With #MeToo, TV Hits the ‘Reset Button’

The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — which started as an opportunity for women to speak out against shocking revelations of abuse in the workforce by men in power — have evolved into a clear mandate for better treatment and opportunities for women in across all business sectors, especially in the entertainment industry.

Read More: #MeToo: A Moment or a Movement?|Some On-the-Job Gender Training

In just the last few weeks, women have achieved a number of milestones have in front of and behind the camera:

• NBC in mid-January hired Libby Leist as its executive producer at Today, making her the first woman to lead the broadcast network’s morning show, which was rocked in November by the firing of popular host Matt Lauer amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

• The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences nominated a record number of women actresses, writers, directors and producers for Oscars in 2018. The official tally of 40 nominated women — tying 2016’s record — includes the first woman to receive a nomination for cinematography, Rachel Morrison for Mudbound.

• And, in a touch of irony, Variety has reported that Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Small Business Administrator under President Barack Obama, has the inside track on purchasing the beleaguered The Weinstein Co. production outfit, once headed by Harvey Weinstein, ousted on accusations of sexual misconduct. If she succeeds in purchasing the company, it would be led by a board with a majority of women.

“We’re experiencing a sea change — women and minorities are not interested in putting up with being in second place anymore,” Step Up: High Water creator Holly Sorensen told Multichannel News. “It’s as combination of Hollywood being willing and seeing the value of these stories both creatively and financially.”

A Movement in the Spotlight
Indeed, the movement toward greater representation and respect for women in Hollywood has taken root on entertainment’s biggest stages, from Oprah Winfrey’s inspirational and impassioned speech supporting those who have bravely spoken up against sexual abuse at the recent Golden Globe Awards — along with the symbolic black-dress protest at the event — to the all-woman lineup of presenters at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Even the biannual Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour was heavily influenced by the #MeToo movement as female actresses, directors and writers spoke eloquently about the need for a change in how business is conducted, particularly in light of the fact that only 28% of the current producers, directors and editors of scripted shows are women, according to Lifetime executive vice president and head of programming Liz Gateley.

The #MeToo movement will only be effective if it creates permanent change, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, co-creator of Lifetime’s scripted series UnReal, said during the network’s TCA panel.

“What I want at the end of this ‘hashtag-MeToo’ moment is so much more than just a safe working environment for myself and for my colleagues,” she said. “ What I want is to get our shows on the air and to get rid of the assumption that female-created or run shows are going to be, quote-unquote, soft, and to get rid of the insistence that the female characters be, quote-unquote, likable … and also to get rid of the idea that you need a man above you or with you to run the show, because the woman is going to be too emotional or inexperienced, or any of the other stereotypes that are out there.”

Digital service YouTube has already committed to content that features women and minorities in front of and behind the camera, president Susanne Daniels told Multichannel News, with women producers behind YouTube Red’s original series Step Up!: High Water and Youth and Consequences. Programmers need to move away from hiring white men as showrunners if they are going to affect true change within the industry, she said.

“There are a lot more experienced white male directors in the category than are anyone else, so if you don’t make the effort it feels safer to go in that direction,” she said. “Working with someone else other than a white male director requires taking a chance and a risk because there aren’t as many options. The industry has to push from every end — we have to push from our end as executives, but we have to work with producers, studios and production teams that are willing to push from their end.”

Shows That Speak to the Moment
The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have also spurred several creative projects on various networks. PBS has commissioned #MeToo, Now What?, a five-part series that will look to take the discussion regarding sexual harassment in the workplace to another level and to examine how the movement can be used to effect positive and lasting change.

Starz last Friday (Jan. 26) debuted #Thatsharrasment, a David Schwimmer-produced series of short films depicting real-life cases of workplace sexual harassment created in conjunction with The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and the National Women’s Law Center.

On Tuesday (Jan. 30) E! will debut Citizen Rose, a documentary series that follows actress/producer Rose McGowan, whose initial accusations against Harvey Weinstein helped spark the #MeToo movement.

The movements signify an awakening to what’s been happening in the industry for some time, as well as the need to change the negative paradigm that exists in companies all over the world, McGowan said at E!’s TCA session. “I think it is a time of reckoning and a reset button,” McGowan said.

Added Citizen Rose executive producer Andrea Metz: “This is a global problem … what this message is about is that women don’t have to sit in silence any longer and sit in fear,” she said. “Rose has been brave enough to come forward, and I think we’re just going to see the messaging continue, and the conversation continue. And that’s what’s so important.”

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.