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Gender Watch: The Firing of Community's Dan Harmon

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by Melissa Silverstein
May 24, 2012 11:52 AM
3 Comments
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I have been watching with interest all week the press regarding the firing of Dan Harmon the creator and showrunner of Community after three seasons.  The whole incident would have passed without a big blip if Dan Harmon hadn't taken to his blog with a screed directed at the studio Sony, and the network NBC.  It's become such a story that the studio had to create talking points for the cast to help them deal with all the questions.

People who follow TV know that showrunners and creators get fired.  It's never pretty and it's usually not very public except for a release saying so and so has taken over for so and so on so and so show.  Regular folks who watch TV don't really have the time or the interest to care about a showrunner.  But things have changed about our knowledge of the people behind our favorite TV shows since social media became so pervasive as veteran TV creator and showrunner Ken Levine wrote on his blog:

Networks have been firing showrunners for years. You just never heard about it. Before social networks and the internet, showrunners were essentially invisible. Just names in the credits. Now showrunners have become quasi-celebrities themselves, which I think is a good thing.

I want to talk about the showrunner as quasi-celebrity thing.  It's pretty much a boy thing.  The biggest female showrunner is Shonda Rhimes and let's just say I have never read a single thing about her that spews attitude.  If you read her tweets she answers questions from fans and tweets about other people's shows she likes. 

It seems to me that social media has created a platform for these uber male personalities to strut their stuff in a much more public way. I'm sure they were asses in the 70s, 80s and 90s but now the assholes show their true colors to us regularly.   Here are just a few examples: Matthew Weiner and his salary demands; the craziness that went on with Chuck Loree and Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men; Kurt Sutter's ridiculous use of twitter and I could go on and on.   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.

Maybe Dan Harmon, who seems to have dug himself a big hole to climb out of, will end up ok and will create another show and all this will be water under the bridge.  Maybe.  Reports are that people are calling him for meetings.  So maybe his tirade will land him an even better gig.  Who knows?  The point is that a woman could never, ever get away with this behavior and even be considered for another show.  She will be labeled a trouble maker and not worth it.   And I wonder if a woman would even think about doing what Harmon did, consequences aside.

I just wish these guys would all just grow up. 

The New Girls (NY Magazine)

The Hard Truths Behind Dan Harmon’s Community Ousting (Vulture)

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3 Comments

  • cgeye | May 26, 2012 6:42 AMReply

    If you haven't read any female showrunners blogs that discuss their mistreatment, general or not, then you haven't looked for them.

    Start with Seriocity, and scroll down for the female names on her blog roll -- and we should be protesting women showrunners' *inability* to be honest about their jobs (which are still based in the white-male-dominated competitive models of the writers' room and studio/network notes), rather than bitterly envy male showrunners suffering from too much ego, publicly expressed. Aren't we supposed to be honest, if we're to change things?

  • Female Showrunner | May 24, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    Chuck Lorre is on the record as saying "he can't stand the sound of female voices" which is why he will only hire a female token low level writer for the writers room on any of his shows.

    Female showrunners like Carol Mendohlson or Shonda Rhimes (who have the biggest shows/franchises on network TV) aren't sexy to the male media. Writers like Matt Zoller Seitz and others go through the roof about male showrunners on their TV blogs.

    It's all very screwed up. Women are marginalized at every turn. A woman who stands up for her vision gets labeled difficult. A bitch. Guys get praise and awe. A woman with a low rated show has a stinker and a guy has a cult hit. Tina Fey because she's so talented and came up in a boys club is the only showrunner who has the praise she so rightly deserves on a low rated but award winning show.

  • Linn | May 24, 2012 12:27 PMReply

    Melissa, I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. Historically showrunners have regularly been mistreated by networks/studios. I think the social media is providing a way to hold a mirror up to that bad behavior. And I think that's always a good thing. To expose mistreatment of any kind. (for example, the recent exposure/fight against using children as soldiers, etc.) Now as far as poor behavior on the showrunner's part, I think it's unfair to assume all men are pigs and all women take the highroad. I'm sure someday very soon, a woman will misbehave and there will be consequences. (some good, some bad) There probably already is an example, you've just not heard about it because to stay completely up-to-date would require you to never sleep and read the internet constantly... (and read through old archived trades like Hollywood Reporter, etc.) And for the record, having a showrunner become a quasi-celebrity is probably a good thing, USED WISELY. It means they have power. Power to convince the executives that audiences are interested in what the showrunner is creating. More showrunners (women and men) should probably try and use this to their advantage. By creating a demand for their product in advance, showrunners would be able to show the network there's an audience hungry for the product. Hurry up and make it. That would excite any business, to have a guaranteed consumer at the end of the process.

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