Two days after “Will & Grace” star Debra Messing took E! to task — live, on the network — for paying former network personality Catt Sadler less than co-worker Jason Kennedy, the NBC Universal network’s top executives explained the difference in compensation.
“Catt Sadler and Jason Kennedy had different roles and different salaries,” said Frances Berwick, president of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, on Tuesday during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Catt was in daytime and Jason handled prime evening news and red carpet… I hope that sets the record straight on that.”
Berwick said she took issue with how Sadler’s exit had been covered in the press: “I don’t think it’s been portrayed accurately,” she said. “They had different jobs, so yes, there’s a different pay scale for different jobs.”
Sadler announced in December that she was leaving E! after 12 years because she learned that co-host Jason Kennedy was earning double her salary for several years.
“I was so shocked to hear that E! doesn’t believe in paying their female cohost the same as their male cohost,” Messing said during E!’s Golden Globes red carpet coverage on Sunday. “I miss Catt Sadler. So we stand with her. And that’s something that can change tomorrow. We want people to start having this conversation that women are just as valuable as men.”
Network execs noted that they thought Messing had clearly planned to go on E! and make that statement — an awkward moment for parent company NBC Universal, which both owns E! and also “Will & Grace.” Eva Longoria, Reese Witherspoon, and Natalie Portman also called out E! on the carpet for refusing to pay the host as much as her male co-host.
Berwick said E! had hoped not to address Sadler’s comments, but after what happened on Sunday, needed to address it. “We don’t really like to get into the details about salaries and it felt like we didn’t need to do that,” she said. “Clearly what we’ve learned in the last 48 hours is we needed to be a little more upfront about it… I think this is the beauty and the challenge of social media is there’s a lot of information out there and there’s very little information out there. On the face of it this didn’t seem correct.”
E! Entertainment president Adam Stotsky noted that the E! pay issue wound up being conflated on Sunday with the Time’s Up movement. “They’re two different things,” he said. “Time’s Up is an amazing initiative. This is about pay quotes and differences in roles and responsibilities.”
Stotsky added that “E! has a long history of supporting and compensating women, in particular our female talent, quite well,” he said. “Giuliana Rancic, Maria Menounos, the first family of reality television — the Kardashians — is all women. They’re not only on-air personalities but they’re executive producers. I believe they’re compensated very fairly and in line with the value that they bring the network. It has nothing to do with their gender whatsoever.”