How Hollywood blurs the line between workplace jokes and harassment
Hollywood writer's rooms are notorious boys clubs: men often outnumber the women by 8 to 1. Nell Scovell has been defying that statistic her entire career.
Nell Scovell is a television and magazine writer, producer, director and collaborator on the #1 New York Times bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. She is the creator of the televisions series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and her TV writing credits include The Simpsons, Coach, Monk, Murphy Brown, Charmed and NCIS. She has directed two movies for cable television and an episode of MTV’s Awkward11 June, 2018
Nell Scovell: So in 2006 an assistant who worked on Friends, a writer’s assistant, sued the show for harassment. I think it was... it wasn’t physical/sexual harassment. I think it was verbal harassment. And what that show was able to prove to the judge was that all that lewd talk in the room did sometimes lead to story ideas.
I think there was a story where Ross is like masturbating when one of the women walks in, and he switches the channel so it looks like he’s masturbating to a shark video. And that starts a whole thing, and that came out of people in the room talking about jerking off. So in that sense the TV writers’ room isn’t like most workplaces, and that’s I think sometimes hard for people outside to understand; that it can get personal and it can get weird and sexual, and sometimes all three things at the same time.
But the judge said that the assistant had not been in any danger and that they could justify this language.
People have, I think, misread that in Hollywood to mean “you can say anything you want in the room,” which is not true.
And I think if you want to have a non-hostile work environment you obviously have to be aware of other people’s feelings and levels of comfort and making sure that everybody, you know, feels that the show is mission-based and you’re all working hard to make the best, funniest episode you can.
When you’re on a set you know the difference when a crew member brushes by you because you’re in some tight cranny and when a crew member presses up against you in a sexual way. And I feel the writers’ room it’s the same thing.
I know when someone I work with is making a joke—is just commenting on a woman’s body in order to make a joke or a man’s body in order to make a joke—and when it gets threatening.
So I’ve gotten more vocal as I’ve gotten older at going to people outside the writers’ room and saying, “Okay, that made me feel uncomfortable.”
Now the problem with that is Hollywood is one of those places where if someone acts inappropriately and you call them on it, YOU’RE the asshole. So that’s one of the things that I would love to see change, where you could tell someone, “That made me feel uncomfortable,” and instead of them being defensive and saying, “I was joking,” they just went “Oh, well thank you for telling me. I’ll be more aware of that in the future.”
Hollywood writer's rooms are notorious boys clubs: men often outnumber the women by 8 to 1. TV writer Nell Scovell has defied that depressing statistic her entire career. She's written for an incredible list of shows: Friends, Late Night with David Letterman, The Simpsons, just to name a few. Here, she talks about a time in the Friends room where a lewd joke was taken a little too far — but also sparked an idea for an entire episode of the show. Nell's new book is the hilarious and illuminating Just the Funny Parts: ...And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boy's Club.
The best-selling author tells us his methods.
- James Patterson has sold 300 million copies of his 130 books, making him one of the most successful authors alive today.
- He talks about how some writers can overdo it by adding too much research, or worse, straying from their outline for too long.
- James' latest book, The President is Missing, co-written with former President Bill Clinton, is out now.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
It's the first time the association hasn't hired a comedian in 16 years.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.