Dave Chappelle‘s Closer kerfuffle might be one of this year’s most recent controversies, but it certainly wasn’t the first (or last) of 2021.
In October, the comedian’s latest stand-up special made waves after it was criticized for comments deemed “dangerously transphobic” by at least one member of Netflix’s creative community. But with the year almost behind us, Chapelle’s imbroglio joins several other controversies that have rocked the TV industry in 2021 thus far.
In the list below, we’re taking stock of 13 of the year’s biggest brouhahas, including the fateful Extra interview that prompted Chris Harrison’s split from the Bachelor franchise, the ripple effects of Ruby Rose’s Batwoman allegations and Jeopardy! host Mike Richards’ fast departure from the quiz show’s iconic podium.
Of course, we haven’t recapped every small-screen scandal of the past 12 months. To go even further down the rabbit hole of on-air gaffes, firings and outspoken TV personalities (and there are many!), click here.
Meanwhile, to see the year’s most notable and impactful controversies, scroll through our list below, then drop a comment with the incidents that have surprised you the most.
CHRIS HARRISON'S ROSE WILTS
It really has been the Bachelor-verse’s most dramatic year ever, courtesy of a four-month-long controversy involving longtime host Chris Harrison. In February, Harrison defended The Bachelor Season 25 contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, who was spotted in photos from a 2018 Antebellum party. In an Extra interview with Rachel Lindsay — The Bachelorette‘s first-ever Black lead — Harrison denounced the “cancel culture” that he felt had targeted Kirkconnell and suggested that her attendance at the party simply looks worse through a 2021 lens, despite Lindsay’s attempts to explain how the party reinforced racist stereotypes.
After apologizing for “wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism,” Harrison took a leave of absence from the franchise… which ultimately became permanent. Despite telling Michael Strahan in a Good Morning America interview that “I plan to be back, and I want to be back” as host, he was replaced on The Bachelorette Season 17 by franchise alumni Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe, while a rotating lineup of celebrity guests was tapped to emcee Bachelor in Paradise‘s seventh season.
Harrison officially stepped down from the Bachelor franchise in June, saying, “I’m so grateful to Bachelor Nation for all of the memories we’ve made together. While my two-decade journey is wrapping up, the friendships I’ve made will last a lifetime.”
On Sept. 28, ABC announced Jesse Palmer, who starred in Season 5 of The Bachelor back in 2004, as Harrison’s replacement. The upcoming season of the reality romance hit is slated to air in early 2022.
GOLDEN GLOBES LOSE THEIR LUSTER
The 2021 Golden Globes were already a strange affair, executed via a quasi-virtual, bicoastal ceremony that had its share of awkward mishaps. But in the week leading up to the event, a more serious controversy emerged when the social media campaign #TimesUpGlobes criticized the fact that not one of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s 87 members are Black. (According to Variety, the organization has not had a Black member since at least 2002.)
During the Feb. 28 Globes ceremony, three members of the HFPA appeared on stage to address the imbalance, with president Ali Sar pledging to create “an environment where a diverse membership is the norm, not the exception.” Later in the spring, the group announced plans to reform its bylaws in an effort to diversify its membership, but many in the industry found the proposed changes unsatisfactory; Netflix and WarnerMedia were among the companies stating they’d stop working with the HFPA until more meaningful change was made.
In May, NBC announced it would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony, citing the HFPA’s inadequate diversity measures. “We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” the network said at the time. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”
CHARISMA CARPENTER SPEAKS HER TRUTH
On the heels of allegations from Justice League actor Ray Fisher that Joss Whedon displayed “gross, abusive, unprofessional and completely unacceptable” behavior while directing the DC superhero film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel actress Charisma Carpenter detailed her own negative experiences with Whedon while working on those series.
In an 830-word statement posted in February, Carpenter described Whedon’s alleged “history of being casually cruel,” his creation of “hostile and toxic work environments,” what he allegedly said and did to her during her real-life pregnancy, and how she coped with it all, “at times, destructively.”
“With tears welling, I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to Ray and others for remaining private about my experience with Joss and the suffering it has caused me,” Carpenter wrote. “It is abundantly evident that Joss has persisted in his harmful actions, continuing to create wreckage in his wake. My hope now, by finally coming forward about these experiences, is to create space for the healing of others who I know have experienced similar serialized abuse[s] of power.”
Whedon has yet to respond to Carpenter’s claims, but the actress received support from several Buffy co-stars, including leading lady Sarah Michelle Gellar. “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon,” Gellar said. “I am more focused on raising my family and surviving a pandemic currently, so I will not be making any further statements at this time. But I stand with all survivors of abuse and am proud of them for speaking out.”
