From Angus to Trump: When TV Stars Attack The Hands That Feed Them
Angus T. Jones | Photo Credits: Cliff Lipton/CBS
Executives at Warner Bros. TV and CBS didn't see this one coming. Nor did Two and a Half Men boss Chuck Lorre. As a matter of fact, no one did.
Angus T. Jones, who has played Men's Jake Harper since 2003, had always been a mild-mannered young star who mostly avoided press and shunned the limelight. So when a video emerged on YouTube of the 19-year-old actor saying, "If you watch Two and a Half Men, please stop. I'm on Two and a Half Men and I don't want to be on it. Please stop watching it. Please stop filling your head with filth," it stunned everyone — and became a major news story.
A combination of social media, a 24-hour news cycle, aggressive tabloid websites and modern technology (like phone cameras) makes it easier than ever for celebrities to go rogue in front of the masses.
"Stars now have the ability to reach their fan base directly and instantaneously by firing off the first thought that pops in their heads," says entertainment lawyer Aaron Moss. That's been a boon for outlets hungry for any morsel of celebrity news, but it's causing headaches in Hollywood boardrooms — and giving public relations executives a workout.
"It's part of the world we live in," says Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, who admits that his new American Idol judge Nicki Minaj has been a bit of a handful so far. "You want your stars expressing themselves and sometimes they kind of freestyle a bit. I think the controversy that went on behind Idol is going to be good for us. [But] there's a point where it can get out of control."
Everyone remembers when Charlie Sheen got to that point. Last year, the actor was fired from Men after a public meltdown that included making anti-Semitic slurs against Lorre and doing interviews where he appeared unhinged.
More recently, Donald Trump went on a political tirade that many people, including some inside NBC, believed hurt the already waning The Apprentice brand. Trump hasn't criticized his own show, but he took on NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams after the anchor made a few flip comments about Trump during Election night. Trump responded by calling him a "dummy," among other things.
Community star Chevy Chase has also gone public with his displeasure over his show, which he will depart at the end of Season 4. Original Criminal Minds star Mandy Patinkin left the CBS drama show because he was uncomfortable with its violent content, although he didn't reveal his displeasure until after his exit. The actor later said the violence of Criminal Minds' story lines "was very destructive to my soul and my personality."
This summer America's Got Talent judge Sharon Osbourne got into a very public feud with NBC, claiming that her son, Jack, was fired from the reality show Stars Earn Stripes — even though NBC said he was never officially cast. Osbourne left America's Got Talent at the end of the season, burning bridges along the way. "I never want to hear from them again," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I really don't like NBC, and that's why I wouldn't go back... They treat their talent like sh--!"
Speaking of unscripted TV, disgruntled reality stars (past and present) aren't hard to come by, particularly after their time in the spotlight ends — think of Jon & Kate Plus 8 star Jon Gosselin or former Real Housewives of New York City cast member Jill Zarin, both of whom went on to trash their former shows in the press. TLC took the rare step of filing a lawsuit against Gosselin, accusing him of violating the show's confidentiality agreements. (Gosselin filed a countersuit; both sides eventually settled.)
Then there's former Blue Bloods actress Jennifer Esposito, who's currently engaged in a public feud with CBS over her employment on the show. Esposito, who asked her bosses for a lighter schedule due to her celiac disease, has accused the network of "absolutely shameful behavior" after the two sides couldn't agree on her workload and she was placed on indefinite leave.
In many of these cases, the actors may be in violation of a non-disparagement clause in their contracts. "A lot of this clause is designed to ensure that if you have a show that contains spoilers, the actor doesn't give away all the secrets," Moss says. "You also try to prevent the disparagement of the show or the other actors. But even if you have that clause, it's not often going to be in the studio or network's interest to fire somebody over it. That will be huge disruption, and it may lead to a bigger decline in ratings and more damage. Charlie Sheen said a lot before there was any legal action taken."
That's where public relations execs come in. "We quickly mobilize as a team with the agent and manager, fixing the damage with the studio and network," says crisis PR expert Howard Bragman. "We craft the correct words to placate the bosses. We must explain to the client that their feelings may be real and legitimate, but there are more appropriate forums — in their shrink's office — for venting. If Angus was paying any attention to Charlie Sheen's antics, he must understand that the studio and network consider most actors replaceable."
As for Jones, it was no secret the star had grown more religious in recent years. But when his video with doomsday preacher Christopher Hudson made the rounds, some observers wondered whether the actor — who makes more than $300,000 an episode — was being manipulated.
On his blog, former Cheers and M*A*S*H writer Ken Levine called Jones an "incredibly ungrateful confused young man who has just committed career suicide," adding that he would "write [Jones] out of the show immediately and sent him on his holy way. His character is now in the Army anyway. Time to ship out, soldier!"
Jones' character has already been seen less this season due to that Army storyline. And Men could easily survive should he opt not to return next year (contracts for Jones, Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer all expire at the end of this season).
Ultimately, Jones followed the textbook on making amends. He quickly hired a new publicist, Eddie Michaels, and issued a boilerplate mea culpa: "I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity of which I have been blessed. I never intended that."
Producers not involved with Men say that's the way to go. "You have to blow past it, acknowledge it and apologize," says Chernin Entertainment's Katherine Pope. "Everybody has their 'whoops' moment."
As long as Jones doesn't pull a stunt like this again, Moss agrees that all will be forgotten. "As the studio and network, you take the high road and move on without ever mentioning it."
CBS CEO Leslie Moonves doesn't appear quite ready to completely forget, however. At a Tuesday morning breakfast meeting, Moonves told an audience that Jones' status on the show isn't quite resolved. According to Forbes, Moonves noted "we took this boy who started with us when he was eight years old. Now he's making over $300,000 per week, which is not a bad salary for a 19-year-old kid. By the way, he's still collecting his $300,000 per week." Still, "after going through what we went through with Charlie Sheen, it's been a piece of cake."
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