Why Is CBS’ ‘Bull’ Back on TV After a $9.5 Million Sexual-Harassment Settlement?
The series’ fourth season premieres Monday—after it was revealed that CBS settled with actress Eliza Dushku over sexual-harassment allegations against its star, Michael Weatherly.
On Monday, in news setting Hollywood back years, the Michael Weatherly-led CBS series Bull returns for a fourth season after a multimillion-dollar settlement with actress Eliza Dushku over sexual harassment complaints. In December, the news broke that the network paid Dushku a whopping $9.5 million following allegations that Weatherly sexually harassed her numerous times on set.
Dushku appeared in the legal drama for three episodes in 2017 at the end of its first season, though she was expected to become a regular cast member in the second season. However, her character was written off after she issued a sexual harassment complaint against Weatherly. In a first-person article for The Boston Globe, she wrote, “I took a job and, because I did not want to be harassed, I was fired.”
The Bring It On actress accused her Bull costar of repeatedly making lewd comments about her appearance and saying he wanted to have a threesome with her. In one particularly disturbing incident, Dushku alleges that she incorrectly delivered a line, prompting Weatherly to shout at her, “I will take you over my knee and spank you like a little girl.” She says the incident was captured on tape. According to Dushku, Weatherly campaigned for her to be fired (he denies this) and trivialized her complaint as resulting from a “humor deficit.” Because of course Dushku’s sense of humor is really the problem in this situation.
In the trenchant Boston Globe piece, Dushku describes the lingering, demoralizing experience of being the victim of workplace harassment. “What is hardest to share is the way [Weatherly] made me feel for 10 to 12 hours per day for weeks,” she says. “This was classic workplace harassment that became workplace bullying. I was made to feel dread nearly all the time I was in his presence. And this dread continues to come up whenever I think of him and that experience.”
As part of the settlement agreement, Dushku ordered CBS to hire a sexual harassment expert to oversee Weatherly’s conduct on set. The $9.5 million represents a portion of what she would have made in a typical six-season run as a series regular. The news of the accusations against Weatherly and the bombshell settlement with Dushku came at a time when CBS was already under immense pressure due to allegations of sexual misconduct against disgraced CEO Les Moonves. In May, however, it was announced that Bull had been renewed for a fourth season, and the explanation for the renewal offered by CBS was disappointing, to say the least.
On a press tour in early August, CBS chief of entertainment Kelly Kahl explained, “What we found was in Michael’s case no complaints, incidents, during his time [on NCIS].” Kahl added that the actor was “remorseful and apologetic” about the sexual harassment controversy. Setting aside how Weatherly’s treatment of anyone on the set of his previous show is completely irrelevant to his harassment of Dushku, the real explanation behind Bull’s renewal can likely be reduced to a financially motivated business decision.
The procedural show has consistently strong ratings, ranking as the 16th most popular TV show in total viewers last year with 11.35 million. In his press tour address, Kahl described Bull as “a show that does very well.” “It’s a popular show,” he said. “Michael is loved by our audience. Even after the allegations came out, people continued to watch.”
Though CBS was unwilling to cut ties with Weatherly in the wake of the controversy, Bull’s high-profile executive producer walked away from the project upon the announcement that it would be getting a fourth season. Steven Spielberg, who served as EP throughout the first three seasons, left the show nearly six months after news of the settlement was made public.
A rep for Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Television, told The New York Times in May, “We can confirm that we are no longer associated with the show.”
While Spielberg and Amblin Television declined to comment further, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker is known to be a vocal supporter of the Time’s Up movement.