You know when you start a book and you immediately get sucked in and you can't stop reading? That awesome feeling that's like no other? That's what happened with me and Primetime Princess. It's not a story for everyone, but it's a story for people, especially women, trying to make it in the entertainment business. It's about a female TV executive Alexa Ross who is on her way up in a male dominated industry. She has to be better than the guys, let shit roll off her back, know that she is not getting invited to stuff by the guys and just must keep going. This novel (which has got to be based on Ms. DeKoven's experience as a TV executive) is the first book I've read about the industry that lays out the sexism in such a blatant manner. It's visceral and awful. But it feels real. The theme of the shit that women go through in this business is the prominent of the book. But don't think it's a feminist diatribe. It's also got a lot of emotion and I really got into the character of Alexa. If you need a good read for your holiday break, I recommend this book.
Lindy (who is a Women and Hollywood reader) answered some questions about the book for us.
Women and Hollywood: What made you decide to write a novel?
Lindy DeKoven: Well it came about rather unexpectedly. I had enrolled in a Women's Fiction Writing Class through UCLA Extension. I had no idea what I was going to write, but figured I had some time to think about it. However, the first chapter was due the following week. Fortunately, I've worked under pressure my entire career and had to adhere to many deadlines. So I sat down and began writing, and Primetime Princess came pouring out.
WaH: You had a very successful career as a TV executive, and TV has changed so much in recent times with the rise of reality shows, what do you think about what network TV has become?
LDK: Network television continues its struggle to break out of the clutter. A tired phrase, but that's what it's about. However, broadcast networks require a broadcaster at the helm. And too few executives have had that experience. Broadcasters program for a mass audience. The shows must have wide interest with universal themes and appeal to the collective unconsciousness of its audience. Today broadcasters chase cable's niche hits, which makes no sense. It's completely off brand. Broadcast networks simply need to listen to and understand their own audience and the hits will come.
WaH: TV, unlike movies, is a place where we see strong women in leading roles. Yet, the behind the scenes are just fucking awful. (I know your book is a novel but we've all heard the stories.) Talk about how women who want to be successful can survive and thrive in such a misogynistic environment?
LDK: The question for women has always been do I alter my behavior to fit into this culture? For some it works and others it doesn't. But the organization isn't going to adapt to you; you have to adapt to it. We often hear how rough the entertainment business can be, and why one needs a thick skin, and that it's a business of rejection and resilience. For women, in particular, much of that is just code for misogynistic and inappropriate behavior. But like it or not, it exists. In Primetime Princess the heroine, Alexa Ross, deals with it as best she can because that's the environment she's working in, and she does her best to adapt. I think that's all women can do; study the culture and try to adapt.
WaH: OK, the cover. I've seen so many books about women who are strong with stiletto heels. Was that your decision?
LDK: Funny you should ask that! Given my experience working at a broadcast network, I came to understand the importance of research and marketing and the desire to reach the largest audience. Suffice to say, in the world of publishing stiletto heels is da' woman!
WaH: Did you have a nemesis like Jerry Kellner in your work world?
LDK: I think we all have encountered at least one...
WaH: I was really surprised that you kept the pedal on the gender politics all the way through to the end of the book. Lots of people would have created a happy ending without the real feminist political moment (I'm not giving it away.) What did you want to show by that?
LDK: I'm a strong believer that if women would get their act together and start reaching out and helping other women that life would be a lot easier for us. That was the sentiment I wanted to impart. In the end it's up to us. We can engage in healthy competition AND support each another. The two can co-exist. But we need to actively mentor the women coming up, and encourage those in positions of power to be like the men and hire – if not mirror images of themselves – at least other women. We need to see women helping one another. That it's not a pipe dream. I think it's incumbent on all of us to step outside our comfort zone and make it happen.
WaH: Why in 2013 are people still allowed to get away with such egregious behavior?
LDK: Well, one reason is fear. Fear that the person reporting the behavior will be re-victimized by being fired or demoted so the incidents are not reported. This exists in every business. And then there are some senior managers who commit serious infractions in the workplace. They are fired with great fanfare. But then quietly, some months later, they're back at the helm of another important company. It's hard to believe that there are just a few who can lead organizations effectively. Instead of hiring the same person to do the same job at another company, one would hope that maybe a woman would be offered the position. It's often a stretch opportunity and certainly better than continuing to reward bad behavior.
WaH: How can people who are not in the TV business relate to some of these incredibly awful people?
LDK: A story about a young woman struggling to survive and thrive in a male dominated workplace is a universal theme and that's why I chose to write about it. I think it's important for women to know that they aren't alone, that other women in other businesses face similar challenges. And those women who are senior managers aren't necessarily the ball-busting stereotypes depicted in movies like Working Girl and Devil Wears Prada. That in fact, women who hold powerful positions can be vulnerable and insecure like everyone else as they too, struggle with the choices they make. And because they've likely endured a similar career path, many are eager to help their female colleagues navigate the sometimes treacherous waters.
WaH: If you had to go back and do it over, what would you do differently in your work as a TV executive?
LDK: I'm especially proud of the films, Women of Independent Means, Serving in Silence, The Odyssey, and Gulliver's Travels. But I wish we had done more. We had a very powerful platform and attracted a huge audience for those big events. But more importantly, we offered our viewers interesting classics and issue oriented subject matter. I hope those days aren't over. I really believe the audience wants to be entertained and enlightened. They enjoy learning and discovering new subjects. I don't believe we're a culture desperately fixated on mind numbing reality television. I just don't think networks set the bar high enough.
WaH: What's next for you?
LDK: When I'm not wasting time on Facebook and Twitter or distracted by a Google news alert, I'm hunkered down in the writing cave working on the next book which is due in a few months…I better get crackin'!
Lindy DeKoven is a seasoned television executive, producer and author. As Executive Vice President of Movies and Miniseries for NBC Entertainment and NBC Productions, DeKoven oversaw projects such as the Emmy award-winning "Merlin," "Gulliver's Travels," "The Odyssey," "Serving In Silence" and many more. She has served as a television executive at Disney and Warner Brothers and was Executive Producer of a CBS sitcom and numerous comedy and drama pilots under a deal at CBS/Paramount. She was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the California Commission on the Status of Women, which she chaired for several years, and to the California Film Commission, where she continues to serve.