On Monday, CBS’s daytime chatfest “The Talk” kicked off its ninth season — but had to start on a much more serious note than anyone had anticipated. Barely 24 hours earlier, news broke that the network’s chief executive, Leslie Moonves, was stepping down, after two bombshell stories in the New Yorker alleged a pattern of sexual assault and harassment from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
Moonves said “untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am.” But many observers were wondering what his wife, Julie Chen, would have to say. Chen, co-host of “The Talk” and reality show “Big Brother,” has been married to Moonves since 2004.
As it turned out, Chen decided to skip the episode entirely. She released a brief statement: “I am taking a few days off from ‘The Talk’ to be with my family. I will be back soon and will see you Thursday night on ‘Big Brother.'” Her co-hosts had no choice to discuss the situation, and they were clearly uncomfortable.
“I’ve never been nervous in my life, but I’m kind of very nervous right now,” Sharon Osbourne confessed, sounding choked up. “Whatever times I’ve had of hardship over the last eight years, Julie has always been there for me. She’s been a friend, she’s somebody who I admire and respect greatly. And it’s very embarrassing and upsetting to have to talk about her husband. But we do. We feel it’s right.”
The show aired clips from “CBS This Morning” discussing the situation, including the fact that the network is withholding any severance package for Moonves until there’s an investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations.
Osbourne said she doesn’t know Moonves aside from the occasional hello: “I know nothing about the man other that he’s Julie’s husband and he was the head of the biggest network in the world and the most powerful man in TV,” she said. A couple of months ago (presumably when Ronan Farrow’s first New Yorker article dropped), she was asked to give a statement of support for him. She did at the time; but then she read Farrow’s second story on Sunday, which included accusations of forced oral sex and Moonves exposing himself without consent, as well as intimidation and retribution that torpedoed women’s careers.
“He’s not been convicted of any crime, but obviously the man has a problem,” Osbourne said.
Co-host Sara Gilbert also spoke up with support for Chen. “Julie is our friend, this is our ninth season, and we’ve been together since the beginning. I love her; I support her always,” she said. “However, this is an important time in our culture, and just because this hits close to home, it doesn’t change this story. All women’s stories matter, and these women’s stories matter. This is very serious, and the appropriate actions need to take place.”
Eve, who joined the show last year, added that “I’ve now come to care for every woman at this table, and this is ridiculously difficult.” She said she’s praying for Chen and her family. “I hope and pray that we get to a place where we don’t have to talk about this anymore, where women are equal, where these stories won’t have to happen anymore. I just really need us to get that place,” she said.
Sheryl Underwood echoed her co-hosts and said she hopes the women who come forward will inspire others who have been in similarly terrible situations. “Women should not feel that they have to carry these secrets and burdens,” she said. “We have got to understand that women are carrying this around . . . but today we say enough is enough. Today we say we believe you, we hear you.”
Osbourne noted that one story in particular, about former TV executive Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, “really broke my heart.” Golden-Gottlieb alleged that Moonves assaulted her while she worked for him in the 1980s. Last fall, finding courage from the #MeToo movement, she filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department. “He absolutely ruined my career,” she told Farrow, saying she was blocked from advancing at the company.
“Power, power, power,” Osbourne said. “Why is it when men get power, it goes to their testicles? I do not know why, but it’s true.”
Although Chen hasn’t addressed the most recent wave of allegations, she tweeted a statement in July, after Farrow’s first story: “I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the late ’90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years. Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”