EXCLUSIVE: I’ve learned that Lifetime formally notified Disney’s ABC Studios that prominent TV and film producer Mark Gordon six weeks ago used the word “nigger” twice during a table read of the pilot for the Army Wives spinoff. He did it in front of cast and crew — including two African-American actresses, pilot lead Gabrielle Union and Army Wives series regular Wendy Davis. “Lifetime took all appropriate steps and notified the studio that this is a situation that needs to be dealt with,” an executive tells me.
In turn, a ABC exec informs me, “it was dealt with appropriately. I can’t go beyond that.”
Gordon issued this statement to me: “I feel terrible about this. It was a stupid lapse in judgment. I didn’t meant [sic] to offend anyone, and I’ve apologized to everyone involved.”
Gordon, who is white, has a deal with ABC Studios. He not only is executive producer of Army Wives and one of ABC Studios’ busiest TV producers, but also executive producer of the series Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice with African American showrunner Shonda Rhimes. It was ABC Studios that first put them together because Rhimes had no showrunner experience. As a film producer, Gordon has worked with Steven Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan, Roland Emmerich on 10,000 BC, Mel Gibson on The Patriot, and Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock on Speed.
I’ve confirmed these details: At the table read, there was a scene in the script that had one character putting a gun to another character’s head. At that point, Mark Gordon stood up and started acting out what he said was a scene from Blazing Saddles. An eyewitness says he grabbed the person next to him in a headlock (Gordon claims he grabbed himself in the headlock) and shouted “I’m going to kill you nigger… nigger.” It shocked everyone in the room, “especially Union and Davis”, according to an eyewitness. “He offended the whole room. There was strong reaction to it,” an executive tells me. “He did apologize right after. Then folks who were there reported him to Lifetime HR [Human Resources] who then reported him to ABC Studios HR.” Said a Lifetime exec, “There’s nothing we can do about it. He works for ABC Studios.”
Several sources who know Gordon well inform me that he “likes to joke around” and “this was stupid and just a lapse in judgment”. One executive bluntly tells me, “He’s an ass.” ABC Studios claims it has not received any complaints about previous Gordon behavior. But I’ve confirmed that the producer requires employees of his company to sign non-disclosure agreements and recently updated them. However, an email alerting me to the table read incident makes this accusation: “The studio and network both found out about it but, in the end, everything was swept under the rug. The studio and network just paid lip service to ‘disciplining’ Mark Gordon and just moved on… As an African American who works in some capacity around the show, I cannot believe that this type of behavior is allowed. He says the most absolutely offensive things on a daily basis.”
Gordon’s publicist forwarded this scene from 1974’s Blazing Saddles using the N-word that he claims he was acting out. The men running a corrupt Old West town where almost everyone is named Johnson point their guns at the new sheriff, an African-American named Bart (played by Cleavon Little). The men call him the N-word. Bart then points his own pistol at his own head and uses the N-word about himself. This is video of the full scene: