Who’s Next? Harassment Charges Roil TV

The sheer pace at which executives and on-air personalities have been forced in recent weeks to leave their positions in the entertainment industry and elsewhere over sexual harassment charges has been nothing short of jaw-dropping.

The responses from the harassers have ranged from heartfelt apologies to outright denials, but most offer tepid, conditional and carefully worded regrets — and then promptly unplug from social media.

As their legacies are quickly scrubbed from their companies, most people in the TV industry are wondering, “Who’s next?”

News divisions at several networks have already been shaken. NBC’s biggest on-air moneymaker, Matt Lauer, a Today anchor since 1997, was suddenly booted from the anchor chair after top NBC News executives said he engaged in “inappropriate sexual behavior.” Moreover, “we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident,” NBC News president Andy Lack said.

Related: Lauer Apologizes

Rude Awakening for A.M. Shows
Lauer’s termination came eight days after another familiar figure in morning news, CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose, was let go by CBS News when he, too, was hit with sexual harassment charges, including allegations of groping, lewd conversations and exposing himself. Eight women told The Washington Post that Rose harassed them while they worked on the PBS series Charlie Rose. Rose was also a correspondent on 60 Minutes.

The dismissals of Lauer and Rose follow the ouster of Bill O’Reilly, Fox News Channel’s top-rated host, who was let go in April over sexual harassment claims, and who later struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations.

Related: When News Anchors Become the Story

Morning news is a massive revenue driver for TV networks. And Lauer, who was reportedly paid $25 million per year, was a valuable player in the lucrative and battle-intense morning hours. The first two hours of Today — Lauer’s showcase — generated $509 million in revenue last year, according to Kantar Media. ABC’s Good Morning America earned $402 million and CBS This Morning did $177 million.

In November, Good Morning America won the total viewers race with an average of 4,361,000, ahead of Today’s 4,245,000 and CBS This Morning’s 3,682,000. In viewers 25-54, Today had 1,497,000, Good Morning America 1,367,000 and CBS This Morning 979,000.

The firing of Lauer has some rethinking Today’s move to let go fan favorite Ann Curry in 2012. Still, news analyst Andrew Tyndall does not see the latest morning news missteps causing a shakeup in the pecking order. “Viewers are married to the program, not the anchors,” he said. “Morning viewers are creatures of habit.”

He predicted the networks would replace Lauer and Rose with up-and-coming anchors, not superstars. “The networks have to get their budgets under control,” Tyndall said. “They’re expanding on digital and downsizing on broadcast.”

Related: Murdoch Says Fox Sent Strong Signal With Ailes, O'Reilly Dismissals

For news teams that must report without fear or favor, the dismissals of Rose and Lauer put their co-anchors in the peculiar position of reporting on a colleague. “Charlie does not get a pass here. He doesn’t get a pass from anyone in this room. We are all deeply affected,” said CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King.

Since The New York Times and The New Yorker published sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in October, the list of men in top roles in entertainment, news and politics being called out has grown exponentially, with many women joining the #MeToo conversation on social media.

This past October, NBC News severed ties with political analyst and MSNBC contributor Mark Halperin after reports he sexually harassed women while working at ABC a decade earlier.

Allegations, Shockwaves Continue
The spate of sexual harassment allegations has also forced the cancellation or significantly altered the production of several high-profile television shows:

■ HBO last Thursday (Nov. 30) removed entrepreneur/producer and hip-hop executive Russell Simmons from its All Def Comedy standup comedy series after screenwriter Jenny Lumet accused Simmons of sexually assaulting her in 1991. Simmons and HBO have worked together since 1992, but in a statement the network said it has “no other projects with Russell Simmons.”

■ Netflix suspended production but later said it will move on with its Emmy Award-winning series House of Cards without Kevin Spacey, the drama’s main star, after the actor was fired amid allegations he initiated inappropriate sexual behavior on the set.

Related: Netflix to Make Sixth Season of 'House of Cards'

■ Amazon’s Transparent will also continue without two-time Emmy winner Jeffrey Tambor, who last month left the successful series after two members of the show’s staff accused him of sexual harassment.

FX last month terminated its long-running relationship with comedian Louis C.K. after he confirmed allegations by five women of inappropriate sexual contact. The actor served as executive producer on five series for FX, including the Emmy-winning Louie.

■ Warner Bros. Television Group suspended, then fired Supergirl and Flash showrunner Andrew Kreisberg after more than a dozen women made sexual harassment claims against him. He told Variety he has made comments on women’s appearances and clothes “but they were not sexualized.”

■ Pixar and Disney Animation chief John Lasseter took a six-month leave of absence after several women complained of unwanted touching.

■ Amazon Studios head Roy Price was suspended after a series producer said he sexually harassed her. He resigned from the company.