A CBS executive has been placed on leave after multiple individuals spoke to CNN accusing the senior vice president of talent for CBS Televisions Studios, Vincent “Vinnie” Favale, of using sexual and homophobic language in the workplace.
“I’ll never forget the day he told me he got four erections while watching Jennifer Hudson rehearse,” a female former CBS executive recalled to CNN.
Favale allegedly made the comment about Hudson as he watched the Oscar-winning performer rehearse ahead of a December 2015 appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Two other CBS employees, one former and one current, told CNN they heard Favale say the vulgar remark. Others told CNN they learned about it from co-workers later that day. Of the five sources CNN spoke to about the incident, two said Favale allegedly made the remark in the presence of a CBS standards and practices representative.
Favale was placed on administrative leave on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for CBS, following CNN’s request for comment on this story. Favale denies allegations of retaliation and said his comments were taken out of context.
In his current role, Favale develops programing around talent and advises on comedy bookings for the network. He started his career with CBS in 1996 and served as a senior programming executive for “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” through 2017. He appeared on the program in comedic bits several times during Letterman’s tenure.
From 1998 to 2001, Favale also oversaw the CBS syndicated “Howard Stern Radio Show.” He gained recognition among followers of Stern in numerous appearances on his TV shows between 2004 and 2012. He is also credited as one of the founders of the Comedy Central television network.
According to several people who work or worked with Favale as a CBS executive, the off-color humor prevalent in some comedy circles has followed him professionally.
Nine current and former CBS employees, a mix of men and women, agreed to be interviewed by CNN as part of this story. All spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing non-disclosure agreements, or concern over professional retribution. These individuals described instances in “Late Show” meetings and rehearsals, between 2015 and 2018, where Favale used sexual innuendo, made homophobic comments and allegedly said derogatory remarks about the appearances of female guests.
When contacted by CNN for this story, Favale issued the following statement:
“Allegations that I have ever retaliated against anyone in any fashion are 100% false. I have spent my entire career working at comedy shows, where there has always been a wide latitude to make transgressive jokes while preparing the program. While we make a lot of jokes, these jokes attributed to me, whether said in rehearsals or production meetings, are being taken out of context and were not said in the way being presented here.”
The individuals interviewed for this story said they felt emboldened to share their accounts about Favale’s language after former CBS CEO Les Moonves resigned last month.
Related: Les Moonves is out at CBS after harassment allegations, corporate battle
Moonves was forced to step down following allegations of sexual harassment and assault in two reports by Ronan Farrow published by The New Yorker. While Moonves acknowledged consensual relations with three women cited in the stories, he disputes the allegations of assault and harassment.
Two sources detailed a problematic “Late Show” department meeting around 2015, where Favale was in attendance and loud construction could be heard outside the office.
“There was a big drill, and we looked outside and went to the window. [Favale] compared the drill to ‘a big black dick’ as it was drilling into the ground,” a former CBS employee recalled. “I couldn’t believe he said that.”
This former employee said she complained to her superior about Favale’s drill remark and other comments she deemed offensive and felt she faced retaliation.
Favale began blocking her out of “important” and “necessary” meetings, she said. She voluntarily left her role at CBS and said Favale was a contributing factor.
The former CBS executive told CNN two employees complained to her after the drill remark and she shared their concerns with the company’s human resources department. She said it appeared to her the network did not take any visible action against Favale. She, too, felt he began to retaliate against her.
“He definitely knew that I had gone to HR. I told him, ‘People are complaining about you and I let HR know,’” she said. “He stopped talking to me for long periods of time. Our roles required that we interact … he shut me out of meetings. I went back to HR and complained, but I was told it wasn’t happening and had been addressed with him.”
In April 2017, after at least one formal HR complaint had been made against Favale, he was promoted from the network’s east coast late-night executive to his current role.
“After you realize that that’s the kind of thinking and logic that advances one’s career at CBS, as a woman, you are left with one choice,” a current CBS employee told CNN. “Are you a person who raises questions and calls that person out and has your employment jeopardized, or someone who just says nothing? Or do you become a good-time girl who laughs along with him and hopes that becoming a cool girl that gets it will help you advance? Those are not choices that someone should have to make in the workplace.”
