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.


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