With the Emmy Awards on Sunday, the WGA last night hosted a “Sublime Primetime” discussion with writers from nominated shows, who, among other things, spoke on the topic of female-driven content in the new age of television. Panelist onstage at the Writers Guild Theater included Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg (The Americans’), Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck (Veep), Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shaprio (UnReal), Carolyn Omine (The Simpsons) and Alex Rubens (Key & Peele). Better Call Saul star Bob Obenkirk led the talk.
“I have a bunch of things going on right now, and every single one of those shows I don’t think I could’ve sold five years ago,” remarked Noxon, whose projects have “incredibly flawed female characters at the center of it.” She acknowledge that new TV landscape had “open the door” for more female-centric content. “It’s an amazing time in television.” She also gave props to her counterparts. “There are a lot of male writers that have written some great female characters. It shouldn’t be the domain of one gender, and it isn’t.” Omine is the only woman writer on her show but doesn’t feel that the female characters are stifled. “I think [the character] Lisa is the one that most of the guys [on staff] relate to.”
Ruben chimed, garnering applause: “Just in general, there needs to be way more diversity in writers rooms. It’s not just about men and women.” His answer to writing for people who don’t look like him is to “aim for the common humanity.”
Gregory offered his own two cents. “As dudes who write for a show with a female lead, I would say you treat every character as a unique set of agendas and fears and that the gender doesn’t even factor into it.” But he pointed out that it can be a lose-lose situation “because at some point you’ll get called out for not being to write for women no matter what.” He added, “We directed a movie with an actor named Leslie Bibb whose favorite epithet was ‘shitballs.’ So we wrote a pilot where a woman said shitballs and the woman exec looked at us and said we might need to have a woman oversee us because no woman would ever say shitballs. Even when we told her, she didn’t believe us.” Gregory insisted that “it can be done, but you will not be trusted to do it.”
Outside of that, most of the conversation revolved around the past seasons of their respective shows.
Kraszewski, whose People v. O.J. Simpson nabbed 22 Emmy noms, shared that they “worried that people wouldn’t care or [the show] would be seen as just a period piece.” The show’s relevance became more apparent after “horrible events like the death of Eric Garner and people like that and then Black Lives Matter happened, and all of the sudden it didn’t feel like a period piece at all. It felt like the stuff Johnny Cochran was talking about.” With “the 24-hour media and the gender stuff with Marcia Clark,” which Kraszewski compared to criticisms made toward Hilary Clinton, “it all felt like it was really speaking to what’s happening right now.”
As for the writers first-time behind Outstanding Drama Series nominee The Americans, “We cashed in on a lot of early investments” Fields said of Season 4. “It was a fun season to write because it was a lot of stuff we had been waiting for. Added Weisberg about the series, which recently was renewed for its last two seasons: “Our show generally moves along a glacial pace. People say the show is a slow burn, but the slow burn picked up like 10% this season.”
To which Odenkirk’s qupped, “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh — this show is slower than mine!'”