ROYAL PAINS, PART 1
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s March primetime interview with Oprah Winfrey made headlines for days, after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were extremely candid about negative treatment they’d received from both the British royal family and the British press, some of which caused Markle to experience suicidal thoughts. But their comments didn’t sit well with Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan, who called the interview “a two-hour trash-a-thon of our royal family” and said he didn’t believe that Markle had ever struggled with thoughts of suicide.
Morgan’s Good Morning Britain colleagues took him to task for his remarks during the March 8 broadcast, prompting Morgan to walk off the set. Shortly after that incident, the U.K. regulatory commission Ofcom launched an investigation into the episode under its harm and offense rules, and hours later, Morgan and Good Morning Britain parted ways.
The following day, Morgan doubled down on his comments, telling the press outside his home, “If people want to believe Meghan Markle, that’s entirely their right. I don’t believe almost anything that comes out of her mouth, and I think the damage she has done to the British monarchy and to the Queen… is enormous — and frankly, contemptible. So if I have to fall on my sword for expressing an honestly held opinion about Meghan Markle, and that diatribe of bilge she came out with in that interview, so be it.”
ROYAL PAINS, PART 2
Amid all the backlash against Piers Morgan, The Talk co-host Sharon Osbourne defended the Brit in a tweet of her own, telling him, “I am with you. I stand by you. People forget that you’re paid for your opinion and that you’re just speaking your truth.”
On The Talk‘s broadcast the next day, Osbourne and her fellow co-hosts debated whether Morgan’s comments about Markle were racist; Osbourne, seemingly concerned that she was being deemed racist herself for defending Morgan, repeatedly spoke over Sheryl Underwood during the conversation, which drew criticism from viewers. Osbourne later apologized to “anyone of color that I offended and/or to anyone that feels confused or let down by what I said,” but other allegations then came to light that claimed Osbourne contributed to a toxic environment at The Talk, including her alleged use of slurs to refer to former co-hosts Julie Chen and Sara Gilbert.
Osbourne ultimately stepped away from The Talk in late March, with CBS adding in a statement that Osbourne’s behavior toward her co-hosts on the March 10 episode “did not align with our values for a respectful workplace.” In an interview with Real Time‘s Bill Maher weeks later, Osbourne said the controversy left her “angry” and “hurt,” adding, “I’ve been called so many things in my life, I am so used to being called names, but a ‘racist’ is one I will not take.”
Following the March news that Kim’s Convenience would end with Season 5, star Simu Liu (aka Jung) said he felt the Canadian sitcom’s cast and fans “deserved better,” adding that he “was fully expecting to come back for our sixth season” and hoped his character “would finally get to show some of the growth that I had begged our writers for year after year.”
But Liu got even more candid in June, when a Kim’s Convenience spinoff centered on Nicole Power’s Shannon Ross — a white character — was announced. “I love and am proud of Nicole, and I want the show to succeed for her… but I remain resentful of all of the circumstances that led to the one non-Asian character getting her own show,” Liu said. “And not that they would ever ask, but I will adamantly refuse to reprise my role in any capacity.”
Liu went on to detail his behind-the-scenes frustrations, including disputes among the cast, the writers’ seemingly deliberate failure to get input from the actors on their characters’ arcs, unsatisfactory salaries for the actors and a lack of “both East Asian and female representation” in the writers’ room.
Jean Yoon, who co-starred as matriarch Umma on the show, later weighed in with her own negative experiences on the series, including “overtly racist” and “extremely culturally inaccurate” storylines that prompted cast members to express their concerns as a group to producers. In response, the official Kim’s Convenience social media accounts posted screenshots of a Facebook post from South Asian writer/co-EP Anita Kapila, who shared a list of “women and BIPOC I was honoured to work alongside” on the show. (“We were not perfect. But we were there,” Kapila wrote.)
SUPERNATURAL'S WAYWARD SONS
One of the year’s biggest controversies thus far has also been one of its most short-lived. In June, news broke that Supernatural star Jensen Ackles and his wife, Danneel, are exec-producing a potential prequel to the long-running CW drama, which would follow young versions of Sam and Dean’s parents, John and Mary Winchester; Ackles is also attached to narrate the project as Dean.
Ackles’ longtime co-star Jared Padalecki, however, wasn’t too stoked to read about the potential spinoff on social media. “Dude. Happy for you. Wish I heard about this some way other than Twitter,” Padalecki told Ackles in a terse tweet. “I’m excited to watch, but bummed that Sam Winchester had no involvement whatsoever.” And when fans speculated that Padalecki’s message had to be a joke, he clarified, “This is the first I’ve heard about it. I’m gutted.” (Meanwhile, in a since-deleted tweet directed at Supernatural EP Robbie Thompson, who will write the potential prequel, Padalecki wrote, “Et tu brute? Wow. What a truly awful thing you’ve done. #Bravo you coward.”)
