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'Toxic culture' at 'AGT' led to exits of Gabrielle Union, Julianne Hough, report says

Gabrielle Union during the season-14 live finale of

Gabrielle Union during the season-14 live finale of "America's Got Talent" in September. Credit: NBC / Trae Patton

The recent abrupt departures of "America's Got Talent" judges Julianne Hough and Gabrielle Union came about as the result of a "toxic culture" at the NBC talent competition, according to Variety.

A report in the trade magazine Tuesday outlined a series of incidents that included a joke by guest judge Jay Leno hinging on a racist stereotype about Koreans. Actress Union urged producers to bring the issue to the network's human-resources department, but despite it being raised with an NBC executive on the show's Los Angeles set, the magazine said, it was never brought to HR. The joke did not appear in the episode as broadcast.

The report also alleged that Union and actress-dancer Hough received an excessive number of notes about their physical appearance, particularly that the African-American Union's hairstyles were too ethnic.

Neither Hough, 31, nor Union, 47, has responded on social media. In a statement to Variety, Hough said, "I had a wonderful time on 'America's Got Talent,' I loved working with the cast, crew and producers. I am happy to continue my working relationship with NBC." She noted she is featured in two upcoming network specials, "Holidays with the Houghs," also starring her brother Derek, and "Christmas in Rockefeller Center."

NBC and the show's production company, Fremantle, said in a joint statement to Newsday, " 'America's Got Talent' has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show. The judging and host lineup has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for 'AGT's enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously."

Union and Hough had joined the show for its recently concluded 14th season, replacing Spice Girls singer Melanie "Mel B" Brown and model Heidi Klum. Variety on Friday had reported the newcomers’ exits, later confirmed by NBC.

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