6:30am PT by Maureen Ryan
'NCIS: New Orleans' Producer Investigated Again, Even as CBS Renews Overall Deal (Exclusive)
NCIS: New Orleans producer CBS Television Studios is hiring an outside investigator to look into allegations of harassment and misconduct against Brad Kern, the former executive producer and showrunner of the CBS procedural, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. At the same time, CBS Television Studios has inked a new two-year overall deal with Kern.
Kern was the subject of two internal investigations by CBS, both of which began in 2016, not long after his arrival at the show in January of that year. He also was the focus of a December story in which more than a dozen insiders described an alleged pattern of misogynistic bullying, racially insensitive comments and harassing behavior during his time at NCIS: New Orleans and stretching back at least 15 years.
In a statement, CBS says it dealt with Kern's earlier issues. Amid the sexual harassment reckoning in Hollywood, the studio also has initiated a new independent probe to look into the claims against Kern both then and now. Kern has subsequently hired crisis management publicist Howard Bragman.
"The 2016 allegations concerning Mr. Kern were acted upon immediately with a thorough investigation and subsequent disciplinary action to address behavior and management issues," CBS tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We have received no further complaints since this action was implemented. In addition, Mr. Kern agreed to step down from his leadership position as showrunner this season and transition to a consulting producer role. We now believe this matter merits further inquiry and therefore we have engaged outside counsel to review both the original investigation as well as the current situation.”
The investigation, which is expected to include but also go beyond the scope of the previous probes and potentially explore new complaints against Kern, will be led by Kate Gold, a senior partner in the labor and employment group of the law firm Drinker Biddle.
As the investigation plays out, absent any new or current complaints, Kern will still work from the writing offices of NCIS: New Orleans. He continues to be represented by WME.
Kern’s deal with CBS TV Studios expired this spring, at the end of the fourth season of the CBS procedural. The studio's new two-year pact with Kern will keep him in a consulting producer position for season five. According to sources close to NCIS: New Orleans, Kern has been in the show's writers room daily since it opened May 29. These sources say the plan has been for Kern to play a key role in the writing of episodes until production begins, and then work with editors once filming for the drama begins in New Orleans.
The situation has caused anger among many who have worked on the show in the past (those still with NCIS: NOLA are generally too scared to speak out).
"By doing a new deal with Brad, CBS sent a clear message to all of their employees that emotional, mental and psychological abuse isn’t a fireable offense," says one person who worked under Kern at NCIS: New Orleans and who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. "As a consulting producer, Brad is still in a position to mistreat NCIS: NOLA staff members in the writers’ room and postproduction.”
A number of sources who spoke with THR in recent weeks expressed cautious relief on Thursday when they learned that CBS is initiating a new investigation. Participation in the probe is not necessarily limited to those who worked for NCIS: New Orleans. It’s unclear at this point what shows would be covered by the inquiry, but Kern also worked on The CW drama Beauty and the Beast and, before that, programs like Human Target and the original Charmed, among others.
A number of sources who spoke out for the December story — and additional individuals who have come forward since then — tell THR that Kern’s behavior, which included racially insensitive comments and vindictive treatment of colleagues, including a nursing mother, pervades NCIS: NOLA to this day. Multiple sources say the atmosphere at the show has been "toxic" since he arrived — and has remained that way even after the second HR investigation concluded.
"If the party line is that everything was fine after that, I can tell you for a fact that’s not true,” says one woman who worked for NCIS: NOLA after the second inquiry ended in February 2017. “It was a dreadful, misogynist culture led and created by Brad. He bullied women and he discriminated against them. It didn’t matter who you were and how nice he was the day before — your turn always came.”
This woman says she thought about informing HR, but was afraid of Kern and was worried about the studio's support of him. But the primary reason she didn’t go to HR, she says, “is because I was sure nothing would be done — because nothing has been done.” Upon hearing that a new investigation was being undertaken, she says, “if I think the new inquiry is serious, I might consider participating.”
A number of sources expressed surprise and deep dismay about the fact that Kern scored a new deal at the studio in recent weeks. “They don't have to continue to do business with him, and that they choose to do so says they don't value any of the things they claim to value,” says a woman who worked for Kern on NCIS: NOLA.
“The industry likes to pat itself on the back for honoring the #MeToo movement, but sexism and misogyny is so deeply entrenched, the progress made is tenuous at best. It’s made of gossamer. If Brad Kern keeps his job in light of yet another investigation, it’ll be proof of that,” says William Schmidt, executive producer of an upcoming History drama and a co-executive producer on the original Charmed when Kern ran that show.
Former colleagues of Kern’s are as troubled as recent employees.
“I was co-executive producer to Brad’s executive producer on Charmed, so I’ve seen first-hand how he poisons the writers' room with unprofessional comments,” says writer-producer-director Nell Scovell. “The two recent harassment investigations show that his behavior has continued. This is unfortunate. You get better work when every writer in the room feels safe. I know I will experience backlash for speaking out, but I want this business to change and I want writers’ rooms to feel safe for all.”
Others expressed frustration with Kern's title change, which they regard as an attempt to draw attention away from problems in the workplace while allowing them to continue. Executive producer Christopher Silber, who had been Kern’s second-in-command, is now the showrunner. But given the way TV shows work, a former showrunner is still a powerful person, especially if he is a presence in the show’s offices. Some sources also take issue with the idea that Silber is an improvement on Kern.
“When Brad called other writers terrible names, Chris said nothing. When Brad said sexist and racist statements that hurt staff members, Chris never challenged him,” says a person who worked for Kern at NCIS: NOLA. “Instead, Chris made fun of and belittled the investigations in front of writers who had already gone to HR, and who took a huge risk to file complaints against Brad. Chris created an even more tense and toxic environment. He acted like the HR investigations into serious offenses committed by Brad were a waste of time. That made it clear to everyone that no matter what awful thing Brad said or did, Chris was on Brad's side. Chris is not a solution to the Brad problem. He is an example of the culture of complicity.”
Those in the wider TV community who have followed the situation from afar find themselves disappointed by it. Amy Berg, an executive producer on Starz's Counterpart and DaVinci’s Demons, does not know Kern and has not worked for him. But she says if the industry is to change in positive ways, “we need strong allies at the studio and network level who won’t wait until there’s a public relations nightmare before they do the right thing. In this case, it seems like they were hoping the attention on them simply went away. I wish it wasn’t up to the victims to continue the conversation, but sadly that’s where we’re at.”
"I'd love to take my work to CBS, but the outcome of this investigation — and how seriously the network and studio take these issues going forward — will deeply influence whether I want to pitch my projects there," says a woman who has worked with Kern in the past.
Sources tell THR that more a dozen female writers and editors — as well as a number of men who objected to or disliked the toxic atmosphere on NCIS: NOLA — have left the show in the past two years. And the alleged mistreatment doesn’t necessarily end when people leave: Some sources say that even when they exited of their own volition, Kern told others they had been fired.
Shawn Ryan, a writer and executive producer of CBS' SWAT and NBC's Timeless, says, “While I have no personal knowledge of this particular case, CBS, or any other broadcaster, is right to investigate serious complaints emanating from their writers' rooms or sets. Additionally, I would hope and expect that studios and networks be willing to live with the consequences of whatever a fair and impartial investigation might conclude.
“As a proud member of the WGA, we also have to reckon with the sad reality that abuse and harassment of writers is often at the hands of other, more powerful writers,” Ryan continues. “As a guild, and as an industry, we must find ways to stop mistreatment and abuse in order to foster a culture of safety for all writers and the people who work with us."