It’s a story as widespread as the distribution of Jell-O pudding snacks — as many as 15 women have made either public or private statements accusing Bill Cosby of rape, many of which include grizzly details so terrifying that it’s difficult to comprehend a lovable TV icon of more than 40 years could be at the other end of the story.
Skeptics are quick to point to the fact that all of the alleged victims are recounting stories from several years ago, including one from then-aspiring actress Joan Tarshis way back in 1969. Many ardent Cosby supporters simply say that he is innocent until proven guilty, and fail to entertain any of the newly recounted testimony. Of course, the problem is that the statute of limitation has passed in every one of their cases.
In California, for example, the statute of limitations for sexual assault is less than 10 years. That is, unless the assault is exceptionally aggravated, which usually means a victim was attacked by multiple people at the same time, suffered extreme injury, or was assaulted by an armed assailant. These cases do not rise to that level. So at this point, they will never have their day in court.
Or will they?
In less than 24 hours, Netflix has indefinitely postponed its planned Bill Cosby standup special, Bill Cosby 77; NBC has pulled the plug on its upcoming sitcom starring Cosby; and TV Land appears to have severed all ties with the classic The Cosby Show, with all references to the series removed from the TV Land website and the network’s programming schedule no longer mentioning reruns of the 1980s series. What remains unclear with these network decisions is the financial impact for Cosby.
According to Variety, Cosby’s contract for the NBC series includes a clause that if it does not go into production, Cosby will get an unspecified windfall. There is bound to be fine print, though. It is common for Hollywood contracts to include a “morals clause” that allow media companies to get out of their contracts if the actor in question does not live up to expected moral standards. It is likely that NBC incorporated this kind of clause in its contract.
If NBC attempts to get out of paying Cosby, though, there could likely be a legal battle. After all, these allegations are indeed outdated and have already been associated with Cosby’s reputation before inking the NBC deal. But there could be an argument that new details have come to light, including a former District Attorney who just recently gave more credence to the 2006 allegations of victim Andrea Constand being sexually assaulted by Cosby. No one could argue that the way the public views Cosby’s moral character today has drastically changed, and the question is whether or not NBC could use that to meander their way through a contract loophole.
If that happens, NBC will need to have the testimony of Cosby’s alleged victims, and if there ends up being a civil case between NBC and Cosby, those women could in fact get a chance to testify in a court of law.
It is less clear what Cosby’s deal with Netflix is. Since that is just a one-time special, it’s unlikely Netflix tied any kind of morality clause. Details are also unknown with Cosby’s connection to TV Land. It is possible that the cable channel has no contractual obligation to Cosby specifically, and can just pull the show and stop making royalty payments.
Additionally, it is very possible for Cosby’s lawyers to go after the outspoken alleged victims and sue them for defamation of character. Given the rage that has been directed at former supermodel Janice Dickinson’s latest allegations, it sounds like legal action against her is possible. But pursuing any kind of defamation case would open the floodgates for every other purported rape victim to speak on Dickinson’s behalf. That sounds like the worst kind of self-inflicted PR nightmare possible, so there will be no defamation case.
But a suit against NBC to push for what is reportedly a big cash payout for Cosby, is something that could potentially be won. Will the actor push for that kind of scrutiny? Will his lawyers? That all remains to be seen.