Brow Beat

Two Writers Quit CBS Sitcom Carol’s Second Act Over the Network’s Handling of a Harassment Complaint

Actors Ashely Tisdale, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Ito Aghayere, Patricia Heaton, Kyle MacLachlan, Sabrina Jalees, and showrunners Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins of Carol's Second Act sit in a row on stage.
The cast and showrunners of Carol’s Second Act attend the Summer TCA Press Tour in August. Amy Sussman/Getty Images

CBS’s brand new approach to sexual harassment complaints, established in the wake of an investigation into former CEO Les Moonves’ alleged sexual misconduct, got its first big test this fall, the New York Times reports, and the results were, well, not great. Broti Gupta and Margee Magee, writers on the Patricia Heaton sitcom Carol’s Second Act, have quit the show in the aftermath of an HR complaint about inappropriate behavior from executive producer—and Heaton’s husband—David Hunt.

Gupta, a 25-year-old writer who worked on Friends From College and Speechless before Carol’s Second Act, says that Hunt, who is 65, hugged her twice outside Pizzeria Mozza after a work dinner in August, running his hand up her thigh and making her feel uncomfortable. (Hunt’s lawyer told the Times that Hunt “does not recall rubbing anyone’s thigh or leg and he disputes that characterization of it.”) Although Gupta described the incident to friends that night, she decided that reporting it might lead to retaliation, and said nothing. Several weeks later, however, Hunt took Gupta by the shoulders and jerked her out of a chair on the lot in front of Margee Magee, a writer and co-executive producer on Carol’s Second Act. Hunt was searching for a missing script, but the incident prompted Gupta to mention her August encounter with Hunt to Magee, who then encouraged her to speak out.

Magee accompanied Gupta to a meeting with Carol’s Second Act’s creators and showrunners Sarah Haskins and Emily Helpburn, to tell them about her experiences with Hunt. Haskins and Halpern passed that up the chain to CBS’s HR, which began an investigation. Gupta says she told HR executive Ellen Goldsmith that she didn’t want any punitive measures taken.

What happened next is a matter of some dispute. The Monday after Gupta met with HR, the show’s writers were told that they would be barred from rehearsal. That Thursday, they were told that going forward, only the credited writer on each episode would get to pitch new versions of jokes that flopped during taping. Haskins and Halpern say that they had been planning to streamline production in this manner since before Gupta spoke up. But Gupta, Magee, and two other people who worked on the show got the distinct impression the production changes were designed to keep Gupta and Hunt away from each other.

Gupta, who came to believe that other writers were now being penalized because of her complaint, resigned soon after. Magee, after meeting with HR to discuss the whole mess, resigned in October, saying she was pushed out of her writing duties on the show as retaliation. The showrunners say she lost most of those duties before Gupta made her complaint, writing in a statement that they were “devastated that many of the inflammatory complaints that have been made about us are simply not tethered to the reality of what happened.”  CBS, for its part, said there was no evidence of retaliatory intent on the part of the showrunners. The network has agreed to pay out the writers’ contracts and release them from any nondisclosure agreements. On Twitter, Broti disputed the showrunners’ statement in a thread about her experiences, writing that she was “disappointed, heartbroken, and devastated” and further explaining her decision to walk:

As for Mr. Hunt, he completed CBS’s sexual harassment training program on Oct. 1. Carol’s Second Act continues next Thursday at 9:30/8:30c with an all new episode, “Sick and Retired,” written by former CBS employee Margee Magee. Only on CBS!