Within a day, the former onscreen brothers had reconciled over the phone, with Padalecki telling his followers, “@JensenAckles and I had a great talk, as we do often, and things are good… We’ve travelled a lot of roads together, and sometimes those damn roads have bumps.” In August, he clarified his initial comments about the spinoff to The New York Times, insisting that the tone of his tweet to Ackles was widely misinterpreted.
AN ALL-AMERICAN FEUD
History Channel’s American Pickers found itself down a co-host earlier this year when Frank Fritz did not return for the show’s newest batch of episodes, citing back surgery and ongoing complications from Crohn’s disease. In July, the cable net told EW.com that Fritz would not be returning to the show moving forward.
That same month, though, Fritz told U.K. tabloid The Sun that he and Mike Wolfe — with whom Fritz had co-hosted American Pickers since its 2010 premiere — had fallen out of touch: “I haven’t talked to Mike in two years. He knew my back was messed up, but he didn’t call me up and ask how I was doing. That’s just how it is.” (Fritz also suggested that Wolfe’s ego contributed to their falling out, saying, “The show is tilted towards him 1,000 percent. I can’t even bend that far down to show you how much.”)
After Wolfe released a statement saying he’d miss Fritz on American Pickers and “I pray for the very best and all good things for him on the next part of his journey,” Fritz called Wolfe’s words “bulls—t” and reiterated to The Sun that Wolfe hadn’t reached out to him following his back surgery.
“I’m not going to sit here and f–king lie to people,” he said. “And if he doesn’t like it, then maybe he should have f–king called me. Maybe he should have called and said, ‘Hey, how’s your back doing?’ He knows I hurt my back, everyone in the whole network knew I hurt my back, but did one person — just one — call and see how I was? No. So how does that make you feel? It makes you feel like you’re just a number. It was like, ‘Oh, you hurt your back? Well, life goes on, you know. F–k you.'”
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CUOMOS
When multiple women came forward, beginning in December 2020, to accuse New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment and toxic workplace behavior, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo — the governor’s brother — confirmed at the time that he would not personally report on those allegations, citing a conflict of interest.
But two months later, The Washington Post reported that Chris had participated in strategy calls with Gov. Cuomo and senior members of his staff regarding how the governor should respond to allegations against him. CNN opted not to discipline Chris at the time, but the network acknowledged in a statement that “it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the governor’s staff,” and Chris said in an on-air apology that “it will not happen again.”
The spotlight on Chris and CNN then brightened even more in August, after a formal investigation into Gov. Cuomo revealed that he did sexually harass 11 women. A subsequent Washington Post report said the governor was still privately conferring with Chris about the allegations, even after New York Attorney General Letitia James shared the findings of the probe. Gov. Cuomo eventually announced his resignation, and Chris remarked on Cuomo Prime Time that “I never misled anyone about the information I was delivering or not delivering on this program. I never attacked, nor encouraged anyone to attack, any woman who came forward… I never influenced or attempted to control CNN’s coverage of my family.”
Just days after being suspended indefinitely by the network, Chris was officially fired Dec. 4 “effective immediately.” CNN announced the news in a statement writing: “Chris Cuomo was suspended earlier this week pending further evaluation of new information that came to light about his involvement with his brother’s defense. We retained a respected law firm to conduct the review, and have terminated him, effective immediately. While in the process of that review, additional information has come to light. Despite the termination, we will investigate as appropriate.”
Chris released his own statement as well following the termination: “This is not how I want my time at CNN to end but I have already told you why and how I helped my brother. So let me now say as disappointing as this is, I could not be more proud of the team at Cuomo Prime Time and the work we did as CNN’s #1 show in the most competitive time slot. I owe them all and will miss that group of special people who did really important work.”
JEOPARDY! GAINS (THEN LOSES) A HOST
The search for Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy! successor came to an end in early August… only to start right back up again days later, when newly minted host Mike Richards stepped down just nine days after getting the gig.
Not long after Richards — an EP on Jeopardy! since September 2020 — was named as the quiz show’s full-time host, offensive jokes he’d told on a podcast in 2013 and 2014 resurfaced, including misogynistic, racist and anti-Semitic comments. He had also previously been named in discrimination allegations and lawsuits stemming from his tenure at The Price Is Right; in separate August statements, Richards addressed the Price Is Right allegations (which he said do not “reflect the reality of who I am”) and apologized for his podcast remarks (“It’s more than clear that my attempts to be funny and provocative were not acceptable”).
But just two days after the latter apology was issued, Richards stepped down entirely from his Jeopardy! host role, telling staff in an internal memo that to keep the job “would be too much of a distraction for our fans and not the right move for the show.” (UPDATE: Less than two weeks after Richards vacated the host position, he was also let go as Jeopardy! executive producer, a role he’d initially been expected to keep.)
