Marti Noxon: How the television industry can better protect the writers of the upcoming toxic Showrunner (guest column)

As Matthew Weiner plots a drama for FX, Noxon, who backed Kater Gordon’s claims that the creator of ‘Mad Men’ sexually harassed her, offers nine suggestions for avoiding abuse in the workplace.

Emmy winner in late 2017 Crazy men Writer Kater Gordon accused the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, of sexual harassment. In a corroborated article, she alleged that while they were working together late one night in the old AMC drama, Weiner told her that she owed it to him to see her naked. A year later and after winning the Emmy, Gordon was fired from the critically acclaimed series. She has not worked in Hollywood since then. She recently founded the Modern Alliance charitable fund and joined the Hollaback board, two efforts dedicated to preventing and ending sexual harassment. Weiner, meanwhile, has repeatedly denied Gordon’s accusations, counting The New York Times in October 2018, “I have reasons why I don’t think I said it, if that makes sense, but I really don’t remember saying it.” Former Mad Men writer Marti Noxon in public Backed Gordon’s claims. Now, as Weiner tries to plan a comeback with a Disney-owned drama in development on FX, the two women watch go back to the experience and offer a plan on how to create a safer working environment so that history does not repeat itself. (FX rejected the comment).

One of the worst things about experiencing gender discrimination, harsh work environments, and sexual harassment during the many years of my career was that they generally believed me.

Let me repeat that. Most people absolutely believed me.

The stories I reported were in workplaces known for the type of abuse I was experiencing, or in the hands of people who had reputations for all kinds of misbehavior, and even illegal.

This issue isn’t unique to Hollywood, but it’s surely true that this city loves the “tough genius” myth almost as much as it loves male CEOs. And all too often, that dictates enabling abusive people and systems in the name of art. A writer friend familiar with the discrimination law put it best: “It is the rare industry that has such low responsibility that it attracts people who are unable or unwilling to work in environments that require it. It is a feature, not a mistake. “

And so, although they believed me, there was no response, or little more than a “conversation” with the perpetrator that amounted to a pat on the wrist. I heard “they’re having a hard time” or “I know, it’s horrible, but what can you do?” or “everyone hates it, but they are so talented” or “yes, it is horrible, but at least it is not as bad as working with …” And for the worst cases “yes, you can report. But the consequences could be that people are afraid to hire you again. ”

Even when I spoke to the companies I worked for, I could feel the brutal math of American companies at work: How much will it cost us to tackle this? And what can we lose if we do it? In the end, it was more profitable to roll the dice, expect everyone to come out alive, and do the bare minimum. Did I take the next step and hire a lawyer or report it to Human Resources? No. But it seemed pretty clear that doing it was being alone. He was not as brave or as powerful.

I bring this up in the wake of the firing of Peter Lenkov, the latest in a series of showrunners who were at the “open secret” club for being misogynistic and abusive, as well as FX’s recent decision to develop a new show with Matthew Weiner, a creator. who, as reported in The Information and other media outlets, has a corroborated past of sexual harassment and intimidation on her show, Crazy men.

I knew her story because she was one of the two women who spoke. The other was Kater Gordon.

When Mrs. Gordon bravely stepped forward, I felt galvanized and terrified. Not only did I remember what happened to her, I had my own troublesome experience with Matthew during my time on the show. So, as I have done before and as many of those who have been in equally toxic environments regularly do, I handled the mathematics of the marginalized: How much will it cost me, in my career and reputation, to tell the truth? And how much mental anguish will I face from dealing with detractors and slingers? To further complicate matters, I had been open about a period of alcohol relapse during my professional life, and although I was completely sober again, I was afraid that my story might be used against me.

Despite the calculations, I felt I had to address my experience, hoping to avoid others having to endure the same.

When the news about the show was announced, both Mrs. Gordon and I received calls from the media. How we feel? Do we want to comment? We talk at length about our feelings in light of the news, our concerns about re-addressing the issue, and how to proceed. We agree that while reviving this is difficult, we are still individually committed to changing the toxic crop that to this day is often left unchecked. We know that when someone is credibly accused and refuses to be responsible for their behavior, or attributes it to a reckless sense of humor, seeing them rewarded further discourages other victims or bystanders from speaking.

It appears that John Landgraf and FX have made the calculation and decided to go ahead with a project that could expose them and their employees to significant risk. What will you do to prevent the same behavior from happening again?

To create safer working conditions, Ms. Gordon and I consulted with various advocacy experts and organizations, including New America and Hollaback, and offer the following recommendations based on both our personal experience and good work. In the future, I promise to implement them in my productions and I encourage all studios to do so too:

• Assistants should only work in the writer’s room, production facility, or office, and when others are present.

• Ban alcohol and drugs in the workplace, as incidents of bullying, assault and disrespectful behavior increase.

• At least two members of a production must be present at hiring interviews for writers and support staff.

• Study staff must conduct exit interviews for anyone above the line who is fired from the program or leaves voluntarily. This will help reveal problems within production.

• Attendees and support staff must be paid a living wage that also incorporates each and every overtime worked. Lack of professional and financial security is discouraging and creates a dynamic in which one must choose to remain or submit to oppressive or exploitative behavior. (#PayUpHollywood)

• Have a succession plan prepared for a leadership change. Often companies are not prepared to protect their shows, and the jobs of their employees, in the event of reported and confirmed abuse.

• Require live or in-person spectator intervention training that addresses sexual harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and racism for all employees.

• Hire a neutral third-party reporting service, such as tEQuitable and AllVoices. These systems allow people to raise awareness about a problem in private and protect workers from retaliation.

• Pursuant to the law now passed in 13 states, including California and New York, NDAs must focus more strictly on protecting confidential business information rather than covering up bad business practices.

While we applaud the steps FX has taken to increase diversity and inclusion at the director and writer level, we call for the same resolution to bring together all of its employees and foster a healthy work environment. Providing opportunities is incredibly important, but ensuring that these opportunities are secure (in every way) is also critical. A serious commitment and responsibility of the studio to be part of the solution on all fronts is what this moment demands.

Because the math of feigned ignorance about workplace abuse comes at another cost: It can silence the voices that places like FX say they want to promote, both creatively and in the corporate culture.

When Kater and I spoke, many people in the industry told us, often in whispers, that they believed us.

Time for that to mean something.

Marti Noxon is a writer-producer whose television credits include Sharp Objects, Dietland, Mad Men, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey’s Anatomy and Joy. She made her film directorial debut with 2017. Down to the bone. Kater Gordon won an Emmy for writing on Crazy men. She founded the Modern Alliance Charitable Fund and is a member of the Hollaback Board of Directors.