CBS placed an executive on leave Wednesday after several coworkers came forward to CNN about him making homophobic and sexually inappropriate comments at work.
Nine former and current employees have alleged that Vincent "Vinnie" Favale, the senior vice president of talent for CBS Television, had crossed the line. Due to nondisclosure agreements and fear of retaliation, they agreed to do so anonymously.
The accusers said Favale, a founder of Comedy Central, regularly called LGBTQ guests on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert "homos" and insinuated that Colbert himself was queer.
"He would frequently call Stephen gay because of his seeming inability to interview women well," a former CBS executive told CNN. "He would say this in rehearsals, the control room. Sometimes the CBS attorney would even be present, which to me is just shocking that nothing was done."
That was not the only way Favale reportedly made Late Show staff uncomfortable. Employees, who felt empowered to come forward after the exposure of accused serial harasser Les Moonves, who was CBS's CEO, say that from 2015 to 2018, Favale frequently made vulgar comments, including once when there was construction outside the office.
"There was a big drill, and we looked outside and went to the window. [Favale] compared the drill to 'a big black dick' as it was drilling into the ground," another former coworker remembered. "I couldn't believe he said that."
After this employee complained to her superior about the drill comment, she felt she was retaliated against for speaking up. She says Favale prevented her from attending crucial meetings, driving her to eventually leave CBS.
Additionally, two employees complained to a female CBS executive about the remark, and she brought it up to human resources, which she felt took no visible action. In fact, he was promoted from East Coast late-night executive to vice president.
What's more, she said, Favale punished her for reporting. From her first day on the job, he made it known that he "had a direct line to Moonves," and used his connections like a threat, she said.
"He definitely knew that I had gone to HR. I told him, 'People are complaining about you and I let HR know,'" she said. "He stopped talking to me for long periods of time. Our roles required that we interact ... he shut me out of meetings. I went back to HR and complained, but I was told it wasn't happening and had been addressed with him."
CBS has acknowledged that there was a complaint against Favale in 2016 and that more investigation is necessary.
“The comments reported in this story are offensive and not consistent with the standards we expect from our executives or the culture we want at CBS. The network investigated a complaint for inappropriate language that was received in January 2016, and corrective action was taken," the network wrote in a statement to CNN. "However, since concerned voices are speaking up nearly three years later, additional review is warranted. Mr. Favale has been placed on leave while we look into this situation further.”
Favale allegedly continued to behave inappropriately, making derogatory remarks about Jennifer Hudson and Hugh Jackman.
"I'll never forget the day he told me he got four erections while watching Jennifer Hudson rehearse," a female former CBS executive told CNN, remembering when Oscar winner Hudson was preparing for her performance on The Late Show in 2015.
When Jackman came on the show to promote Logan, an employee said Favale mocked him as being "gay" and "in the closet," and called his marriage a "fake."
"It was so offensive," the worker asserted. "I really couldn't believe it. I mean, this is an executive talking so openly like this ... it's mind-blowing."
Rachel Maddow was also an alleged target of Favale's homophobia and misogyny. Two people said they heard him ask "Who wants to see that ugly man on TV?" when the MSNBC anchor was a guest. Another witness claimed Favale made a similar comment about another well-known lesbian in entertainment who appeared on The Late Show.
Instead of Maddow, Favale told producers to "book hotter" women, according to several current and former employees. They felt he particularly disliked women who talked about politics and feminism, even claiming Gloria Steinem was not attractive enough to go on air.
"If we wanted to include female scientists or political wonks there were a lot of notes about their looks," explained a former employee. "When we wanted to book [Steinem], he said that instead, we should find younger feminists who were hot."
Favale responded to CNN in a statement, saying, "Allegations that I have ever retaliated against anyone in any fashion are 100% false. I have spent my entire career working at comedy shows, where there has always been a wide latitude to make transgressive jokes while preparing the program. While we make a lot of jokes, these jokes attributed to me, whether said in rehearsals or production meetings, are being taken out of context and were not said in the way being presented here."
However, employees felt his "jokes" were far from appropriate.
"Vinnie was a horrible fit with the Colbert team from day one. Those abhorrent comments were just a symptom of a man who held the entire staff and show in contempt," an employee claimed, noting that although Favale is not an accused predator like Moonves, he was a serious problem. "The fact that he was forced on us as long as he was is an indictment of the classic 'old boys network' that existed at the highest level of CBS."
"These are the people that are making decisions about what you see or don't see on television every day and that's important," another employee said. "These men are the people that decide what you see on television, what your children see on television, and that should matter and [the executives and CBS] should take that responsibility seriously."
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert did not comment to CNN on Favale's alleged behavior, but its host addressed the matter on the air Wednesday night.
“About six months into the show some of our employees said they were uncomfortable with some things that he said, so we took their complaints to HR. They investigated twice, but I don’t really know what, if anything, happened. It seemed like someone was protecting this guy. I don’t know who it was. We eventually convinced the network to make a change,” Colbert said.
“This is why you want a free press; this is why you want investigative journalism," he concluded. "It’s to make sure that government and companies and people are accountable for their actions.”