9:17am PT by Eriq Gardner
Warner Bros. Reveals Details of Probe That Ousted 'Fuller House' Creator
Why was Jeff Franklin removed from his role as showrunner of Fuller House?
If one is to believe Franklin, who created Full House in the 1990s and shepherded the recent Netflix reboot until he was dumped at the end of 2018, he was the victim of career ambition. Specifically, in a lawsuit filed in April, Franklin blamed Bryan Behar, who took over showrunning duties upon the expiration of Franklin's three-year deal with Warner Bros.
According to Franklin, Behar seized on the nascent #MeToo movement, and motivated by hatred and aspiration, he "concocted a plan to compile unflattering and distasteful information about Franklin that was either fabricated or twisted versions of events and presented it first to the media and then to Warner Brothers in an effort to get Franklin thrown off Fuller House."
It appears as though Warner Bros. won't just stand by to let this account go unchallenged.
Silisha Platon, a labor relations vp at the studio, has now submitted a sworn declaration in Los Angeles Superior Court to support Behar's bid to throw out Franklin's suit.
Platon says the investigation into Franklin's conduct dates all the way back to 2016, which notably, predates the allegations against Harvey Weinstein that helped trigger the #MeToo movement. The probe is said to have commenced after a complaint was made about Franklin's on-set behavior, and during subsequent interviews, concerns were raised about Franklin's handling of pregnancy-related requests for time off for doctor appointments as well as concerns about equal treatment for male and female writers for the show.
However, that wasn't enough to get rid of Franklin, who in his 40-year career had also worked on such shows as Laverne & Shirley, It's Gary Shandling's Show, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, Stuart Little and Malcolm & Eddie. That initial investigation concluded, according to Platon, with Franklin receiving verbal counseling on appropriate, business-like behavior.
Then, in November 2017, Platon says Warner Bros. received a new complaint that Franklin had created a toxic work environment in the writers room. Platon adds that the studio learned of another female writer making similar claims against Franklin. Thus began a second investigation.
Warner Bros. interviewed eight Fuller House staffers.
One woman said Franklin would talk about orgies he had over the weekend. Another woman, supported by a third, claimed that Franklin had his assistant request that all the writers come to his mansion and they were reminded multiple times to bring their bikinis. Franklin was also said to have complained about having to hire directors who were women or people of color, expressing preference for male writers, apologizing to his staff for not dating Jewish women, describing female directors as "all the same" and making sexualized comments.
"She is probably going to be pregnant next season," Franklin was attributed as saying on one occasion. "I wish I could make all the women on my staff get hysterectomies."
"She's one nose job away from a good fuck" went another alleged comment about one of the underage girls.
Behar himself was interviewed, but that evidently came late in the process, and Platon states his testimony "was not a substantial factor in my concluding that Franklin had created a toxic and inappropriate work environment. Rather, Mr. Behar's statements only corroborated some of the less serious statements made by the other witnesses, including Jane Does 1 through 7, about Jeff Franklin's workplace conduct."
In Behar's own declaration, he swears never speaking to the press about Franklin.
Represented by attorneys at Venable, Behar now looks to strike Franklin's tortious interference claim under California's anti-SLAPP statute, which gives recourse to defendants hauled into court for First Amendment activity in connection with an issue of public interest.
Behar argues he can satisfy the first prong of the SLAPP analysis because alleged statements to Warner Bros. and the media were in furtherance of his free speech rights on a publicly important topic, namely, powerful men in Hollywood engaging in improper workplace behavior.
If the judge accepts that, the burden then shifts to Franklin to establish a probability of prevailing on his claim. Otherwise, the lawsuit fails.
Franklin cannot show alleged statements by Behar are actionable, writes Behar's lawyers.
Behar's memorandum to the judge lays out the proposition that statements to a Warner Bros. investigator are privileged as qualified common interest, meaning they were statements given in good faith as part of a compelled disclosure on a topic of mutual interest.
"To hold otherwise would have a chilling effect on employees' participation in future workplace sexual harassment investigations," states the memo.
To defeat the privilege, Behar says Franklin must establish malice.
"Behar's concern for Franklin's job and his reluctance to participate in the investigation establish that his statements were not motivated by hatred or ill will towards Franklin," continues the court brief. "Indeed, they demonstrate the opposite."
Finally, Behar also argues that he was not a substantial factor in causing Franklin harm.
As stated in Behar's motion, "Simply put, Behar has put forth incontrovertible evidence that his testimony in the investigation into Franklin's workplace behavior was not a substantial factor in the lead investigator's conclusion that there was sufficient evidence that Franklin had created a toxic and inappropriate work environment, and her recommendation to executives at Warner Bros. that Franklin's contract should not be renewed. For this reason alone, Franklin's claim fails."
We'll add comment from Larry Stein, attorney for Franklin, when a statement comes.