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

TCA 2018: “We have been thinking before we speak for a really long f—ing time, so maybe it’s [men’s] turn?

Lifetime showrunner TCA
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Lifetime’s scripted programming slate boasts the notable achievement of being made up entirely of shows created by and run by women, and in the #MeToo era, those women say it makes a difference in the work environment.

“We absolutely have created a safe space in our writers room, on our set and with our actors,” said “UnReal” showrunner Stacy Rukeyser at the Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday. “[But] when you’ve got a couple hundred people working on a show, stuff comes up.

“I am really proud of the way that we have handled things, and our studio and our network have been incredibly supportive,” she said.

Rukeyser was appearing on a panel alongside the network’s other female showrunners and creators, including “UnReal” co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, “Mary Kills People’s” Tara Armstrong, “You” showrunner Sera Gamble and “American Princess” creator Jamie Denbo.

“There’s such a spectrum of behavior that we’re talking about. The illegal acts that are being exposed, it’s easy to know what to do about those,” Rukeyser said. But when it comes to the less clear-cut cases, things get tricky.

“Dan Harmon’s apology, for example, I thought was incredible because he was willing to talk about how he feels about women in general. And he said, ‘None of this would have been possible if I had any respect for women,’” Rukeyser said. “And I was shocked by that, so grateful that he was saying it out loud, because now at least we can start from a place of truth.”

Echoing Rukeyser, Gamble said that it’s not just objectionable actions, but people’s attitude toward women in general — and its cumulative effect over time — can have a silencing and ostracizing effect.

“It’s really the microaggressions,” she said. “The small ways that things are over explained, the way credit is dispensed in a room. I think there are small slights that happen in unevolved rooms and places, and over time that does wear people down. It silences them.”

But Gamble cautioned that “unconscious bias is something that’s not limited to any one gender. And I think this movement has to go so far beyond women.”

“The men are nervous, and I’m so sorry that they are, but there’s a consciousness that’s coming with a pre-thought situation,” Denbo said, noting that women tend to be more tentative in offering their opinions or otherwise asserting themselves in the workplace.

“We have been thinking before we speak for a really long f–ing time, so maybe it’s your turn?”

When asked what specific steps they’ve taken on their shows to create a work environment safer and more comfortable for women, Rukesyer said she views it as her obligation to lift up others in the business.

Shapiro said “UnReal” has instituted a policy in its writer’s room that calls for all voices to “amplify each other,” meaning young, new voices are given their due and credit is assigned appropriately.

“I believe that when you foster that vibe in a room, you just get the best work,” added Armstrong.

Denbo, for her part, will take a different approach on her show: “We’re just going to install a policy where you jack off before you come to work. Never at work.”