“He has been known to say sexist things,” another CBS employee said about Favale. “But I think that no one [in HR] took it seriously because it wasn’t physical. It wasn’t groping, so he got away with it.”
When contacted by CNN for this report, CBS issued the following statement:
“The comments reported in this story are offensive and not consistent with the standards we expect from our executives or the culture we want at CBS. The network investigated a complaint for inappropriate language that was received in January 2016, and corrective action was taken. However, since concerned voices are speaking up nearly three years later, additional review is warranted. Mr. Favale has been placed on leave while we look into this situation further.”
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” declined to issue a separate response.
Some of the people CNN spoke to also allege Favale made homophobic comments. A current CBS employee and the former executive said they heard Favale derogatorily use “homos” and “gay” in reference to heterosexual guests and co-workers. He allegedly questioned Colbert’s sexual orientation in rehearsals.
“He would frequently call Stephen [Colbert] gay because of his seeming inability to interview women well,” the former executive told CNN. “He would say this in rehearsals, the control room. Sometimes the CBS attorney would even be present, which to me is just shocking that nothing was done.”
The current CBS employee recalled an incident in which Favale was “bashing” actor Hugh Jackman, when the actor appeared on the show in 2017 to promote his film “Logan.” The employee said that Favale was standing in front of five to seven colleagues when she heard him say Jackman was “gay” and “in the closet.” Favale allegedly described Jackman’s now 22 year marriage to Deborra-lee Furness as “fake.”
“It was so offensive,” the employee said. “I really couldn’t believe it. I mean, this is an executive talking so openly like this … it’s mind blowing.”
Two people told CNN they witnessed Favale rhetorically ask, “Who wants to see that ugly man on TV,” when talking about an appearance by MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow. Another source heard Favale say a similar comment about a second high-profile, openly lesbian guest.
Favale would tell “Late Night” producers to “book hotter” women, several current and former CBS employees said. And while prioritizing attractive television guests is par for the course in the industry, the sources said they felt Favale was particularly critical about women who were booked to talk about political or social issues.
“If we wanted to include female scientists or political wonks there were a lot of notes about their looks,” one former employee said.
An instance that stood out to the former CBS executive and one current employee of the show, was a meeting in which Favale and the producing team were discussing women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem.
“When we wanted to book [Gloria], he said that instead we should find younger feminists who were hot,” the employee said.
Other sources pointed to a 2016 “Late Show” staff meeting with more than 20 people in attendance, where they were discussing a group of feminist artists called the “Guerilla Girls.”
“We were talking about how we were going to mic them and they were on to talk about equality in the art world, and [Favale] said, ‘We should make their microphones not work,’” the former employee recalled. “As a woman, when an executive says women who fight for equal pay should be silenced, how do you feel as a woman in that culture?”
The former CBS executive told CNN that Favale made it known from her first day on the job that he “had a direct line to Moonves.”
“He would talk about Les and Julie [Chen] all the time … he was just connected all the way up to the top. He would say whatever he wanted to say, even if it was outrageous,” she said.
CBS has hired outside counsel to investigate the allegations against Moonves, as well as the culture at the company more broadly. CBS also announced a $20 million donation to organizations that support the #MeToo movement, to be deducted from any potential severance agreement with Moonves.
Related: New York DA probing allegations of sexual misconduct at CBS
Last week, CBS disclosed in an SEC filing it has received subpoenas about the allegations against Moonves from both the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York City Human Rights Commission. The company said it is cooperating with the subpoenas and declined to comment about the filing.
A current “Late Show” employee told CNN that Favale’s 2017 promotion has led to less interaction with the show’s staff.
“Vinnie was a horrible fit with the Colbert team from day one. Those abhorrent comments were just a symptom of a man who held the entire staff and show in contempt,” the employee said. “The fact that he was forced on us as long as he was is an indictment of the classic ‘old boys network’ that existed at the highest level of CBS.”
Another CBS employee said although the allegations against Favale don’t rise to the level of those brought against Moonves, or some other Hollywood executives, people should take notice.
“These are the people that are making decisions about what you see or don’t see on television every day and that’s important,” she said. “It might be easy to dismiss these women, ‘Oh, they just got their feelings hurt,’ or we are crying because the boys were mean to us. But these men are the people that decide what you see on television, what your children see on television and that should matter and [the executives and CBS] should take that responsibility seriously.”