EXCLUSIVE: As accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein and others began flooding Hollywood early this year, CBS’ then-CEO Les Moonves stepped in to settle claims against one of the network’s biggest stars.
Moonves was deeply and directly involved in the $9.5 million payout that CBS forked over to Eliza Dushku in January after the actor accused Bull lead Michael Weatherly of sexual harassment on the first season of the CBS drama, we’ve learned. Additionally, the confidential payment was sneaked into Bull’s production budget in an effort apparently motivated to avoid the sum popping up on the company’s books, sources say.
The confidential agreement was struck while CBS was engaging in ultimately unsuccessful talks of a potential merger with Viacom. The settlement and its machinations were not known to then-COO Joe Ianniello, who became acting CEO after Moonves resigned in September after a dozen women accused him of sexual aggression.
“Moonves was intimately involved in the Bull situation, as he was in almost all settlement talks and deals at CBS,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation. “The guy micromanaged this kind of stuff,” the source added of the Dushku settlement.
Coming off a series of revelations about Moonves’ behavior, cover-ups and the culture at CBS, news of the settlement was first revealed by the New York Times on Thursday from a leaked copy of an investigation by law firms Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton.
Neither CBS nor Bull producers Amblin Television responded to a request for comment from Deadline on Moonves’ role in the Dushku settlement. Representatives for Moonves also did not respond to requests for comment from Deadline.
Tellingly, the Bull deal also came just over four months before CBS went to legal war in May with the Redstone family holding company National Amusements over the future of the media company and corporate control. That was a battle that Moonves lost to nemesis Shari Redstone as his personal situation became the spotlighted focus of CBS at the highest level and saw him ejected on September 9.
With a series of executive and board exits and a top tier reorganization in recent weeks, the CBS directors are expected to meet before the holidays during which the fate of Moonves’ increasingly unlikely $120 million severance payment looks to be on the agenda. Back on December 6, Ianniello told staffers in a memo that the investigation into Moonves and more, which can run until January 31, was “nearing an end.”
Though Dushku believed she was going to become a series regular on Bull after an initial three-episode appearance at the end of the September 20, 2016 debut Season 1, that deal changed as producer Glen Gordon Caron prepared to take over as showrunner for Season 2.
Dushku complained about ex-NCIS star and long-time CBS staple Weatherly, who made remarks about her appearance, made a rape joke, and commented about a threesome to the Dollhouse alum. As her complaints about Weatherly moved up the corporate food chain in early 2017, Bull producers decided Dushku would be better-suited as a recurring character in the immediate future seasons and not a better-paid regular.
The actor declined that far less lucrative scenario and was soon written out of Bull altogether. That led to the retaliation complaint and that $9.5 million settlement that was designed to provide the financial equivalent of around five seasons on the show.
Now, it’s Moonves’ own $120 million settlement that hangs in the balance.