I don't get it. I really don't.
Michael Weatherly and Tucker Carlson -- two men whose virtues I have expounded (very carefully) in another decade -- have come to look, at the end of 2018, like utter fools.
I'm not bewitched in seeing this either, but I sure am bothered and bewildered. Neither one of these men is a kid. Carlson is 49, Weatherly is 50. These are experienced TV pros. And yet both should have known better than to get caught up in the chaos that awaits male fools in 2018.
Carlson's problems are the most understandable. Whatever he once was when he started out on TV as an articulate conservative political commentator, he has become Fox News' 8 p.m. guy for quite a while. He's the leader of Fox News' prime-time lineup of rabble-rousing, the one in direct nightly competition with Anderson Cooper.
As such, I know full well that he's expected to carry a whole lot of water on Donald Trump's favorite TV news network. But a week ago, in a long statement on the whole "immigration" flap, Carlson got caught indulging in what sounded like blunt and very old-fashioned hate speech.
Immigration in America, he said, was making America "poorer and dirtier and more divided."
Didn't many of us learn in school as children--religious and secular--about the Statue of Liberty welcoming, in the words of Emma Lazarus' poem, the "tired and the poor" and "your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?" Forget it. To Carlson, such American notions are a "cynical shakedown activity for those who've been watching CNN."
TV competition doesn't get much uglier in direct form than that, it seems to me.
Social media fired up first. And then a fair number of Carlson's sponsors, who just didn't want to be associated in public with such ugliness. Pacific Life pulled its ads first. Major cable advertisers to follow were reported to be IHOP, Bowflex, Ancestry.com, Indeed, Voya Financial, Land Rover, Just for Men hair products, TD Ameritrade and Robitussin.
That's a genuine sponsor boycott to many people. It's certainly enough to reveal a great deal of corporate anxiety.
Carlson has always had a streak of jejune fame-mongering. Any political talk-show host who essays "Dancing with the Stars" is not subscribing to the older confines of his profession.
When he first started to attract virulent opposition on Fox News, he was victimized in a way that I found vile indeed: a large group of protesters crowded around his home shouting and acting threateningly. Carlson wasn't home at the time. His wife was home alone and hid in her pantry until they dispersed.
That's not kosher. Not even close.
Carlson's extreme and ugly on-air soliloquy on immigration in contemporary America, on the other hand, deserved to run afoul of very reasonable corporate anxiety.
What bewilders me about this is that when Carlson first started out on MSNBC (yes, MSNBC) he seemed an articulate and thoughtful conservative voice averse to extreme and foolish polemics. The first time I ever saw Rachel Maddow on cable news was on Carlson's show and her refreshing brilliance seemed to please Carlson as much as it did those of us hungry for such brain power at home.
Where the devil did that Carlson go? How did he get to be a Fox News bombardier so strident that sponsors don't want their pancakes, gym equipment and luxury SUV's anywhere near him?
I haven't the foggiest.
Nor do I have any idea what happened to the Michael Weatherly who finally left "NCIS" to star on his own series "Bull," a show up to its clavicles in pedigree? It was inspired by Phil McGraw, created by Paul Attanasio ("Homicide") and, is somewhere in its highest corporate aeries, overseen by Steven Spielberg.
I was impressed that before the show went on the air, Weatherly frequently told journalists that he'd had enough of the adolescent behavior of DeNozzo, his popular character on "NCIS" and was looking forward to be an on-air grown-up.
And then, at the end of the first season of "Bull," they brought in Eliza Dushku to play a role they hoped to turn into a series regular.
The New York Times revealed only this week that, while the paper investigated the harassment climate under former CBS Grand Poobah Les Moonves, the network made a settlement of $9.5 million to Dushku for harassment during her three-episode stay at "Bull."
Say what? $9.5 million? That seemed a whole lot of harassment to me. The Times got statements from Weatherly and show-runner Glenn Gordon Caron about it. Weatherly defended it all as joking around.
Dushku, wasn't going to keep quiet. To answer Weatherly and Caron in The Times, she wrote an Op. Ed. for the Boston Globe -- her hometown paper -- getting specific about Weatherly's obnoxious offenses and saying that her lawyers had received tapes of it all.
Read what she said and it sounds too aggressive and mean-spirited to be good-natured joking. But it's also too obviously juvenile to square in any way with an actor who claimed to want to "grow up" on camera.
Weatherly, according to Dushku, bragged about his friendship with Les Moonves, the man whose long record of harassment got him bounced from his CBS uber-honcho's chair. Threats, said Dushku, were obviously implicit in what Weatherly said during her brief employment there.
Anyone determined to maintain Weatherly's innocence might invent this possibility: that Dushku was a bringdown in her role during those three episodes, as well as a threat to Weatherly's major star status on the show. His acting up so foolishly could be seen as a way -- a stupid, self-destructive one -- to preserve Weatherly's hegemony on the cast list.
The fact that Dushku said it was captured on camera sounds like truly shocking behavior from a guy who claimed to want to grow up on camera.
I was completely in Weatherly's corner before "Bull." It's not a great show, to be sure, but it's watchable.
And now, while CBS is on the hook for $9.5 million (the amount she would have made if she'd been a regular), the show's male star seems like one of the most perplexing fools in all of TV.
The big Harvey Weinstein harassment story hadn't broken yet when Weatherly was acting out, but the Bill Cosby story served huge notice on every man in television that the ancient gender assumptions in American showbiz were under radical and intransigent review.
As I said, I just don't get it with Weatherly. How on earth did he not see the trouble he was getting into?