior after receiving allegations of misconduct by Smiley, who hosts and produces the talk show. Wirtz declined Variety‘s request for comment. According to sources, MSK took reports from 10 witnesses, a mix of men and women of different races and employment levels in Smiley’s organization, most of them former staffers.
The investigation found credible allegations that Smiley had engaged in sexual relationships with multiple subordinates, sources said. Some witnesses interviewed expressed concern that their employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley. In general, witnesses described Smiley as creating a verbally abusive and threatening environment that went beyond what could be expected in a typical high-pressure work environment. Several expressed concerns about retaliation.
In a statement posted Thursday evening on Facebook, Smiley said, “I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth. To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.”
Smiley has hosted “Tavis Smiley,” a half-hour interview program that airs weeknights on PBS member stations since it premiered in 2004. Produced by Smiley’s TS Media, Inc., the show is filmed in Los Angeles and airs on WNET New York, KOCE Southern California, WTTW Chicago, WHYY Philadelphia, and other public television stations nationwide. PBS distributes the series, but does not employ Smiley or any of his staff. The show, which is underwritten by sponsors such as Wal-Mart, has received four NAACP Image Awards.
Smiley’s public radio program, “The Tavis Smiley Show” was distributed by Public Radio International from 2005 to 2013. He originally came to prominence the the mid-1990s as the host of “BET Tonight,” an evening public affairs program on the African American-oriented cable channel.
In a February piece in the Observer, Jacques Hyzagi, a former producer on Smiley’s television show, wrote that Smiley’s “misogyny is always creeping around, barely camouflaged by Midwestern good manners.” Hyzagi described Smiley picking up a woman at the Orlando airport and bringing her along on a reporting trip as a “fuck buddy”; alleged that Smiley had a romantic relationship with another producer; and quoted Smiley denigrating PBS executives.
Smiley currently has a development deal with Warner Bros. Television. Among the projects in the works under that deal is an adaptation of Smiley’s book “Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days,” about the pop singer, with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot.
The decision to halt Smiley’s program comes just weeks after the public broadcaster made a similar move to end Charlie Rose’s interview show following claims of sexual harassment levied at the host.
Updated with Smiley’s response Wednesday evening.