The broadcast network segment of the semi-annual Television Critics Association gathering in Pasadena, California, has been a cosy, not terribly newsy affair … until this morning when NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt lost his composure when questioned about the network’s abandoned Bill Cosby sitcom.
During today’s “executive session,” a sort of open forum for journalists to question network bosses, BuzzFeed’s Jarret Wieselman asked Greenblatt, “Given that during press tour this summer, you didn't think there would be a problem with the Bill Cosby sitcom, can you talk about how that unfolded on your end?” Greenblatt and his companion on the stage, president of NBC Entertainment Jennifer Salke, spent a few moments disputing whether they’d made such assurances, but Wieselman asked them again, “talk about what happened on your end to eventually lead to the point where you dropped it?”
Greenblatt’s response seems worth quoting in full:
Yeah, you know, 15 women came out and accused him of—what they accused him of. And while, over the years, we heard some of those accusations and we knew there were a couple of settlements and whatnot, it didn't seem to be, you know, the sort of thing that was, you know, critical mass. When we realized there seemed to be so much more of it, it wasn't something that we could just go, “Oh, we’re not sure.” Look, I don't like to be ... He hasn't been, sort of, proven guilty of anything. So, I don’t want to be the one that says, “Guilty until proven innocent,” but when that many people come out and have similar complaints, and it becomes such a tainted situation, there was no way you could move forward with this.
The good news—let me just say, the good news is, if there is any good news, unlike Netflix, which had a special to run or the Cosby episodes that were running on a network, we were developing a script that was never even, we never got a first draft of, so it wasn’t something that was definitely going forward or even into production. I guess I can only say that I’m glad that we’re out from under that.
Since there are several microphones around the room and assembled reporters call out their questions rather than wait to be called upon, follow-up questions don’t always get made. This time around, though, Daniel Fienberg of HitFix was able to press Greenblatt about his response. “You say you knew that there had been these issues, you knew that there had been settlements. What is the point at which something becomes critical mass to the point at which you can no longer ignore things and you have to just go, ‘OK, we don't want to be in this business?’ ” he asked.
“I guess what just happened two months ago,” Greenblatt replied.
“So, 15 yes, two or three no?” Fienberg responded, at which point, Greenblatt took a sharp tone.
“You want me to put a number on it? 15, yes. Two no. Yeah. Do you really want me to answer that question?”
Fienberg assured him he meant it in all seriousness.
“All I can tell you is, there's a lot of people who got in business with Cosby for 25 years, and go ask them the same question. I just answered what I could answer. I didn’t think it was a problem until it became critical. I don’t know what else I can say about it.”
When the next questioner began by saying he wanted to talk about NBC’s next live musical, Greenblatt seemed relieved: “Oh, good, let's talk about that!” But when the question turned out to be about the wisdom of airing a three-hour musical on a school night, Greenblatt joked, “Well ... let me answer the Bill Cosby question.”