Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen is set to write and direct a new half-hour TV series for Amazon's streaming service. (Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeffrey P. Bezos, is also the owner of The Washington Post.) (Reuters)

Amazon announced today that Woody Allen will write and direct a series for the company. Two months ago, Netflix announced it would no longer air Bill Cosby’s comedy special; he also saw NBC scuttle discussions for a new sitcom.

So: We have two septuagenarian comedy icons, one white and one black, both recently mired in accusations about long-ago sex crimes. . . but one is rewarded with an exciting new gig, while the other is having his career annihilated.

Is it fair? Ultimately we’re talking about big corporations deciding which entertainers are capable of turning a profit for them. “Fair” is probably beside the point.

But why is one entertainer surviving a sex scandal while the other is not? Let’s try to break this down.

 


Woody Allen and his wife Soon-Yi Previn arrive at the premiere of “To Rome with Love.” (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

 

Is it the number of accusers?

In the case of Cosby, 77, a couple dozen women have come forward, all telling remarkably similar stories about how he drugged and raped them. As the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates put it best, back when there were still only 15 Cosby accusers: “Believing Bill Cosby does not require you to take one person’s word over another — it requires you take one person’s word over 15 others.”

Meanwhile, Allen, 79, has only one accuser: Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, who was later formally adopted by Allen as well. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof let Dylan take over his column last year so that she could tell her story, and it was an incredibly troubling one. She alleged that, in 1992, when she was seven years old, the director took her to an attic and sexually assaulted her while whispering that she was a good girl.

Arguably, it’s easier for fans to ignore one accuser than 30. (Cosby himself benefited from that dynamic; when he was only facing a couple of accusers a decade ago, the stories didn’t really stick.) Still, even though Allen’s case is smaller it’s no less weird, what with him leaving Mia Farrow around the time of the original accusations to take up with another of her daughters, Soon-Yi Previn. So maybe the real dynamic here is. . .

How they handled the accusations?

Cosby and Allen had very different crisis-mangement strategies. Allen took to the New York Times to publicly refute Farrow’s claims and gave an uncommonly intimate view into his private life, even addressing rumors (stoked by Mia Farrow in a Vanity Fair interview) that his supposedly biological son Ronan may, in fact, be Frank Sinatra’s. Meanwhile, Dylan’s brother went on the record claiming Mia Farrow implanted false memories in her daughter’s mind.

Cosby let his lawyer do the denying — a full-time job now, what with the steady stream of women stepping forward. When the New York Post’s Stacy Brown managed to get through to Cosby over the phone after the allegations broke, he said: “Let me say this. I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism and when you do that you have to go in with a neutral mind.” Cosby’s lawyer claims those comments were misconstrued. But that brings us to another point. . .

Is it something about their personalities? 

Hannibal Buress, the comedian who put the Cosby allegations back into the public consciousness, joked in his stand-up special that he hates Cosby’s smugness — an attitude of “I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom,” as he put it. Even when he wasn’t Cliff Huxtable, Cosby wanted to be the father figure, teaching people right from wrong.

You can’t say Woody Allen has ever held himself up as a moral paragon. For years before and after the Farrow allegations, his movies have had a creepy May-December romantic dynamic, not to mention some decidedly unlikeable characters. And once again, this is the guy who married his ex-girlfriend’s daughter, decades his junior.

Or is it just timing?

The renewed Cosby accusations exploded just as he was plotting a comeback after several quiet years. His “Far From Finished” tour, which now seems like an unfortunate moniker, was in full swing, and he and NBC were working on another sitcom. Plus, there was a much-hyped new bio, which raised eyebrows by conspicuously failing to mention the old accusations. Maybe stepping back into the limelight after all these years, Cosby was a riper target for the renewed allegations.

Allen, on the other hand, had never taken a break, generally releasing a small movie each year, thus never really having to crank up the hype machine or call attention to himself by resurfacing; nor did he take a break after last year’s uproar. He’s currently working on a new movie with Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix. His deal with Amazon (whose CEO Jeffrey Bezos owns The Washington Post) is novel, to be sure — but it didn’t hit the news until nearly a year after his scandal died down again.