Actor Lucas Till, known for his work in the X-Men movies, recalls that the bullying and body-shaming he endured the four seasons he played the main character on CBS’s reboot of MacGyver made him feel so bad that he considered suicide.
“I’ve never worked this hard in my life, and I am fine with hard work,” Till told Vanity Fair for a new story about the downfall of fired network showrunner Peter Lenkov. “But the way Peter treats people is just unacceptable. I was suicidal that first year on the show, because of the way he made me feel. But the way he’s treated the people around me — that’s just my breaking point.”
Till, who left the show at the end of the season in May, is one of dozens of sources the magazine spoke with who detailed a toxic work environment — particularly for women and people of color — on sets run by Lenkov. The producer and writer had worked as showrunner on MacGyver, Magnum P.I. and, before it concluded in April, Hawaii Five-0, until he was fired from CBS on July 7.
“Our studio is committed to ensuring safe and respectful production environments,” CBS announced in a statement at the time. “Over the past year, we have assigned human resource production partners to every show, expanded staff training and increased reporting options. We will continue to evolve our practices with continued focus on building trust with all who work on our sets. Every complaint is taken seriously, every claim is investigated, and when evidence is clear that policies were violated and values not upheld, we take decisive action.”
The former employees, some unnamed, described Lenkov as volatile and abusive to everyone. One person remembered “vomiting almost every day from the emotional toll and anxiety.” Writer Justin Rettke said it took him “close to a year to stop having nightmares.” Sources said scripts by women were rewritten by their male colleagues, and there were areas where “boys’ clubs” congregated. Asian-American actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park left Hawaii Five-0 in 2017, reportedly because they weren’t paid as much as white actors in the cast. A writer who had cancer was expected to work and travel during her scheduled six weeks of radiation treatment. (“Don’t they have radiation centers in Hawaii?” the anonymous writer told Vanity Fair that Lenkov had responded when the writer questioned him.)
Throughout the story, Lenkov’s lawyer Dale Kinsella refuted the allegations of abusive behavior, often point by point. However, Lenkov did express remorse in a statement: “Now is the time to listen and I am listening. It’s difficult to hear that the working environment I ran was not the working environment my colleagues deserved, and for that, I am deeply sorry. I accept responsibility for what I am hearing and am committed to doing the work that is required to do better and be better.”
In Till’s case, the actor wrote a letter to CBS’s human resources department in 2017 and this past May to formally complain about Lenkov’s behavior. Among other things, he noted that when he wore a hospital gown in a scene, Lenkov said his legs were “f***ing hideous.” He also said Meredith Eaton, his co-star on MacGyver, had been treated unprofessionally, when she was pressured to work too soon after a surgery. Other sources told Vanity Fair that Eaton was crying because she was working in so much pain during filming of the third season premiere.
Employees said they hadn’t considered the CBS HR department supportive. One person characterized it as “a joke,” so she hadn’t approached them. A woman identified as someone who used to work for Lenkov said that, after former CEO Les Moonves was fired for sexual misconduct in 2018, there seemed to be a feeling that anything less was acceptable. (Moonves has denied the allegations against him.)
Since cutting ties to Lenkov, the network has announced further changes. In its upcoming season, CBS has set a target of upping the number of Black, Indigenous and People of Color on the writing staffs of its shows to at least 40 percent. The goal is to spend 25 percent of its budget for developing scripts on projects created or co-created by a person who falls into the same group.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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