year in review

The Biggest Scandals of 2023

Scandoval, Hasan Minhaj, The Idol, and more of this year’s most gripping headlines.
The Biggest Scandals of 2023

It may not surprise you to learn that here at Vanity Fair we love drama—the scripted kind, of course, but also the kind that unfolds in breathless tabloid and trade magazine headlines. The kind that’s shocking, if not actually criminal, and provides endless grist for the gossip mill. Luckily for us, this was a year filled to the brim with scandals—from the Gwyneth Paltrow courtroom performance that landed on our list of 2023’s best to the earth-shaking infidelity that rocked Vanderpump Rules and earned its own salacious portmanteau: Scandoval.

What else earns a spot on our list of 2023’s most gripping scandals? Clutch your pearls and read on to find out. (Just a note: We’re concentrating on Hollywood-adjacent scandals, which means you won’t find George Santos or Donald Trump on this list. Better luck next year, boys!)

Still from To Leslie.From Everett Collection.

To Leslie, the Little Movie With a Giant Heart

Surprised to hear Andrea Riseborough’s name announced as a best actress contender when the 2023 Oscar nominations were revealed in January? You weren’t alone. As Rebecca Ford noted at the time, plenty of film insiders hadn’t even heard of the movie before it scored that surprise nod. Yet the movie’s tiny profile had been raised at precisely the right time to get the Academy’s attention, thanks to a coordinated effort that centered on grassroots promotion by high-profile actors like Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Edward Norton. Did To Leslie break any actual Academy rules with its unconventional campaign? No, but the organization did overhaul its campaign guidelines this spring, as a direct result of the scandal. Looks like Leslie may remain one of a kind.

Sanderson v. Paltrow

Who knew that a minor accident on the slopes of the exclusive Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah could result in such gripping television? Well, we did—considering the accused ski-crasher was none other than Oscar winner and GOOP mogul Gwyneth Paltrow. From Paltrow’s courtroom fashion to her Clark Kent look-alike lawyer to her answer when asked by Terry Sanderson’s attorney to explain what the collision had cost her—“Well, I lost half a day of skiing”—every moment of the conflict felt like it had been written by White Lotus maestro Mike White. No wonder there’s already a musical about it opening this winter.


Where to begin with the cheating scandal that tore apart Vanderpump Rules—and made the long-running Bravo staple a must-watch once more? Try Chris Murphy’s detailed breakdown from March, which names all of the main players—Tom Sandoval, his costar and longtime girlfriend Ariana Madix, and their costar Rachel Leviss (who, at the time the scandal broke, was going by Raquel)—and explains precisely why it was such catnip for reality TV mavens. Scandoval’s ripple effects are legion, extending past the show into unauthorized merch and an unopened sandwich shop and podcasts and non-Vanderpump TV gigs for even the most tangentially connected castmates. It’s Scandoval’s world; the rest of us are just living in it.

The Jeff Shell Affair

Comcast shocked the industry in April when it fired Jeff Shell, the CEO of NBCUniversal, after an internal investigation corroborated an employee’s allegations of sexual harassment. Soon, details began to emerge: For years, the married Shell had been having an affair with CNBC anchor Hadley Gamble. The relationship ended in 2021; this year, Gamble learned that her contract would not be renewed. As Variety details, she then filed a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint against Shell. The sordid saga had a whiff of irony as well: The year before he and Gamble ended their entanglement, Shell had fired Universal executive Ron Meyer over a similar sexually-charged scandal involving actor Charlotte Kirk. Some speculated that fixer Anthony Pellicano, an associate of Meyer, may have played a role in Shell’s ouster as well; “I had absolutely nothing to do with it, although I’m very happy to see it occur,” the private investigator told Variety.

Chris Licht’s CNN Catastrophe

Chris Licht lost control of CNN the same way Mike went bankrupt in The Sun Also Rises: gradually, then suddenly. Just one year after controversial Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav had chosen the newsman to head up the cable channel in 2022, Licht was booted from the job following a much-maligned town hall event featuring Donald Trump and a damning profile in The Atlantic that painted Licht as a remote, out-of-touch boss whose only goal seemed to be pleasing Zaslav’s every demand. “Definite feelings of widespread relief in the building. It just couldn’t last at this point,” one CNN source told Vanity Fair after the plug was finally pulled.

Lily Rose Depp and The Weekend star in The Idol.Courtesy of HBO.

The Idol’s Dirty Pop

Plenty of productions are home to on-set conflict—but few are as messy as The Idol, HBO’s fever-dream-of-a-sex-cult drama. Months before it premiered last summer, a dishy Rolling Stone exposé claimed that creators Sam Levinson and The Weeknd were presiding over a toxic, chaotic workplace: “It went from satire to the thing it was satirizing,” one source said. Though Levinson and The Weeknd pushed back in a self-consciously ridiculous way—releasing what appeared to be a clip from the show that featured The Weekend and Lily-Rose Depp’s characters calling Rolling Stone “a little bit irrelevant”—the kerfuffle only raised the show’s profile, prompting viewers to tune in to see what all the fuss was about. It’s a shame that the end product was less entertaining than its backstage conflicts; the network unceremoniously canceled The Idol after a single, five-episode season.

