Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Allegations: How Much Did NBC Executives Know?

Cosby_how_much_NBC_Knew_Main - H 2014
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Cosby_how_much_NBC_Knew_Main - H 2014

Former network chief Warren Littlefield can't recall "any issues of misconduct" as 'Cosby Show' insiders tell a very different story

This story first appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

With retired NBC employee Frank Scotti stating Nov. 23 that he helped pay off women who appeared to be involved with Bill Cosby during the days of the star's hit sitcom The Cosby Show on NBC — even standing guard outside his dressing room during assignations and furnishing an apartment with props for Cosby's private use — is it credible that top brass at the network and the Carsey-Werner production company knew nothing of the star's alleged misconduct? Some of the top executives of the day — notably entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff and business affairs chief John Agoglia — are dead. But Warren Littlefield, the exec producer of FX's Fargo who worked for and succeeded Tartikoff, tells THR, "At no time during my tenure at NBC did anyone come to me with any issues of misconduct by Bill Cosby."

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An NBC veteran who was at the network during part of Cosby Show's run (from 1984 to 1992) finds it credible that senior executives knew nothing of the alleged conduct, saying, "Everyone I know that worked on Cosby was as stunned as the next person" by the allegations that the star had a pattern of drugging and sexually assaulting women. Several sources remember Cosby as professional and considerate despite his singular importance to the network, though those who worked with him have said his demeanor often was less than friendly.

Producers Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey have released a statement saying reports about Cosby's alleged conduct "are beyond our knowledge or comprehension." Caryn Mandabach, who was the partner most involved in production on the set in Brooklyn, tells THR, "I know of no one who could corroborate Frank Scotti's comments." Indeed, Scotti told New York's Daily News that Cosby "had everybody fooled."

Former network chief Fred Silverman, who worked with Cosby on a 1972 variety show at CBS and on the Fat Albert series at ABC, also says he never heard a word about misconduct on the comedian's part. If Scotti did perform such duties for Cosby, he adds, it wasn't part of his official role. "I'm sure there are people working throughout the industry with jobs like 'assistant to' or 'special projects' that perform duties like that," says Silverman. "But I don't think they go around broadcasting it."

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While some in the industry say Cosby had a reputation as a philanderer, that alone would not have raised red flags. But a couple of top industry veterans with no ties to Cosby note that NBC would have had no incentive to inquire too closely about the star's activities. "The guy was bigger than the network at that time," says one. "They were into keeping him happy. They wouldn't want to know details." Both corporate culture and the media environment have changed since then, says another longtime television executive: "It's drilled into your head that if you know something and you don't report it, you're culpable. Then it's about saving your own ass. You can report it anonymously — but you report it."