The show will now resume its search for a full-time replacement, but whomever Trebek’s permanent replacement will be, he or she won’t take over until at least Fall 2022. Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings, who have been splitting host duties at the beloved quiz show since September, will now continue to do so through the end of its current 38th season.
CHAPPELLE SPECIAL DRAWS IRE
Stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle made headlines in October when his latest special, The Closer, was criticized for comments deemed “dangerously transphobic” by at least one member of Netflix’s creative community. The streamer, however, did not take down or edit the set.
Released on Oct. 5, the 72-minute special was promoted as the last in a “body of work” that also included 2017’s The Age of Spin, Deep In the Heart of Texas, Equanimity and The Bird Revelation, followed by 2019’s Sticks & Stones. During The Closer, Chappelle maintains that “gender is a fact.” He goes on to say that “every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth,” before likening trans women’s genitalia to two brands of plant-based meat substitutes.
In an internal memo acquired by our sister site Variety, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos acknowledged the controversy that stemmed from The Closer, but defended Chappelle’s “artistic freedom.”
“As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom,” Sarandos wrote, “even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful, like Cuties, 365 Days, 13 Reasons Why or My Unorthodox Life… Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line.”
Although Sarandos later backtracked on his original memo, in a subsequent interview with Variety, he reiterated that the streaming giant would still not be editing the special.
“Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication,” Sarandos said. “I should have led with a lot more humanity. Meaning, I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made. And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything. I didn’t do that.”
RUBY ROSE'S BATWOMAN ALLEGATIONS
Nearly a year and a half after stepping away from the lead role in Batwoman, Ruby Rose let loose with a series of allegations aimed at executives and one particular co-star, all of which stemmed from her one-season run on the CW series.
Rose’s series of Instagram Stories (detailed here) opened by calling out showrunner Caroline Dries, executive producers Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter, and former Warner Bros. Television chairman Peter Roth by name. She alleged that Roth had guilted her into returning to work following major surgery after just 10 days (Rose had undergone surgery to fix two herniated discs that she has said “were close to severing my spinal cord”); alluded to numerous instances that seemed to point to unsafe filming practices during Batwoman Season 1; and claimed that Dries privately agreed that Rose had sustained her aforementioned injuries on set, “yet later denied it entirely and said it happened during yoga.”
In response, WBTV wrote in a statement: “Despite the revisionist history that Ruby Rose is now sharing online aimed at the producers, the cast and crew, the network, and the Studio, the truth is that Warner Bros. Television had decided not to exercise its option to engage Ruby for Season 2 of Batwoman based on multiple complaints about workplace behavior that were extensively reviewed and handled privately out of respect for all concerned.”
Rose also took aim at co-star Dougray Scott, alleging that the actor (who played Jacob Kane through Season 2) “hurt a female stunt double” and “yelled like a little bitch at women and was a nightmare. He left when he wanted and arrived when he wanted [and verbally] abused women.”
In a statement obtained by TVLine, Scott said, “I absolutely and completely refute the defamatory and damaging claims made against me by [Ruby Rose]; they are entirely made up and never happened.”
GENERAL HOSPITAL'S STAFF CUTS
Two of the long-running soap’s veteran actors exited the show this year following COVID-19 vaccine mandates on set. Ingo Rademacher was first to exit in early November, with insiders telling TVLine the move stemmed from, at the very least, the actor’s preference not to comply with the mandate.
Rademacher throughout much of the pandemic has drawn fire for authoring or sharing social media posts that questioned COVID vaccine efficacy, mandates and passports. In August, his pattern of social media messaging sparked the launch of a #FireIngo hashtag campaign. Not long after, the Aussie responded with an Instagram video in which he called #FireIngo supporters “bigots” and asserted without accuracy, “Mandating any vaccine is wrong but especially one that doesn’t help stop the spread… If you want to take the vaccine, take it. Just know you’re doing it for yourself, not to save anyone else.”
Just a few weeks later, co-star Steve Burton confirmed he was also heading out of those hospital doors. “I know there’s been a lot of rumors and speculation about me and General Hospital, and I wanted you to hear it from me personally. Unfortunately, General Hospital has let me go, because of the vaccine mandate,” Burton shared on Instagram. “I did apply for my medical and religious exemptions, and both of those were denied… which, you know, hurts. But this is also about personal freedom to me. I don’t think anybody should lose their livelihood over this.”
In other controversial Rademacher news, the actor apologized (in part) for his sharing of a transphobic tweet that was targeted at fellow GH co-star Cassandra James.
“I am aware of a transphobic post shared by a fellow General Hospital actor. Shame on you,” James responded. “You have some serious unlearning and education to do. I feel deeply disappointed that such a public display of ignorance could come from our GH family.”
To James, Rademacher said in his new video, “Cassandra, I apologize to you as well, sincerely. I think you’re an absolute talent and you’re very beautiful as well. I don’t think a transphobic man would say that.”