Just when we thought women were having their moment in television, four female showrunners were let go from their positions and were all replaced by men. Though Winnie Holzman, creator and showrunner for the beloved My So-Called Life, said female showrunners were about to have their moment, these four high profile exits for the shows Smash, Whitney and Nurse Jackie would prove otherwise.
According to WetPaint, a showrunner is the closest thing to an auteur that exists in the TV world. While some showrunners are more like behind-the-scenes managers than unique creative voices, the ones who do exert strong creative control. Holzman said during a panel this winter that sometimes networks like to hear what they w ant to hear in the beginning and they start coming down on what the show should be like. Perhaps these women had similar experiences.Whitney executive producer Betsy Thomas will step down from her post at the top of the sophomore comedy and be replaced by Friends veteran Wil Calhoun, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. Smash show runner Theresa Rebeck has exited the musical show as well, along with Nurse Jackie co-showrunners and co-creators Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem. These women are hopefully going on to bigger and better things whether that be new shows, projects or time with their families but it is interesting considering that Herzog said the landscape for female show runners was only getting better.
Except Gender Watch writer Melissa Silverstein points out that it is still mostly the male showrunners that get all the attention. The media focuses much more on the events of Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men) and Dan Harmon’s (Community) lives than Shonda Rhimes, who created the hit show Grey’s Anatomy. These men have reached somewhat of a celebrity status while these women can quietly lose their jobs without people taking much notice. Silverstein says it is totally a “boy thing.” She wrote:
“We know about these guys because they talk publicly and critically of their bosses in a way that I don’t think any woman could get away with a keep her job. There are very few interviews with Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline who created The Middle but there are tons of interview with Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd who created Modern Family. Both are successes on ABC. Have I ever seen a female showrunner who has taken to twitter or the blogosphere to complain about how horribly they have been treated? No.”
Holzman said the industry was changing for women but maybe she didn’t take into account the media’s favoritism for loud men. During a panel in February she said, “Everything is changing [in the television industry.] Showrunning is a leadership role where you’re the head writer but you are also leading this entire enterprise,” she said. Holzman feels that younger women are more comfortable stepping into the showrunner role. Holzman and her daughter, Savannah Dooley, were co-showrunners for the critically acclaimed ABC Family show Huge. “My generation is still asking, can I lead? It’s different than just being a writer. Many writers are very introverted and shy,” she said. She said she thought her daughter was amazing at the role because it was just more natural. “I had to really push myself to even be a little bit good at the job [of showrunner.] I had such a sense of too much, too many personalities. I just want to be in a room alone. I’m not saying it’s all women but I don’t think men question themselves as much. It’s probably a ridiculous generalization.” But Savannah added that women do tend to ask more questions like, “Is it okay if we do it this way?” or “Would you mind doing this?” Women tend to smooth things over more.