NBC and the producers of America’s Got Talent have vowed to “hear more” about the workplace culture concerns that allegedly led to Gabrielle Union’s dismissal from the series.
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First, some background: In late November, it was reported that Union and Julianne Hough — both of whom had joined AGT as judges in Season 14 — would not be returning for the 15th cycle. Though it was initially unclear why the pair was leaving, NBC sources told the entertainment news site LoveBScott that there is a racist and sexist culture backstage at the reality series, and that Union specifically was allegedly let go after speaking out about “problematic” situations on set.
When it comes to judges, “They only replace the women and blacks at [executive producer] Simon [Cowell]’s whim. [Union] wouldn’t walk away from $ 12 million because she’s ‘busy,’” a source told the site. “The idea the network wants to ‘switch things up’” — as NBC initially claimed — “only applies to women and black folks.”
Our sister site Variety later reported that Union and Hough had been subject to a “toxic culture” at the show, including excessive notes on their appearance (including a specific critique that Union’s hairstyles were “too black”). Union also reportedly clashed with producers about a contestant whose material she found racially insensitive. Said performer was ultimately allowed to try out, though his audition was later cut from the final broadcast.
After Union and Hough’s exits were first reported, NBC and series producer Fremantle had issued a statement asserting that AGT “has a long history of inclusivity and diversity,” while “the judging and host lineup has been regularly refreshed over the years.”
But on Sunday, NBC, Fremantle and the production company Syco put out a new statement, obtained by our sister site Deadline: “We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture. We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”
Interestingly, despite reports of a negative work environment at AGT, Hough denied to Variety that she had experienced toxic behavior while on the show: “I had a wonderful time on America’s Got Talent… working with the cast, crew and producers. I am happy to continue my working relationship with NBC.”