|That’s what you call an official cave-in.
Let’s recap among the wreckage of the past days:
- In the face of charges, a stream of CBS executives have come forward to say, in terms of varying mealy-mouthedness, that they stand by Les, including the network’s head of programming who stood before the TCA to offer, “I’m not saying we’re perfect, but…a lot of us have been here a long time precisely because CBS Entertainment is such a fulfilling place to work.” If you’re notsexually harassed, CBS is a lot of fun!
- Off the record, many friends of Les have been pounding away at the Farrow story: claiming Ileanna Douglas left the show for creative reasons, that the story insanely inflated Christine Peters position, was ancient history..
- In his much-anticipated appearance on the CBS earnings call, Moonves sounded as though he’d be at the helm of an independent CBS well into the 2020’s.
- 60 Minutes’ Jeff Fager, decided to “stay on vacation” as the CBS internal investigation proceeds.
- Howard Stern took to the airwaves to remind the world of one of Mr. Smooth’s less immortal moments, when CBS pursued a vendetta lawsuit to punish its departing star, which led to a very public, acrimonious and futile battle, which Stern hinted, came to an end after he came by certain information about Moonves.
- Ronan Farrow claims he’s got more coming.
And what didn’t happen this last week:
- Hollywood rising up in anger, demanding his removal.
- Producers cancelling deals.
- Stars threatening to leave the network.
- The TV Academy revoking his membership.
Et cetera. There’s a pretty well-rehearsed program for unpersoning by now, and that clearly isn’t kicking in.
Upon examining the evidence, Les Moonves decided not to fire himself. And the board has made it clear they hadn’t signed on to do actual oversight when they agreed to take money to show up at a few meetings a year. The only thing that might convince them to change that perspective would be a massive public outcry, and the outcry has been about six notches less than massive.
It was great of Eva Longoria to put herself out there as a representative of Time’s Up and make some strong statements about this. But for a group that announced its founding with a Who’s Who of flashy A-list names, if Eva Longoria is the biggest you can get to speak up for this, doesn’t that send a message loud and clear?
Aren’t the members of the CBS board perfectly justified in saying: If the organization founded to rise up against sexual harassment in Hollywood doesn’t seem to care more than a Tweet’s worth, why should we?
All the messy little mitigators we weren’t going to consider anymore have come crawling back. Questions about the accusers’ motives and moral turpitude, “But that was a long time ago”, and “he never assaulted me” justifications.
Make no mistake about it, we’re setting precedent here and the next time an exec is accused of something and the charges aren’t Weinstein-level apocalyptic and replicated a few dozen times, there will be the Moonves Margin waiting—a wiggle room space plenty big enough to let people skate out of anything. We’re living in a new world still, where every one of these incidents redraws the line for others to follow.
One has to ask: What are we getting here so great that it’s worth throwing away all the hard-won changes of the last year? It took Hollywood a hundred years to say that it’s not alright to throw actresses on the couch and try to ruin their careers when they don’t give in. Now that we’ve said that, we’re about to throw in a fistful of caveats and asterisks. For what?
I get that Les Moonves is Mr. Smooth at parties and less annoying than most people you deal with in this industry if you’re on his good side. I get that he’s a charter member of The Club, the Geffen Yacht Team, etc. Etc. I get that CBS has done well, in raw, undemographic numbers under his watch.
But in the end, he’s a television executive. He’s the guy who says, have we got room for another CSI? Can we get a junior version of Big Bang? Maybe he made those calls well. He has certainly been very well compensated for it. The highest-paid executive in the industry by some standards, with a CFO whose salary makes other CEOs green with envy, even as his company’s market cap is barely more than Lionsgate. In the end, he’s just a TV executive. We’ve got plenty of those around. Is the fear of losing one worth this price?
Part of this is the exhaustion over the events of the past year. What started as a 40-year overdue stand against sexual harassment, quickly morphed into a zero-tolerance policy for any sort of behavior that ruffled social media feathers. The past year has seen public career executions of people for abusive behavior, on-campus drug use, inappropriate relationships, and idiotic tweets–all of which would have been seen as stamps of fearless showbiz executive-ing back in mid-2017.
On the one hand, it’s great that we are finally getting some standards of decent behavior, like every other industry on the planet, except maybe politics. On the other, waking up every week and seeing people you know destroyed and deprived of the ability to support themselves and their families is exhausting. Fast Company wrote last week:
This one-size-fits-all, fire-aim-ready approach to dealing with claims of offense–whatever the offense may be–has Hollywood deeply uncomfortable. “I only wish there were some middle ground,” one studio executive tells me. “It seems crazy that people’s entire careers are going up in smoke for things that aren’t at the Harvey level.”
What would be great here would be a little bit of leadership. Any at all. Someone to step forward and begin to sort out what’s a true capital offense from a misdemeanor. Someone to lead the way to sorting through this crazy mess of a time so we can get back to work here, with respect for all, etc.
But no one appears interested in getting involved in that in the least. The Anita Hill commission has been in business nine months now and thus far, their only public pronouncement has been that they’ll need lots and lots of cash to take on this job (And then to privately send the studios a bill for a couple million each). In this particular case, Hollywood’s Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace saw no reason to weigh in.
I know this is a hard one to stand up to and put your name on, criticizing someone who is still in power, and hugely popular besides, a veritable sexagenarian Justin Bieber of the Executive Class. Take a stand against him and you might lose CBS deals, not to mention Showtime. You might have an awkward moment over at the Dillers.
But on the flip side you get to show that everything Hollywood has been shouting about abusive and predatory behavior no longer being tolerated in this industry wasn’t just hot air. So it’s a trade off!
All this happens of course, at a moment when Hollywood is about to enter the fight for its very existence. This, I hate to say it, is not what winning teams look like.