One of the key talking points at NBC’s TCA presentation today was the network’s struggle to rebuild its comedy lineup—this after a string of high-profile failures involving returning network stars. And naturally, those hardly compare to the highest-profile failure involving a network star, one that didn’t even get the chance to disappoint: the new Bill Cosby family sitcom NBC had latched onto as a cornerstone of that reconstruction, only to have to tear it down in the wake of Cosby’s multiple allegations of sexual assault.
Today, even network entertainment chair Robert Greenblatt had Cosby on his mind, reportedly kicking things off by joking, “I want to start off with an announcement—we are developing a comedy with Bill Cosby and a miniseries about Hillary Clinton,” naming two big projects that were previewed at the last TCAs, and that have since been scrapped in the wake of two very different controversies. But as Cosby himself recently demonstrated, it’s not so easy to deflect this story with humor.
Pressed to elaborate on when and how the network finally made the decision to part ways with Cosby, Greenblatt admitted that—while they’d been aware of the accusations against Cosby (possibly from having watched their own shows)—it wasn’t until just recently that those allegations became too numerous to ignore and/or give someone another TV show. “Fifteen women came out and accused him of what they accused him of,” Greenblatt said. “While over the years we heard some those accusations and knew there were a couple settlements and what not, it didn’t seem to be the thing that was critical mass. When we realized there seemed to be so much more of it, it wasn’t something where we could go, ‘Oh, we’re not sure.’”
Greenblatt took pains to clarify that he wasn’t saying that Cosby was necessarily guilty—just that there were so many people who have publicly said he’s guilty, NBC simply felt it couldn’t be associated with him anymore. “He hasn’t been proven guilty of anything. I don’t want to be the one who says, ‘Guilty until proven innocent,’” Greenblatt said. “But when that many people come out and have similar complaints, it causes such a tainted situation there was no way we could move forward with it. The good news is, unlike Netflix which had a special to run, we were developing a script—we didn’t even have a first draft … I’m glad we’re out from under all that.”
According to Deadline, Entertainment Weekly, Slate, and other sources who were there, things then got a little “testy,” as HitFix’s Daniel Fienberg pressed an “irritated” Greenblatt on when the number of women who have accused Cosby over the years officially reached that “critical mass” necessary to sever ties with him, a mere four months after NBC had hailed Cosby at the last TCAs.
“So, 15, yes? Two or three, no?” Fienberg asked.
“Yeah, you want me to put a number on it?” Greenblatt retorted. “Fifteen ‘yes,’ two ‘no.’ Yeah, do you really want me to answer that question? All I can tell you is there’s a lot of people who have been 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.” He then moved on to answering questions about NBC’s next live musical—which may or may not be The Wiz, made famous by Michael Jackson. (And fortunately that project isn’t associated with a beloved black entertainer who’s been accused of unsavory sexual acts….)
For Greenblatt’s sake, at least this is likely to be the last time he—or anyone else—at NBC has to answer questions about Bill Cosby at the TCAs: Asked whether the network would never again do a project with him, Greenblatt replied, “I think that’s safe to say.” Indeed, it seems like one of the few things to safe to say about Cosby anywhere.