Kelly Kahl, president of CBS Entertainment, defended on Wednesday the decision to renew the TV drama “Bull” despite allegations of sexual harassment against star Michael Weatherly, which resulted in a $9.5-million settlement with his accuser, actress Eliza Dushku.
In a breakfast with reporters ahead of CBS’ annual upfront presentation in New York City — the first following the departure of chairman and chief executive Leslie Moonves amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment — Kahl said many at the network had not been aware of the settlement when the news was first reported by the New York Times in December.
“We found out when you found out. So when it came time to make a decision, we wanted to look at it through a fresh lens,” he said.
“Michael made a mistake in his comments, he owned that mistake, he was apologetic at the time, he was remorseful,” Kahl added. “He indicated to us that he is willing to take any kind of coaching or training that we deem necessary for him to create a positive environment on the set.”
Kahl also said the network considered his work overall, including his 13 seasons on “NCIS.”
“There was never any complaint about him before, and there hasn’t been anything after,” he said. “I believe he took everything very seriously and he wants to move forward. He’s a dad, he’s a father. He was upset by this and wants to make it better.
“When we looked at the totality of the situation, we felt comfortable bringing ‘Bull’ back on the air,” he continued. He also confirmed that Weatherly had availed himself of the offer for training.
Last week, Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television cut ties with the series.
Kahl also said the network was taking new measures to prevent future misconduct, including expanded training for actors, crews and writers; a team of human-resources professionals visiting sets on a regular basis; anonymous hotlines and email accounts for complaints; and a new compliance officer who is streamlining the process for reporting misconduct. CBS considers these measures “the best in the industry right now.”
“We are committed to making our workplace, our sets, our writers’ rooms as safe as possible, as welcoming as possible, as comfortable as possible,” Kahl said. “That commitment comes from the very top of our company.”
In “Bull,” Weatherly plays a brash jury consultant loosely based on Dr. Phil McGraw. He also starred as the wisecracking special agent Anthony DiNozzo in “NCIS.”
The network’s news division has undergone a dramatic overhaul, following the departures of “CBS This Morning” anchor Charlie Rose and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager.
The network has also faced perennial criticism for a programming lineup that skews heavily toward shows about white, heterosexual males.
Asked about CBS’ first upfront breakfast — an annual ritual once known as “Lox with Les,” where the network outlines its fall schedule — without the once-formidable executive, Kahl said Moonves “was a strong leader and definitely had an influence over what we did.”
But he also suggested the network was turning over a new leaf and actively trying to foster a more positive corporate culture.
“A lot of these issues were frankly a few years ago or in the past,” Kahl said. “How things were handled in the past — they’re not being handled that way now.”