Untangling the Turmoil Behind the Scenes at The Talk

The Talk is on hiatus while CBS probes the March 10 exchange between Sharon Osbourne and Sheryl Underwood, now compounded by accusations that Sharon used racist language in the past.

By Natalie Finn Mar 18, 2021 9:00 PMTags
Watch: Sharon Osbourne Doesn't Know If She Wants to Return to "The Talk"

The Talk has gone silent for the time being.

CBS' long-running daytime talk show is in crisis mode following accusations of racist language and bullying behavior made against co-host Sharon Osbourne, who's been with The Talk since it premiered in 2010. 

The program is currently on hiatus as the network investigates the circumstances of a sharp on-air exchange last week between Osbourne and Sheryl Underwood over Osbourne's defense of British TV personality Piers Morgan after he came under fire—and subsequently quit his own morning show—for his caustic reaction to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's bombshell-packed interview with Oprah Winfrey.

"CBS is committed to a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace across all of our productions," the network said in a statement to E! News. "We're also very mindful of the important concerns expressed and discussions taking place regarding events on The Talk. This includes a process where all voices are heard, claims are investigated and appropriate action is taken where necessary. The show will extend its production hiatus until next Tuesday [March 23] as we continue to review these issues."

But according to sources and multiple reports, Osbourne's on-air remarks—which she later walked back, also saying she'd been blindsided when she was asked her opinion of Morgan's comments on air—was just her latest offense.

The Talk Celebrates Halloween 2020

Holly Robinson-Peete, who was on the first season of The Talk, tweeted March 12, "I'm old enough to remember when Sharon complained that I was too 'ghetto' for 'The Talk'…then I was gone...I bring this up now bc I was mortified watching the disrespectful condescending tone she took w/her co host who remained calm & respectful because...she HAD to...#fbf"

When another Twitter user responded that Leah Remini, who was also on just that first season, had started the rumor that Osbourne called Robinson-Peete "ghetto," Remini chimed in, tweeting, "Don't be ridiculous. But good try love."

The Hollywood Reporter had reported in 2012 that in a Twitter Q&A Remini accused Osbourne of calling her and Robinson-Peete, "awkward," "not funny" and "ghetto." 

At the time, close to nine years ago, Osbourne called the claim "false gossip" and stated that she wished the King of Queens star would stop her "negative, unprofessional, and childish behavior."

In response to Peete resurfacing that accusation now, Osbourne tweeted Sunday, "Never in my life did I utter the words that Holly was 'too ghetto' to be on the Talk, as well as not having her fired."

We learned of the planned hiatus March 14.

How Meghan Markle Forever Changed the Royal Family

Through his own Twitter account, in newspaper op-Eds and on his now former show Good Morning Britain, Morgan had been a frequent critic of Markle, as well as openly skeptic of claims that British media coverage of the Duchess of Sussex had racist undertones. After the Winfrey sit-down that aired in the U.S. March 7, Morgan said he didn't believe that Markle ever felt suicidal (the former Suits star said there was a time when she "didn't want to be alive anymore") and that both she and Prince Harry had committed a terrible offense against the monarchy by speaking out as they did.

Criticized by one of his co-hosts on the air March 8, Morgan walked off the set of GMB and later that day ITV announced he wouldn't be coming back. 

"Following discussions with ITV, Piers Morgan has decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain," the channel said in a statement. "ITV has accepted this decision and has nothing further to add."

On Tuesday, March 9, Osbourne tweeted, "@piersmorgan 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."

Meghan Markle Reportedly Filed Complaint to ITV Over Piers Morgan Comments

The next day on The Talk, Osbourne ended up in a tearful debate with Underwood, who asserted that Osbourne's defense of Morgan was basically a defense of racism.

"I very much feel like I'm about to be put in the electric chair because I have a friend, who many people think is a racist, so that makes me a racist?" Osbourne countered. "What does it got to do with me?" Increasingly emotional, she added, "How could I be racist about anybody or anything in my life?"

After a commercial break, Osbourne told Underwood, "Don't try and cry because if anybody should be crying, it should be me."

Underwood continued, explaining why she found Morgan's commentary harmful, "It was not the exact words of racism, it's the implications and reaction to it. To not want to address that she is a Black woman and to try to dismiss it or to make it seem less than what it is, that's what makes it racist." She tried to clarify that she and their fellow co-hosts weren't accusing Osbourne herself, saying, "Right now, I'm talking to a woman who I believe is my friend and I don't want anybody here to watch this and say that we're attacking you for being racist."

