On Friday, news broke that CBS reached a confidential $9.5 million settlement with actor Eliza Dushku in January after she claimed the network unceremoniously wrote her off of Bull when she lodged sexual harassment complaints against its star, Michael Weatherly. Over the weekend, a few of Weatherly’s former NCIS costars have responded to this controversial revelation.
On Saturday, NCIS fan favorite Pauley Perrette (who was entangled in a feud with CBS earlier this year) tweeted, “This man… I love, respect, trust, and I KNOW. TWO decades of friendship and respect. The best. I love you @M_Weatherly Always and forever.”
— Pauley Perrette (@PauleyP) December 15, 2018
Sasha Alexander, another NCIS costar, called Weatherly a “true friend” with a heart “as big as they come.”
— Sasha Alexander (@sashaalexander) December 15, 2018
However, the women’s tweets are being called out by people who feel that they dismiss Dushku and the evidence against Weatherly and that they contribute to the culture of moral relativism that has allowed so much sexual harassment (and assault) to transpire in Hollywood.
What is going on? I saw Pauley poates something about him too?
— Ronnie (@R_Vera) December 15, 2018
The settlement only came to light after two independent law firms hired by the CBS board to investigate “cultural issues at all levels of CBS” released their findings. The investigation was spurred largely by the multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against Leslie Moonves, the company’s former chief executive.
Dushku is prohibited from discussing the claims due to the settlement, but the New York Times chronicled the mediation proceedings at length. These included extensive details about the harassment Dushku experienced.
She was initially hired for a three-episode arc on Bull in 2017; however, the show’s writer and producer, Glenn Caron, told Dushku that they had decided to make her a full-time cast member. Her character was to become the love interest of Weatherly’s titular Bull. However, Dushku claimed that shortly after she was hired, Weatherly began making sexually inappropriate comments to her.
In one instance, he reportedly threatened to bend her over his knee and spank her. In another, he allegedly made a comment about a rape van. And once, he supposedly suggested during a scene in which Dushku held up three fingers that she must want to have a threesome with him and another male cast member. According to Dushku, the crew only laughed at these comments.
“Because of his status on the show, his behavior was contagious, in Ms. Dushku’s view. She told investigators that a crew member approached her at one point and said with a chuckle, ‘I’m with Bull,’ before suggesting that he, too, wanted to take part in a threesome with her,” the Times reported.
After discussing her concerns with Caron, they decided the best course of action would be to approach Weatherly directly. She did, after which he reportedly texted the president of CBS Television Studios, saying “he wanted to talk about Ms. Dushku’s sense of humor.”
Mere days later, Dushku’s character was unexpectedly written off the show.
Believing her dismissal was punishment for coming forward, Dushku entered into mediation. There, CBS allegedly tried to frame her firing as being due to unprofessional behavior on her part, introducing video footage of her cursing on set. But what CBS thought would be evidence in the network’s favor turned out to be a smoking gun against them — the video footage “actually captured some of the harassment on film.”
In response to the settlement surfacing, Weatherly emailed a statement to the Times in which he said his comments were made in jest.
“During the taping of our show, I made some jokes mocking some lines in the script,” he wrote. “When Eliza told me that she wasn’t comfortable with my language and attempt at humor, I was mortified to have offended her and immediately apologized. After reflecting on this further, I better understand that what I said was both not funny and not appropriate and I am sorry and regret the pain this caused Eliza.”
Per CBS, the $9.5 million settlement amount reflects what Dushku would have made in four seasons as a regular character on Bull. Problematically, however, Deadline claimed that Moonves stepped in directly to oversee the payout to Dushku and, furthermore, that the confidential payout was discreetly worked into Bull’s production budget so it wouldn’t pop up on the company’s books.
On Friday, CBS pledged to give $20 million to 18 organizations dedicated to ending workplace sexual harassment.
Interestingly, Weatherly told USA Today in September that his history with the network made it difficult to comment on the allegations against Moonves. “Not to get into any of the ifs, ands or buts about what is right or wrong and where it comes from,” he said, adding, “Professionally, I owe a great part of my career to the decision making of the higher-ups at the company. It’s a complicated place to be.”