Monday, CBS announced that it would not be paying $100 million severance to former CEO Les Moonves. The conclusion the board reached in Moonves’ case wasn’t a surprise but the timing of the announcement came a couple weeks earlier than anticipated. Why did that happen? One possible reason suggested by USA Today is that another story involving CBS and sexual harassment had made headlines, this one involving actress Eliza Dushku.
You may remember Dushku from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or from the short-lived Dollhouse. She’s also been in several films including True Lies when she was just twelve. Last week, the NY Times revealed she’d received a $9.5 million settlement after a short stint on a CBS series last year. Today, Dushku wrote a piece for the Boston Globe describing in detail what led up to that settlement:
I feel compelled to chronicle what actually happened after The New York Times published a story about how CBS handled my allegations. I declined to be interviewed for that piece because I wanted to honor the terms of my settlement with the network. I was under the impression that Weatherly and Caron would also not respond per our settlement. Instead, both commented to the Times in what amounted to more deflection, denial, and spin.
Before I get into what actually happened, here is some background. CBS vigorously courted me for several network shows. When presenting the offer to co-lead on “Bull,” CBS made the case to my team that the whole Dr. Jason Bull M.O. of bedding every female interest and winning every case needed strong female balance. CBS said it wanted to pivot to a classic “two-hander” (two main characters), a la “Moonlighting.” After I accepted, the network even brought in Caron, who created “Moonlighting,” as the new showrunner for “Bull.” And so I was hired to finish the last three episodes of season one, with CBS’s expressed intention of my beginning season two as a series regular with an option for up to six seasons…
Weatherly harassed me from early on. The tapes show his offer to take me to his “rape van, filled with all sorts of lubricants and long phallic things.” There was also his constant name-calling; playing provocative songs (like “Barracuda”) on his iPhone when I approached my set marks; and his remark about having a threesome. He made the threesome remark to me about himself and me in a room full of people. Minutes later, a crew member sidled up next to me and, with a smirk, said in a low voice, “I’m with Bull. I wanna have a threesome with you too.” For weeks, Weatherly was recorded making sexual comments, and was recorded mimicking penis jousting with a male costar — this directly on the heels of the “threesome” proposal — and another time referring to me repeatedly as “legs.” He regularly commented on my “ravishing” beauty, following up with audible groans, oohing and aahing. As the tapes show, he liked to boast about his sperm and vasectomy reversals (“I want you to know, Eliza, I have powerful swimmers”). Weatherly had a habit of exaggerated eye-balling and leering at me; once, he leaned into my body and inhaled, smelling me in a dramatic swoon. As was caught on tape, after I flubbed a line, he shouted in my face, “I will take you over my knee and spank you like a little girl.”
Any middle-manager in corporate America would get fired for this kind of behavior. I haven’t spent a lot of time on TV sets but I gather the standards are a little laxer, partly because the actors have such long days that make it important to keep the mood upbeat. Still, at some point, you would expect someone to notice that his schtick wasn’t going over well with the intended recipient and knock it off. In this case, Dushku claims that even when she went to her co-star and asked him to please take her side, he responded by asking she be written off the show.
After weeks of enduring Weatherly’s harassment, I resolved to deal with it directly. I aimed to be my diplomatic best. This was not easy for me, since there were plenty of other things I would like to have said to him. Framing my request as a plea for “help” in setting a different tone on the set, I asked him to “be my ally” and to “help ease the sexualized set comments.” Weatherly responded with, “Eliza, no one respects women more than I do,” citing his many sisters and his professed history of being “too respectful of women.”
After I left his trailer, I went straight back to my own trailer and wrote down everything I could remember about the conversation in a text to my manager, adding, “I hope he actually received it well & doesn’t run back to the studio telling them to fire me lol.” Then, as I came to learn months later in the settlement process, Weatherly texted CBS Television President David Stapf about 40 minutes after our conversation and asked for what amounted to my being written off the show. Specifically, Weatherly complained that I had a “humor deficit.’’
There’s more including the big scene her co-star created on her last day, making a point to say she was the most beautiful woman in the room, etc, etc. She says she was fired by the showrunner who months later told her representative that she should expect some “frat” house behavior because “she was in Maxim.”
I’d like to hear from the accused party in more detail but “humor deficit” doesn’t seem to cover what Dushku is describing here. If it were one off-color comment at the end of a long day, you could argue she needs to lighten up a bit. But she’s saying this was happening every day for weeks. Also, it should go without saying that the co-star wasn’t a comedian doing stand-up in a club. He was a professional actor on a set doing a job with other professionals. Dushku was his co-worker, not his audience.
I don’t know why I care about this story so much. Maybe it’s just that I have fond memories of Dushku from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spin-off Angel. Or maybe it’s just the novelty of seeing someone who really isn’t that powerful tee off on a megacorp like CBS.