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The financial impact of bad behavior (Bill Cosby etc.)

November 21, 2014

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The latest string of rape allegations against Bill Cosby, and the surrounding bad press in the media, have caused NBC to cancel its development deal with the comedian who was at work creating a new family-oriented sitcom.

Cosby’s deal is reported to have a clause guaranteeing him a payout regardless of whether the show went to series or not. But, it likely won’t be anywhere near the potential multi-million dollar a year contract the 77-year-old actor would have brought home if the show had made it to air.

In the ’80s, when the groundbreaking sitcom The Cosby Show aired, Cosby was making 40,000 dollars per episode and was the highest paid sitcom actor of his time.

Given that the three leads of The Big Bang Theory recently inked deals of upwards of $1 million an episode (plus back end bonuses and production deals) each for an ensemble show, it stands to reason that NBC would have paid similarly, or more, to lure the icon back to television.

Now, Cosby’s residuals from The Cosby Show (which are likely substantial given that he was the co-creator, a writer, star and theme song composer) are in jeopardy as well given that TV Land has quietly removed the show from its regular rotation. Netflix also opted to shelve a stand-up special of Cosby’s that was supposed to debut next week.

Cosby isn’t the only entertainer to have lost out on mega-paydays because of  troubles in their personal life. Here’s a look at some others’ bad behavior.

  • Last month, CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi was abruptly ousted from his job amid allegations of sexual assault. This move could cost Ghomeshi his reported nearly $500,000 annual salary (though he’s slapped the CBC with a hefty $55 million dollar wrongful dismissal suit). The saga affects American listeners, too. More than 160 NPR stations carry his show, Q, which continues without him.
  • Scandal actor Columbus Short was fired from the series at the end of last season due to trouble in his personal life and domestic violence accusations. While Short was a supporting player and not making millions an episode, this is still a huge steady paycheck on a Shonda Rhimes ABC series that could have kept him gainfully employed for many years. Long-term it probably cost him millions in potential income.
  • Seinfeld star Michael Richards is a perfect example of how perception can affect income. He was once a beloved highlight of that hit show, until a video surfaced of his racially infused tirade. His career dried up for years in the aftermath and still hasn’t fully recovered, although Seinfeld has recently let him appear on his successful Web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Similarly, football stars like Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice are currently in the news for their behavior off-field, with Peterson being charged with child abuse and Rice facing domestic violence charges.

Both have been suspended from the NFL, and while there will likely be some sort of settlement if they aren’t allowed to return to play, their chances at endorsements deals (the real payday for most pro athletes) will have dropped.

Some troubled athletes can turn it around, like Ray Lewis and Tiger Woods. Lewis was involved in a murder cover-up, faced misdeameanor charges, was a Super Bowl MVP a year later and still has a career post-football as an ESPN analyst.

Tiger Woods took a huge hit because of his philandering behavior. He lost sponsorship deals with Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade, General Motors and TAG Heuer to the tune of more than $25 million, and paid out close to $100 million in a divorce settlement with wife Elin Nordegren.

But the snap judgement of social media plays a major part in sponsorship deals and future careers. While these charges against Cosby or the NFLers may get settled out of court, or take years to be decided, the court of public opinion has already weighed in.

Youtube and Twitter make it easy for information and outspoken judgements to quickly be disseminated. Cosby’s team inadvertently opened a can of worms asking fans to make memes of images from his classic show, and many followers went quickly to making jokes about the rape charges. Rice’s case might have been limited to court, but that video is pretty damning in the eyes of social media. Even Ray Lewis’s twitter account gets subjected to comments about his charges from 2000.

The rape allegations against Cosby aren’t new, they have just resurfaced as more women choose to come forward now.

But at 77 years old, Cosby may not have the luxury of waiting out the media storm before trying to launch another sitcom. Will NBC want to give another development deal to him in a decade when he’s close to 90 and the scandal has died down? Or has this tarnished the legacy of the once-beloved actor many knew solely as Cliff Huxtable for the rest of his career?

Story Ideas: 

Bill Cosby’s Past Behavior

Timeline of Allegations Against Cosby

Michael Richards on Career Troubles

Angel Cohn is a freelance journalist who has written about entertainment and television for the last 15 years. She is currently an editor at NJFamily.com. Follow her on Twitter at @angelcohn.


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