To which Osbourne replied, "It's too late. I think that seed's already sowed." 

Sonja Flemming/CBS

A production source tells E! News that the atmosphere on set Thursday, March 11, the day after Osbourne and Underwood's exchange, "was very uncomfortable." 

That night, Osbourne tweeted out an apology, writing that "after some reflection" she wanted to address what happened. "I have always been embraced with so much love & support from the Black community & I have deep respect & love for the Black community," she began. "To anyone of color that I offended and/or to anyone that feels confused or let down by what I said, I am truly sorry. I panicked, felt blindsided, got defensive & allowed my fear & horror of being accused of being racist take over...I am not perfect, I am still learning like the rest of us & will continue to learn, listen and do better."

She did not condone "racism, misogyny or bullying" and should've been clearer about that from the beginning, Osbourne continued. "I will always support freedom of speech, but now I see how I unintentionally didn't make that clear distinction." She concluded expressing her hope for more "accountability, compassion & love during this powerful time of paving the way for so much needed change."

Hours later, Morgan took to Twitter to accuse The Talk of shaming and bullying Osbourne into "apologising for defending me against colleagues accusing me of racism because I don't believe Meghan Markle's bullsh*t. This is where we've reached. I demand an apology from those @TheTalkCBS bullies for their disgraceful slurs against ME."

A Breakdown of The View's Alleged Feuds, Fights and Fallouts

According to the production source, Osbourne's comments didn't go far enough to assuage her colleagues' feelings. "Sharon's apology doesn't include her co-hosts and that is just increasing the tension on the show," the insider says.

Osbourne reiterated to Variety in an interview published March 12 that she felt "blindsided" by that segment after being asked "eight minutes before the show aired" what she thought about Morgan. She told the publication, "I blame the network for it. I was blindsided, totally blindsided by the whole situation. In my 11 years, this was the first time I was not involved with the planning of the segment."

Osbourne also noted, "I'm a big girl. I'm a professional. However, CBS blindsided me. I don't know why they did it to me. The showrunners told me it came from executives to do this to me."

CBS told E! News in a statement, "We are committed to a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace. All matters related to the Wednesday [March 10] episode of The Talk are currently under internal review."

A second source with ties to the show told E! News that, after the March 10 episode wrapped, the showrunners told The Talk hosts in a meeting that the questions posed to Osbourne by Underwood and new co-host Elaine Welteroth came directly from CBS executives. (Welteroth and Amanda Kloots joined the show in January after Eve's departure in December left two seats to fill following Marie Osmond's exit last year.)

Stars React to Gabrielle Union's America's Got Talent Firing

Meanwhile, multiple sources maintain that Osbourne was definitely not given the appropriate heads-up that they'd be discussing Morgan, a longtime friend and her former co-host on America's Got Talent for five summers.

The aforementioned second source said that Osbourne "did not receive the same preparation from producers to discuss the topic, which is why Sharon is so upset, and doing interviews about what happened."

A third source close to the show told E! News exclusively that any categorization of events as business as usual was "a lie."

The insider explained that there was no mention of Osbourne's thoughts on Morgan during the usual staff meeting held before each taping. Osbourne got a call afterward from an executive producer who asked "very casually" if she "wouldn't mind if the co-hosts asked her a few questions regarding her position on Piers," the source added. "She was not prepped with the proposed questions, as would have been normal procedure. She was not informed that she would need to defend herself from accusations of being racist."

Osbourne had told Variety about the experience, "I was honestly in shock. I felt like I was in front of a firing squad. I felt like a lamb held out for slaughter...They had me there for 20 minutes."

Cliff Lipson/CBS

On the March 12 episode of Steve Harvey's podcast, Underwood said the exchange with Osbourne was, for her, a lesson "about discipline. It's about restraint and being a better me. Because you wake up every day...and everybody—especially people of color—go through this all the time, there's just no cameras pointing at you. Nobody gets to see it, nobody knows it."

"And today was my day and I accept the blessing of the lesson," she shared. "I accept that."

And Underwood told Harvey that, after 10 seasons on The Talk, she didn't envision what was supposed to be just another conversation about what was going on in the world taking a turn like that.

"Been there 10 years. I never thought in my mind what was going to happen...that this was going to go left like this," she explained. "I thought we were just going to have a conversation."

Tiffany Rose/Getty Images for HollyRod Foundation

That night Robinson-Peete weighed in, resurfacing the accusation Osbourne had her fired and had called her "ghetto"—claims Osbourne denied in 2012 and told Variety last week, "It's an absolute lie—a 110 percent lie. I cannot have anyone fired…And that is a not a term I use. That's not in my vocabulary. I don't speak like that. The only ghetto I know is the Warsaw Ghetto and I think that's the only time I've ever referred to something like that."

