Three women running current TV and streaming series took stock of progress as well as lingering paradoxes in an entertainment industry that is still processing both the #MeToo movement and the economic change wrought by the streaming boom.
Asked during the panel at SeriesFest if anything has changed in the years since the industry’s initial reckoning with sexual abuse and assault as well as toxic work environments, Sierra Teller Ornelas, showrunner of Peacock series Rutherford Falls replied, “I don’t think so.” She did go on to say she has observed a “slow kind of incline.” In 2010, she said, even though, “the jokes you could tell the things you could talk about the stuff you could say, you just don’t do that now.”
Ornelas was joined by Daisy Gardner, showrunner of Freeform’s Single Drunk Female and Robin Veith, who now runs Candy on Hulu. Denver’s SeriesFest is marking its in-person return with this year’s eighth annual edition, wrapping up Tuesday.
Gardner says her personal observation is that things have improved, but largely because “I have my own show.” Being the boss, though, has brought about certain ironies. After battling in a male-dominated field, now “I’m old and now I’m the handsy grouper harasser, where I’m like, ‘Oh no! I can’t say that.’ Like, like where I’ll just see like some 24-year-old’s face, it will be like, ‘Right, we don’t do that. We don’t say that. Thank you so much.”” On a less sardonic note, she added, “It’s getting better and there’s an awareness and the cool thing is I think there are people at studios and networks who are making a concerted effort to change and to make structural changes so that people are in leadership positions of power.”
Veith, an Emmy-winning writer for Mad Men, said the streaming boom has added extra complexity to issues like pay equity because the economics are so starkly different from the long-entrenched linear ones. “We’ve created this environment where there’s all this opportunity, you can do all this stuff,” she said. “But there’s a strong probability that as a showrunner, you end up making less money than your staff writer.”
While none of the three panelists spoke with affection or nostalgia for some of the indignities of their climb up the ladder, they also emphasized that making connections with their fellow underlings proved crucial. Today, the streaming model has made it possible for young writers to rise quickly, given the vast hunger for content. But the sheen of streaming can be an illusion.
“As a creator, when the tech comes into something, like salaries go down,” Gardner said. The tradeoff, she added, is being able to benefit from an influx of new buyers vying for a larger volume of shows. Even in these boom times, she said she often wonders, “Will I see movement on any of them? I have no idea. It seems like a lot of the development model for streaming has turned into like a movie model where it could just take years and drag on and drag on while they’re still holding you so you can do other things.”