Former NBC Exec Richard Licata Responds to Abuse Claims: ‘It’s Character Assassination’ (Exclusive)

“Have I pushed people? Absolutely. I have never, ever done it abusively”

Former NBC executive Richard Licata defended himself on Thursday against allegations of abusive behavior that led to his dismissal from the network, calling the allegations “character assassination.”

The public relations veteran spoke exclusively to TheWrap after the site’s investigative report on Tuesday revealed that verbal abuse, an uncontrolled temper and favoritism during his three-year stint in the entertainment division led to an external inquiry and his departure in October.

“This is all false, it’s like character assassination,” Licata told TheWrap on Thursday, referring to the allegations. He spoke by phone accompanied by his lawyer Michael Weinstein of Lavely & Singer.

A 30-year veteran of the industry, Licata acknowledged:  “Have I pushed people to do the kind of work that I thought they were capable of? Absolutely. I have never, ever done it abusively.” 

Licata said he was “confused” by allegations he behaved badly.

NBCU has not commented on the matter. TheWrap reported that the network hired a law firm – which insiders have since identified as Proskauer Rose – to investigate multiple allegations of abusive behavior, favoritism and harassment.

Licata also responded to allegations that there were complaints internally over inappropriate touching and comments, including kissing a man on the neck.

“The suggestion that I engaged in any inappropriate touching or sexual comments is ridiculous,” said Licata. “It never happened. Sadly, in this digital age, anyone with an agenda can say just about anything and hide behind the veil of anonymity.”

Meanwhile multiple individuals told TheWrap that Licata faced allegations and inquiries over his behavior at other places where he has worked, including Showtime.

In the interview Licata commented for the first time on a previously published report of inappropriate use of company funds. A New York Post story from 2008 alleged Licata ordered underling Nikki Ferraro to pay for a coworkers birthday celebration with a company credit card, then laid the blame for doing so on her.

The Post said he instructed the Showtime friend whose birthday it was to tell Human Resources that he’d only be there for a drink but that the coworker later confessed to having lied about it.

Licata said he was never present at the dinner. He also said that he was falsely accused by Ferraro of verbal abuse after she was accused of falsifying expense reports. She levelled the charge, Licata said, in order to get compensation from CBS, Showtime’s owner.

Licata said: “She was so unhappy, this coordinator, she went to an anonymous line and reported it (the abuse).”

“She hired Gloria Allred, who apparently gave her counsel that the only way to get compensation was to allege that she had been abused in some way. Because I was her direct report, I was the target.”

Two individuals with knowledge of the situation said Showtime sought to fire Licata at the time but then-chief Robert Greenblatt threatened to quit if his deputy was dismissed.  According to the Post, an anonymous email was circulated at Showtime in an attempt to clear Ferraro’s name, calling Licata “Mr. Untouchable.”

An executive who worked with Licata around that time told TheWrap: “He didn’t take the fall for that, the girl did. The girl was fired. And Greenblatt saved his job. But then she sued, or threatened to sue, and they settled with her.”

Licata denied this was the case. “My job was never on the line over this issue. Bob never, ever threatened to quit Showtime.”

Licata  was hired as NBCU’s Director of Communications in 2011 by Greenblatt, who became NBC Entertainment Chairman a year prior.

“I came into the company as head of PR, I had 72 people ultimately reporting to me,” Licata said. “I kept almost everybody… when I could’ve taken people from Showtime and put them in those jobs,” Licata said.

“But it was a collaborative relationship,” Licata said of his team, “… they had a tough time with [Jeff] Zucker. They were beleaguered, they were fearful…  I thought I was well-regarded and well-liked.”

In October, Licata cited the death of his father in leaving NBC, rather than an external investigation that was conducted in the wake of  numerous complaints, as TheWrap reported Monday.

Asked about this, Licata said: “It was time for me to leave. I’ve had a lot of personal stuff. I’d rather leave it at that.”

And at the conclusion of the 40-minute interview, the executive was asked if he had anything for which to reproach himself.

“Oh God no,” said Licata. “Not at all.”