How TV is reacting to #MeToo moment
Showrunners talk about bringing key sex misconduct issues to the screen
PASADENA, CALIF.— In the CBS show Madam Secretary, the U.S. secretary of state (played by Tea Leoni) holds a meeting with the fictional president of the Philippines. He sexually assaults her by groping her from behind. She whirls and punches him in the face. But she doesn’t make the attack public since they are in the middle of sensitive talks.
“When do we get to the bigger picture?” she laments. It seems that time has come. The episode, written two years ago, encapsulated the issue with sexual harassment: If someone as powerful as a U.S. cabinet member can get groped and not take action — then who is safe?
“The world has obviously changed since then, and now we get to approach the circumstances the way they are now. It would be interesting to do a story about that,” Madam Secretary showrunner and creator Barbara Hall told the Star.
There would be a much stronger, perhaps even more vigorous response to that kind of attack today with the #MeToo movement firmly underway.
So in this quickly shifting environment, how do television creators respond to the #MeToo moment?
As cultural norms regarding how we view sexual harassment change, television creators are struggling to keep up with the shifting landscape and to reflect that reality in their scripts.
Hall says she wants to take another look at the issue, but is still trying to find a new way into the subject. That said, she doesn’t regret that she didn’t push the original storyline further.
“I’m glad we did it the way we described it. Women want to work, but they have no recourse if something happens to them,” Hall says. “You frequently have nowhere to go with your complaint. But if we were to move forward, I would have to think about exactly how I want to come at that story and who I would put at the centre of it.”
When the show aired last March, it didn’t curry any favour with the current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been compared to an Asian Donald Trump. Leoni, however, in a tweet said that she was “thinking” of someone else, presumably Trump, when she threw that punch.
Earlier, Hall was a speaker at a panel along with showrunners from Star Trek: Discovery, The Good Fight, S.W.A.T. and Supreme Donuts on the relevancy of television in terms of addressing social issues at the Television Critics Association.
The Good Fight showrunner Robert King said he was in the midst of producing a show that paralleled the Ronan Farrow issue with Harvey Weinstein, where a reporter tries to write a story about a star and is bombarded with lawsuits.
“It obviously has a chilling effect on the network not to broadcast it,” King says.
In what is sure to be a hot-button storyline, The Good Fight is also looking at building a case for a Trump impeachment in Season 2.
Star Trek producers, meanwhile, said their science-fiction show, which features a female captain and first officer of colour in the pilot, prompted a backlash against some viewers who thought the show marginalized white men.
Some viewers thought the Klingons, who value isolationism and racial purity, were supposed to represent Trump supporters, showrunner Aaron Harberts said.
“That’s not necessarily the case. But the Federation represents a utopian view of the future where everyone accepts others’ differences, and they work together in a very diplomatic way.”
“Women want to work, but they have no recourse if something happens to them.” BARBARA HALL MADAM SECRETARY SHOWRUNNER
Harberts was also very complimentary about the state of the Canadian film industry and Toronto, in particular, where the popular show is shot.
“Many of our department heads are women. Many ethnicities are represented there. We shoot the show in Canada, and I feel that there are lots of other protections in place for the crew, and there seems to be a little more evolved system of reporting and the way people are expected to treat each other there.
“I don’t want to paint that with a broad brush, but as it pertains to our crew and the way the production team is run, people feel very safe and comfortable reporting things up the chain.”