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The Wonder Women of Lifetime

Lifetime’s All-Women Showrunners Talk Creating a Safe Workplace in the #MeToo Era

By Valerie Milano

Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 1/20/18 – On Sunday, January 14th, 2018 Lifetime convened a panel of women creators and showrunners responsible for scripted dramas during the winter TCA press tour taking place at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena.  Present were Stacy Rukeyser, the showrunner of UNREAL; Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, the co-creator of UNREAL; Tara Armstrong, the creator and showrunner of MARY KILLS PEOPLE; Sera Gamble, the co-creator and co-showrunner of YOU; and Jamie Denbo, who will be creating AMERICAN PRINCESS.

Stacy Rukeyser, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, Tara Armstrong, Sera Gamble and Jamie Denbo
Lifetime ‘Wonder Women: A Conversation with the Creators and Showrunners of Lifetime Scripted Dramas’ TV show panel, TCA Winter Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA – 14 Jan 2018 (Credit: Photo by David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock)

Liz Gateley said that in 2016 and 2017 television had showcased 487 shows according to the Boxed In study by the Center for Women in Television & Film.  Only 28 percent of the executive producers, directors, producers, and editors, across broadcast cable and streaming, were women!

At Lifetime, 100 percent of the showrunners are women.  Lifetime’s scripted series are not only created by women, but also showrun by women.  “It’s proven that when a woman leads a production, more women are hired in key roles,” Gateley concluded.

When the female panelists were asked what the biggest difference was on their sets versus sets they had worked on with male showrunners, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro said that she finally didn’t have to over-explain herself to men.  “And what’s really, really lovely is that we just walk in on our set and are taken incredibly seriously, so that’s a revolution for me,” Shapiro added.

Jamie Denbo 2018 Winter TCA Tour – Day 11

Jamie Denbo proposed that the four shows mentioned above were going to be better thanks to the widespread involvement of women in their creation and production.  She thought that more diverse views, and the female point of view in particular, helped to present the world more as it was.

This opinion was seconded by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro.  Sera Gamble said she might be the only person representing a show that had a male lead, but that having so many women in the writers’ room helped to flesh out even the minor female characters.

Tara Armstrong Lifetime’s ‘Mary Kills People’

Tara Armstrong suggested that woman creators had more control over the kinds of female characters put into production.  “Presenting women in a position where they’re being victimized in some way is just a narrative that I personally am so tired of,” she said.

Sarah Gertrude Shapiro added that on UNREAL the story focused upon the relationship two women had at work.  This focus upon work of course struck a chord with the high-level career women on the panel.  “At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, women are better at multi-tasking, in my personal experience, in general, and showrunning is multi-tasking on a really high level.  And in a way, it’s shocking that it’s taken so long for that to not be completely dominated by men,” said Jamie Denbo.

Sera Gamble
Lifetime ‘Wonder Women: A Conversation with the Creators and Showrunners of Lifetime Scripted Dramas’ TV show panel, TCA Winter Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA – 14 Jan 2018 (Credit: Photo by David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock)

“I don’t know that this job is different for women than for men,” said Sera Gamble.  “Being a showrunner means that you really develop both sides of your brain every single day. . . .Really, the job is a million jobs at once. . .And, to me, that’s thrilling.

I wake up excited for the next thing to either go terribly, and I learn from it, or go tremendously, and I feel great; and then the next thing happens, and then the next thing happens, and then the next thing happens.  That, to me, is showrunning.”

(L-R) Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, Liz Gateley, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, Craig Bierko, Marti Noxon and Carol Barbee attend the A+E Networks 2016 Television Critics Association Press Tour for UnREAL at The Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa on January 6, 2016 in Pasadena, California.
(Jan. 5, 2016 – Source: Chris Weeks/Getty Images North America)

Following detailed discussion of the forthcoming Lifetime shows, feminism as a form of humanism, and the #MeToo movement, the panelists shared horror stories from their own experiences in the entertainment industry.  Sarah Gertrude Shapiro had been offered a lot of money for pictures of her and her girlfriend by a director.  Tara Armstrong had literally been told that she was never going to work in Hollywood again when she left a job after only a month because of an abusive boss.

Sera Gamble observed that disrespect for women often took place on a micro level in the workplace, where women often did not get sufficient credit for their contributions.  Unconscious bias still seems to be an issue along with sexism and ageism.

“Don’t mistake anger and assertiveness for emotion and hysterics!” said Jamie Denbo in closing.  And NEVER be afraid to speak up.  Work settings should always be considered a safe space for this.

So ONWARD, Wonder Women of entertainment!  Make this our best year yet.