‘Grace and Frankie’ Creator Marta Kauffman’s Advice to Women in TV: ‘Be Noisy’

TheWrap Emmy magazine: The prolific showrunner still regrets all those exposed breasts on her show “Dream On” in the early days of HBO

This story about Marta Kauffman first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

Marta Kauffman has been in the business — and around the block — enough to know how to get things done. So when she says it’s time to “demand respect,” we respect that demand.

“It is not going to be handed to us by many of the men in power. Not all, but many,” said Kauffman, who has been a prolific figure in Hollywood since the early 1990s, creating wildly popular shows like “Dream On,” “Friends” and most recently the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie,” about two women (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) who don’t particularly like each other but are unexpectedly thrown together after their husbands announce they are in love and getting married.

It’s a timely storyline from a showrunner who encourages women to “be noisy.”

“We wanted to do a story about women of a certain age and all the things — the true things — that go along with that,” she said. “Sexuality and health and children worrying about you, and all the stuff that goes along with being in your late 70s.”

Being “noisy,” admits Kauffman, is “easier said than done.” There were points in her own career, she added, when she wishes she had spoken up more. “There were moments I was very uncomfortable with in ‘Dream On,'” she said of the early ’90s HBO sitcom widely remembered for its envelope-pushing use of foul language and nudity.

“One of the things with HBO back then was you got to put stuff on that you couldn’t do on TV,” she said. “And honestly, with what you could do on network TV at the time, language and breasts were the thing. I can’t say I’m proud of the breast part.”

But by the time she was working on “Friends,” she felt confident and secure enough to stand up for herself — she once sent a basket full of tampons and pantyhose to a male executive at NBC who made judgments about “Friends” character Monica (Courtney Cox-Arquette) for sleeping with a guy on the first date. “To help him get in touch with his feminine side,” she said.

Telling more female-driven stories is a step toward helping rewire our conversations, Kauffman said. “TV is ahead of film, but not enough for me to get excited yet,” she added. “I want to see more stories from a female perspective.”

Read more of TheWrap Emmy magazine’s The Race Begins issue here.

EmmyWrap cover