After ousting its longtime studio chief, the company has hired outside counsel to investigate “Ron’s behavior,” an insider says.
On Aug. 13, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell and NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer sat at a quiet table at CityWalk Hollywood for a regularly scheduled lunch. In a moment that came out of the blue for Shell, Meyer confessed that he had an affair with actress Charlotte Kirk in 2013 and had reached a $2 million settlement with her last year. Five days later, Meyer was out of a job, with a 56-year career and legacy in tatters in a move reminiscent of last year’s ouster of Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara, whose own affair with the once-obscure Kirk had led to his downfall.
Now, NBCUniversal has hired outside counsel to investigate “Ron’s behavior,” says an insider, in an effort to determine if any company money or resources were used in conjunction with the affair or its cover-up. The goal is to determine if the media giant was unwittingly a party to any impropriety. (An NBCUniversal spokesperson confirmed that an investigation is underway.)
All this comes at a time when the Kirk scandal keeps expanding, with more powerful Hollywood men named as having been involved with the now-27-year-old actress, who is said to have Asperger’s syndrome and was possibly promised roles and auditions in exchange for sex. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” says one lawyer who is knowledgeable about matters involving Kirk.
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Steve Tisch — a heavyweight producer behind Forrest Gump and The Equalizer and chairman, co-owner and executive vp of the New York Giants — had a relationship with Kirk in 2012, predating the beginning of the Meyer affair by a few months. Unlike Meyer and Tsujihara, Tisch was not married at the time he was involved with a then-19-year-old Kirk, who had just moved from her native England to New York. Tisch marks the latest name in the expanding network of film and television brokers with whom Kirk has had relationships. A source characterized Tisch’s affair with Kirk as encompassing “only two or three dates.” A rep for Tisch declined comment.
For days since THR broke the news of the affair on Aug. 18, Hollywood power players have privately rallied behind Meyer, one of the film industry’s most well-liked executives, convinced that his dismissal as a result of his affair with Kirk was a move to consolidate power by Shell. “The town’s perspective is that Jeff is power-centric and went after someone who, while flawed, had many supporters,” says one producer with business at Universal. “This has nothing to do with Ron’s choices.”
But an insider at parent company Comcast says the directive to remove Meyer with one year remaining on his five-year contract was influenced from above, specifically by Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, who consulted with Shell. Prior to his ouster, the Comcast board was notified and approved of the measure, though ultimately, the decision was Shell’s to make. “This is an embarrassment for the corporation that already had issues with Matt Lauer,” says the Comcast insider in reference to the Today host, who was fired in late November 2017 after allegations of sexual misconduct. “There are concerns about how Meyer paid Kirk.”
That embarrassment echoes internal sentiment at AT&T/WarnerMedia at the time of the Tsujihara revelations, in which it became public that the Warners chief lobbied for Kirk to land roles in studio films. (Tsujihara has denied any direct involvement in Kirk’s casting in two Warners films.) The scandal prompted shareholder grumblings at the time and provoked several board members to push for Tsujihara’s ouster.
In his statement issued the day he exited, Meyer said he settled with an unnamed woman — later identified as Kirk by THR — who “had made false accusations against me … [and] other parties learned of the settlement and have continuously attempted to extort me into paying them money or else they intended to falsely implicate NBCUniversal, which had nothing to do with this matter.”
That has led to press reports that the FBI is investigating the matter, and a source says Meyer brought the case to the feds and that an investigation was launched. But others are skeptical of that characterization. An NBCUniversal spokesperson says the company hasn’t been contacted by the FBI and isn’t aware of any investigation.
Similarly, one of Kirk’s attorneys insists there has been no outreach. Says Raymond J. Markovich, “I certainly have not been contacted by the FBI and I’m not aware of any FBI investigation now or back with Kevin Tsujihara.” (In the Tsujihara case, text messages were revealed by THR that included a testy exchange between Brett Ratner and Kirk. Ratner was attempting to mediate a protracted struggle between Kirk and Tsujihara, in which the former believed she was promised movie roles in exchange for sex with the latter; Ratner accused Kirk of extortion, to which Kirk replied, “Brett you’re an idiot I’m not extorting anyone.”)
Presumably both NBCUniversal and Kirk would have been contacted in the event of such an investigation. For its part, the FBI declined to comment.
Separate from the Meyer case, Kirk is locked in a private arbitration battle with Tsujihara, Ratner and billionaire film financier James Packer, according to sources. In that case, settlement payments to Kirk, said to total $2 million, stopped when her affair with Tsujihara became public. Attorney Martin Singer, who is repping Ratner and Packer in that matter, declined to comment. After the Tsujihara scandal became public, Kirk settled with Meyer last year for $2 million, though only a portion of that has been paid to date. It is unclear why things recently devolved with Meyer, but sources familiar with the matter say that former Kirk boyfriend Joshua Newton and her current fiance, director Neil Marshall — both of whom had knowledge of her relationship with Meyer — separately approached the Universal chair when he stopped paying and are the unnamed parties that Meyer referenced in his statement who threatened to file a lawsuit and name NBCUniversal.
Newton did not respond to a request for comment on the claims, while Marshall issued a lengthy statement. “There is no truth to these allegations whatsoever,” Marshall wrote to THR. “No evidence has been provided, and no sources have had the guts to stand up and be counted. If this were a movie, it would be akin to a Michael Bay movie — full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Marshall added: “Do people seriously believe that a 19-year-old girl, autistic, vulnerable, naive and ripe to be exploited, arrived in the shark-infested waters of Hollywood and somehow took advantage of some of the smartest and most powerful men in the movie business? How could anybody with an ounce of intelligence believe such ridiculous twaddle?” Meyer is being repped by Hollywood power lawyer Howard Weitzman. “At some point, I’m sure the people who made the extortionate demands will have to confirm what they did. Written words are powerful evidence,” says Weitzman.
Meanwhile, NBCU’s internal investigation is said to be scrutinizing dealings on the Joel Silver-produced Universal film Non-Stop — which grossed $222 million worldwide in 2014 — given the timing of the production. The Jaume Collet-Serra-helmed film shot in the fall of 2012, in the period between when Meyer first met Kirk at an event in London and when the pair became intimate. Kirk does not appear in the finished film, but she did shoot a scene that wound up on the cutting-room floor. Though Universal was involved in the film before it began production, sources say the studio had no involvement in casting. It is unclear what exactly Kirk accused Meyer of, prompting him to agree to such a hefty settlement. Though Meyer was married at the time of the affair, he was divorced by the time he settled with Kirk, removing the motive that he was trying to keep a private affair from interfering with a divorce settlement.
Sources familiar with NBCUniversal’s mind-set say that a consensual affair — even one involving an actress — would not alone be grounds for dismissal. A knowledgeable source says the tipping point for Meyer’s ouster was that he hadn’t disclosed the settlement last year. Says one source, “It was a breakdown of trust.”