Why Julie Chen Moonves' News Colleagues Wanted Her Fired
Andy Rooney in particular called her out publicly.
Today, Julie Chen Moonves has been hosting the reality competition show Big Brother for 23 years. But, back in 2000, she was certain she was going to be fired after the first season. Not only that, but Chen Moonves thought she was going to be removed from her job by her now-husband, then-CEO of CBS Les Moonves at a prestigious event.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly marking 25 seasons of Big Brother, Chen Moonves recalled the rocky early days of the reality show and her feelings of job insecurity, especially because her colleagues at CBS News didn't think it was appropriate for her to be associated with the other program. At the time that she was chosen to host Big Brother, Chen Moonves was a news reader on The Early Show.
Read on to find out who publicly called out Chen Moonves for "blur[ring] the lines between news and entertainment" and why she never thought Big Brother would last as long as it has.
Viewers "hated" the show in the first season, Chen Moonves said.
The first season of Big Brother had a different format than all of its future seasons. For one, viewers voted out contestants rather than contestants voting against each other. It also aired up to six nights per week with the first season consisting of a whopping 70 episodes. (Recent seasons have had between 35-40 episodes.)
Chen Moonves recalled to Entertainment Weekly that the show received "the worst reviews from every angle on Season 1." She further explained, "TV critics hated the concept of the show. They hated the lighting. They hated the IKEA-looking furniture. They hated the house, they hated everything."
It impacted her personally, as she previously told Yahoo!. "I remember reading review after review, after negative review after—and they were all terrible … I remember feeling like I got like punched in the gut," Chen Moonves said.
Her colleagues at CBS News wanted her to be fired, she claimed.
Chen Moonves had only been working for CBS for five months when she was asked to host Big Brother. And the negative reviews of the show made her fear that she would be fired from the network altogether and have to look for a job in local news again.
"Externally, people hated me. Critics internally—people at CBS News—wanted me fired from the news division," she said. She said that 60 Minutes broadcaster Andy Rooney in particular wanted her out of news if she was hosting Big Brother.
"I thought I was going to lose my job doing morning news, because Andy Rooney spoke out publicly against me when I hosted Big Brother," she told EW. "He was like, 'How dare she blur the lines between news and entertainment? She should immediately be fired from the news division and shipped off to the west coast and permanently put in the entertainment division if that's what she wants to do.' I was like, 'Oh my God, Andy Rooney's going to have me fired!'"
Chen Moonves also spoke about Rooney's criticism during a 2013 interview with Larry King. She said she realized there was "no validity" to what Rooney was saying after finding out that other news anchors had worked on game shows. "But," she added, "what really stung was that he was at the same network and saying it about someone that you're supposed to protect."
She thought Bryant Gumbel wanted her gone, too.
Chen Moonves also believed that The Early Show anchor Bryant Gumbel wanted her fired when she returned to the news show after Big Brother's first season.
"I go back to, 'Hey, good morning, Bryant Gumbel. Can I get you your coffee?' I'm the news reader. I'm like the fourth banana," she explained to EW. "I'm the fourth person on the call sheet and my tail's between my legs. And Bryant loves Survivor, but he never said anything about Big Brother. I thought, 'Great. He's now going to get me fired. He didn't want me on his show either!'"
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She thought Moonves invited her out to fire her.
Chen Moonves told EW that when Moonves asked her to attend an event with him, she thought that he was planning to let her go. Her suspicions were raised further because the event was going to be attended by former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. "I was like, 'Oh my God, my boss' boss' boss is taking me out to a public place to fire me!"
She continued, "I really thought that! I remember calling my best friend. I was like, 'Is that how this works, so it is a softer blow? I can't make a scene in front of Gorbachev." Later, she directly asked Moonves if he was going to fire her. "[H]e was like, 'What? Executives don't take out their talent to fire them,'" she remembered.
Four years later, Chen Moonves married the now-disgraced executive, who stepped down from the network after being accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women.
Big Brother made a comeback.
Despite the first season being poorly received, Big Brother returned for a second season—with some major changes. Most notably—and important to the game—the contestants voted each other out of the house. The show began to air three times a week, cutting the total number of episodes per season by half. New producers were brought on. They kept Chen Moonves in place, however, and she continues to host the show today.
"[Producers] Arnold [Shapiro] and Allison [Grodner] turned the show upside down and made it what it is today," Chen Moonves told EW. "If it wasn't for Arnold and Allison, I honestly don't think we would be here talking about the 25th season."