When Saturday Night Livehired three new cast members this year, executive producer Lorne Michaels was initially praised for hiring the first Asian cast member Bowen Yang and adding Chloe Fineman to the show’s roster of women. The third hire, Shane Gillis, co-hosted Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast and an episode in which he used racist and homophobic slurs emerged, leading Michaels to fire Gillis.
NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy addressed the Television Critics Association on Saturday, January 11. Asked if he’s had conversations with Michaels about the vetting process, Telegdy addressed the issue and talked about how this kind of process works and how to proceed in the future.
Telegdy credited the members of the Television Critics Association and their outlets for the diligence to find Gillis’s problematic material. He also acknowledged that it shouldn’t be up to the public to uncover such things, and credited Michaels with acting swiftly. The chairman said:
“What happened very quickly when I think one of the smart people in this room or one of the organs you work for, Googled the names of the cast. What happened next, it was a learning moment for a lot of people. How quickly Lorne acted and subsequently what happens I think again is a testament to how we act as a company. What you do to prevent future accidents goes to the heart of the people at NBC minding the shop, so always looking to do better.”
NBC and Michaels drew criticism for not vetting Gillis properly enough to uncover his podcast before hiring him. Telegdy acknowledged that SNL’s vetting needs to improve, but cautioned against allowing it to become too extreme.
“I’m sure there are specific practices being put into place and vetting, what the V word means, vetting, is very triggering for people who live in a world of free speech and comedy. I just ask all of you who care about what’s truthful and what’s funny, what performers are given permission to do, that it is an enormously fine line ad a great area. Who polices that is normally the performers that throw their careers under a bus if they make the wrong decision. Again I’m reminded of what Ellen Degeneres said at the Golden Globes, which is how much you sacrifice. This is the exact reversal of that if you look at it one way.”
This is a common argument, the old “comedians should be able to say whatever they want.” They should. They can’t be arrested for it, but there should also be consequences for everything they say. A comedian might argue that they can’t workshop their act if they have to watch what they say at every turn. It might be harder for sure, but self-editing can be part of the creative process. A talented comedian should rise to the challenge of workshopping edgy material while thinking ahead to what sort of comments could have long-term repercussions.
Judging What Should Be Punishable
Finally, Telegdy asked the TCA to exercise good judgment about what past comments were actionable today. He acknowledged Gillis’s were.
“We’ve all got to learn lessons about what you shake down in someone’s past and what we hold them accountable for,” Telegdy said. “I thank you again for predicting the backlash that would come up and I’m really proud we acted fast. Lorne did the right thing. Going forward we think we’ll be able to rightly be accountable.”
On this, Telegdy is right. Kevin Hart lost his Oscars hosting gig for previous homophobic tweets. Disney fired James Gunn for early tweets of pedophilia jokes. Eventually, Gunn regained his job on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 with sincere apologies and growth. That also shows how talent can turn around their past mistakes by making amends in the present.
Each situation is a unique case, but what is consistent is the past situation has to be discussed and acknowledged. There needs to be a solid vetting process in place to discover incidents or comments that could raise issues in the future. How one decides to handle that is a case by case basis.