NBC waited to drop Bill Cosby because there weren't that many alleged victims

A network exec says NBC waited to cancel a project with the star until there was a "critical mass" of accusers

Published January 16, 2015 8:39PM (EST)

Bill Cosby   (AP)
Bill Cosby (AP)

Before I recount for you one of the most nauseating things I've read this week, let me tell you: This is one of the most nauseating things I've read this week, fighting hard for the top spot.

On Friday, an NBC executive was pressed by reporters at a Television Critics Association panel to explain why the network delayed in canceling a planned project with Bill Cosby as the number of allegations of his sexual misconduct grew at the end of last year. The executive, NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, offered a response. And the response was, basically: We knew some women accused Cosby of drugging and raping them, but we didn't know it was fifteen women. (Note: That number has since increased to nearly two dozen, with accusers suggesting that there are closer to 50 women out there who say Cosby sexually assaulted them over the years.)

Here is Mr. Greenblatt's explanation in his own (unacceptable) words, via Entertainment Weekly:

Fifteen women came out and accused him of what they accused him of ... 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.’ He hasn’t been proven guilty of anything. I don’t want to be the one who says, ‘Guilty until proven innocent.’ 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 that.

Just a quick reminder: "what they accused him of" translates, in almost all of the cases, to "drugging and raping" multiple women over multiple decades. And when it doesn't refer directly to drugging and raping, "what they accused him of" refers to some other form of sexual assault. In the case of accuser Joan Tarshis, it means alleging that Cosby forced her to perform fellatio after he slipped a pill in her drink; for model Chloe Goins, who might be the only accuser able to press charges against Cosby, it means alleging that she woke up naked in a daze after the comedian drugged her and found him sucking on her toes and masturbating.

And according to Greenblatt, who should just go ahead and jump into a volcano, knowing that two or three women had accused Cosby of rape was not enough to make NBC drop him. No, instead the network needed an ambiguous "critical mass" of women reporting similarly horrendous accounts of violence against them to cut the deal. It needed the potential PR fallout to be so ominous and calamitous before it would act on knowledge that more than one woman (or even one woman!) had accused Cosby of rape, so NBC just...waited.

When a reporter pressed Greenblatt on this point, he reportedly got testy:

Reporter: “So 15 [women complaining] ‘Yes,’ two or three, ‘No’?”

“Yeah, you want me to put a number on it?” Greenblatt shot back, seeming irritated. “Fifteen ‘yes,’ two ‘no.’ Yeah, you 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 and NBC did not think it was a "critical" problem that multiple women had accused Cosby of raping them -- or that they had made those accusations for years and had made them in court. Doesn't that just sum up so many of our problems so neatly?

By Jenny Kutner

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Bill Cosby Nbc Rape Robert Greenblatt Sexual Assault Television