Peete told The Hollywood Reporter back in 2012, "Usually when you get fired, your boss brings you in, sits you down and tells you why they can't keep you. They say we have to downsize or you're not doing this, you're not doing that. I was never given that opportunity."

Now, it's Osbourne who's uncertain about what's next for her and The Talk.

She told Entertainment Tonight March 16, "I own up to what I did. I can't not own up. I said what I said. I got too personal with Sheryl. I should've never said stop her tears. She was hurting as I was hurting."

Osbourne continued, "I wish we could go on and have an adult conversation calmly and work it out, but I don't know whether we can. I don't know whether it's gone past that. I would love to, but I don't know whether I even want to go back... I don't know whether I'm wanted there."

The future grew murkier hours later.

Famous Celebrity Feuds

Later that day, Leah Remini spoke to journalist Yashar Ali in a report published on his Substack newsletter alleging that Osbourne used racist and homophobic slurs about their fellow co-hosts Julie Chen and Sara Gilbert, the latter of whom created the show and remains an executive producer. Chen left The Talk in 2018 after eight seasons following the resignation of her husband and CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves from the network under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations (which he denied, calling them "untrue"). Gilbert exited at the end of season nine in 2019 to refocus her attention on acting. E! News has contacted Chen and Gilbert's reps for comment.

"The only thing worse than a disgruntled former employee is a disgruntled former talk show host," Osbourne's publicist, Howard Bragman, said in a statement obtained by E! News in response to the report. "For 11 years Sharon has been kind, collegial and friendly with her hosts as evidenced by throwing them parties, inviting them to her home in the U.K. and other gestures of kindness too many to name.

"Sharon is disappointed but unfazed and hardly surprised by the lies, the recasting of history and the bitterness coming out at this moment. She will survive this, as she always has and her heart will remain open and good, because she refuses to let others take her down. She thanks her family, friends and fans for standing by her and knowing her true nature."

All the Times Morning Show Hosts Brought Us Into Their Lives

A source who worked at The Talk during its first season called Remini "credible," telling E! News, "Unfortunately, everything that Leah is saying about her experiences at The Talk is all true." 

The insider—who said Remini had evidence, including emails, that showed past offensive comments made by Osbourne—described a setting in which some slurs that could easily be considered offensive were said out in the open but were seemingly laughed off as jokes in the moment.

Osbourne used Asian slurs referring to Chen over email, the source said, but used homophobic language to describe Gilbert in front of her and other people, and Gilbert would laugh. The insider added that Remini would laugh, too, when Osbourne used slurs about Italian-Americans to describe her, also in front of others.

"There were no serious repercussions from any of this," the source said. "Sharon was allowed to continue with this behavior unpunished. It's an incredibly unfortunate situation all around."

Johnny Vy/CBS

The previously mentioned source with ties to the show tells E! News that a March 17 Instagram post from Chen had "layered meaning," being obviously in response to the documented rise in anti-Asian attacks in the U.S. over the past year and the slaying of eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at three Atlanta-area spas the previous night—but also encompassing her own personal experiences, including her time on The Talk.

Chen wrote, "We as a society need to come together as ONE and stop the hate. STOP the violence. Hateful speech and thought breeds violence. It all must stop here and now. #StopAsianHate."

"Make no mistake," the source said, "this statement about hateful speech and thought breeding violence serves as her message addressing both the widespread violence and her thoughts on Sharon Osbourne at The Talk."

Randee St. Nicholas/CBS

The second source with ties to the show has told E! News that former co-host Marie Osmond was "treated horribly" by Osbourne and that she was a major factor in Osmond's decision to exit The Talk last year after one season. Page Six reported that both Osbourne and Underwood, who's been on since season two, threatened to quit if Osmond wasn't let go, but a CBS source denied any such ultimatum occurred.

"Don't believe anything you read," Osmond told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live last May after a testy on-air exchange prompted speculation that there was an issue between her and Osbourne. "Sharon and I are great friends. Everybody who sits at that table is a very strong woman. She'll say things and I'll go, 'Uh, no.' But that doesn't mean we don't like each other."

After Osmond left, Osbourne told Entertainment Tonight, "We've had changes. People coming in and going. So we just go with the flow. I have to say that with four [hosts], we've got more time to talk." 

There are currently five hosts again, but it's unclear who will still be talking when the show resumes.