Under a barrage of criticism at the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Thursday, CBS Entertainment executives defended the network’s decision to keep “Bull” on the air despite the harassment allegations against star Michael Weatherly, and addressed concerns about racial insensitivity on the set of “Big Brother.”
CBS network head Kelly Kahl told the reporters and critics in the audience that Weatherly was “remorseful and apologetic” when the allegations from former co-star Eliza Dushku first came to light, and was remorseful and apologetic again once the settlement emerged, noting that no other incidents around Weatherly’s behavior have been reported.
Though Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV pulled out as a producer of the series in the wake of news of the accusations and settlement, Kahl bluntly pointed to the show’s ongoing popularity as the reason for continuing to keep it on the air.
“I can’t speak for Amblin, but to us, it’s a show that does very well,” said Kahl. “It’s a very popular show. 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.”
Separately, Kahl and senior executive VP of programming Thom Sherman were questioned about the recent controversies surrounding “Big Brother” that involved heavily criticized editing — which some charged made a contestant of color look unnecessarily aggressive — and an elimination round that removed three people of color from the house.
In that case, Sherman said that a producer had “overstepped” in trying to elicit a sound bite, and did not believe that such an incident would happen again. All producers receive unconscious-bias training, said Kahl, asserting that most contestants who have appeared on CBS reality shows feel positively about their experiences.
Sherman also noted that he is “proud” of the work the network is doing in diversity and inclusion: The upcoming fall slate of shows features 53% of writers who are women or people or color, and when the directorial slate is complete, directors that are 50% women or people of color.
Those who work on CBS shows, from “top to bottom,” receive leadership and unconscious bias training intended to improve their work environments, said the execs, and said that if they hear something is “askew” on a show, the claims are investigated immediately.
After the panel, Kahl later told Variety that CBS leadership has undergone similar such training.
“I don’t want to tell you every single person has taken every single course, 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,” he said.
Separately, Kahl and Sherman touted the appeal of the network as a place for creatives to continue to bring their shows, announcing a series commitment to David E. Kelley’s “The Lincoln Lawyer” — they are “salivating to get his first script” — and the Kaley Cuoco-produced “Pretty,” about a “ballsy, passionate” woman who moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to pursue love and her dream of becoming the next Oprah.