#MeToo Influence Heard on TCA Stage

The #MeToo movement put gender and ethnic diversity front and center in presentations and conversations at the cable/over-the-top portion of the TCA Winter Press Tour.

Networks from Lifetime (Cocaine Grandmother: The Griselda Bianco Story), HBO (2 Dope Queens), BET (In Contempt), Starz (Vida), Investigation Discovery (Love and Hate Crime), National Geographic Channel (Genius: Picasso) and BBC America (Killing Eve) rolled out new projects helmed by — as well as starring — women and people of color.

And panel discussions addressed the treatment of women in the workplace following the rash of sexual harassment allegations ing Hollywood over the past few months.

Several executives speaking at the more than 25 panel sessions during the five-day CTAM-produced portion made the case that women and people of color are getting more opportunities to create strong, powerful quality content. Lifetime executive vice president and head of programming Liz Gateley said that 100% of the network’s scripted showrunners are female, after citing statistics that reported only 28% of the current producers, directors and editors of scripted shows are women.

“Lifetime’s scripted series are not only created by women, but show-run by women,” she said. “It’s proven that when a woman leads a production, more women are hired in key roles.”

Speaking Up, Gaining Respect

As for the #Metoo movement, UnREAL series co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro said that women are now gaining more respect from male showrunners, thanks to those who’ve spoken up.

“There is a fundamental respect for women that apparently seems to be lacking in parts of our industry, and that seems to be coming to light more and more, “ she said. “Thankfully, we’re having a real conversation about it, which is the best part of it all.”

Several network executives tackled specific sexual harassment issues head on. Paramount Network president Kevin Kay said the network would pull all The Weinstein Co. production credits for scripted series Waco and Yellowstone due to the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment allegations.

“I want to say definitively that Harvey Weinstein has never been a part of the creative process of the show and he does not have a credit on the show,” Kay said. “Until they have a new name for the company and a new path forward they will not be listed in the credits.”

Director/producer James Cameron also addressed allegations made by actress Eliza Dushku was that she was molested at 12 years old by a stunt coordinator on the set of the 1994 film True Lies, which he directed.

“I think going forward, it’s important for all industries, and certainly Hollywood, to create a safe avenue for people to speak up [where] they feel safe and that anybody who might be a predator or an abuser knows that that mechanism is there … and that there will be consequences,” said Cameron, at TCA for AMC’s James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. “Had I known about [the True Lies allegations], there would have been no mercy.”

YouTube president Susanne Daniels noted during the service’s inaugural TCA panel that dramas Impulse, Step Up: High Water and Origin, are written and produced by female showrunners, with Step Up’s directors exclusively people of color, women or LGBTQ people — a rare occurrence within the television industry. A recent Directors Guild Of America diversity study reported that during the 2016-17 TV season, African-Americans directed only 13% of episodic television shows, with Asian-Americans directing 5% and Latinos directing only 4%.

Sundance Now also showcased a new series, The Close, in which the writers and stars are deaf, bringing a different on-screen perspective to those living with disabilities, according to Jan Diedrichsen, GM of the SVOD service.

The CTAM-produced cable/OTT portion of TCA was also highlighted by less weighty fare, such as the splendor of BBC America’s Planet Earth: Blue Planet II; the allure of space travel in Discovery Channel’s Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow; or just adorable, cuddly canines in Nat Geo’s unscripted series Road to Westminster Dog Show.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.