Still from NyadBy Liz Parkinson/Netflix

Diana Nyad’s Long Swim

Did you know that for decades, a portion of the incredibly niche marathon swimming community has been consumed with questions about the accomplishments of athlete and showwoman Diana Nyad? Those questions came to the fore when Netflix began screening Nyad, a biopic starring Annette Bening as the prickly title character. The LA Times published a thorough rundown of the complaints in August, quoting one marathon swimmer who called Nyad “a Trumpian figure.” The film, however, is fully on the side of its central character: “As documentary filmmakers, the first thing we did was to look into some of these criticisms—and found that they weren’t valid,” codirector Jimmy Chin told VF. “Working in the realm that I work in, especially in climbing, there’s always the critics…and when you are at the forefront of your sport, you have a target on your back. Especially if you’re an outspoken athlete like Diana might be considered.”

Jada Pinkett Smith speaks onstage at the 2023 Miami Book Fair on November 12, 2023.By Jason Koerner/Getty Images.

Jada Pinkett Smith Tells All

As it turns out, The Slap was just the beginning. Jada Pinkett Smith, unwitting catalyst for the attack that led to her husband Will Smith’s 10-year expulsion from the Academy Awards, had a whole lot more to say about the incident and her marriage in Worthy, a memoir released in October. As Pinkett Smith hit the publicity circuit, she dropped bombshell after bombshell. She and Smith had been separated for years before that fateful Oscar night. At some point during that time, according to Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock asked her out. In fact, The Slap may have saved her marriage. Hats off to the author for finding umpteen new angles on something we thought had been analyzed to death.

It’s Britney, Bitch

Speaking of blockbuster books: There was a lot of dirt in Britney Spears’s highly anticipated The Woman in Me. The memoir generated headlines for days amid its fall release, as readers pored over the singer’s descriptions of her tumultuous relationship with Justin Timberlake, her intense fling with Colin Farrell, her cloistered life under her conservatorship, her near miss with The Notebook, and that time Timberlake said, “fo' shiz fo' shiz!” The book sold 1.1 million copies domestically in its first week alone; no wonder Spears is already planning a second volume.

By David Livingston/Getty Images.

Hasan Minhaj’s Tall Tales

Former Daily Show correspondent and Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj was seemingly within spitting distance of being named Trevor Noah’s successor at Comedy Central’s late-night series. Then The New Yorker asked him if he’d consciously embellished stories about experiencing Islamophobia, racism, and receiving an envelope filled with white powder in his stand-up. Minjah admitted he had, though he argued that what mattered more was the “emotional truth” of what he was trying to say—and soon, the prospective Daily Show host was out of the running for that prime gig. Though Minhaj released a follow-up video in which he tried to defend himself, the damage, it seems, has been done—at least, until he addresses the allegations at length in a new comedy special.

Drew Barrymore’s WGA Misstep

The world seems to have endless wells of goodwill toward actor turned kooky talk show host Drew Barrymore—or at least, it did until Paramount announced that the fourth season of her series would return to the air in September, despite the ongoing writers strike. “I own this choice,” Barrymore said in a subsequent video, even as the writers guild announced that it would picket the production. The fallout was swift and unmistakable: The National Book Awards dropped Barrymore as its host, while scores of people in the industry slammed her for undermining union solidarity. Within days, Barrymore had done an about-face, announcing that she would not bring her show back until the strike ended after all—but the reversal wasn’t enough to keep three of her head writers from quitting the series altogether.

Casey Bloys v. Twitter

It’s been a rough fall, marked by global violence and existential dread. What a delight it was, then, to have a low-stakes scandal to drink up in November when Rolling Stone revealed that HBO CEO Casey Bloys had secretly directed his staffers to use sock puppet accounts to rebut TV critics on social media (and random Deadline commenters) when they spoke negatively about HBO series. As luck would have it, the story ran the day before Bloys was due to preview his network’s upcoming slate to critics and journalists in New York. To his credit, Bloys began by addressing the story head-on, apologizing and explaining that he had spent an “unhealthy amount of time scrolling through Twitter” in 2020 and 2021. CEOs: They’re just like us!

Amy Robach amd TJ Holmes on May 17, 2022 in New York City.By Arturo Holmes/Getty Images.

Amy and T.J. and Marilee and Andrew

Technically, the Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes scandal began at the end of 2022 when the world learned that the Good Morning America cohosts were cheating on their spouses with one another. But it reverberated into 2023, when ABC president Kim Godwin announced that the pair were leaving GMA. Then, on the day the pair launched a new podcast venture, Page Six revealed that, according to sources, their estranged spouses Marilee Fiebig and Andrew Shue, are now dating. It’s a twist worthy of Jesse Armstrong, or at least Bravo.