When Variety began looking into two CBS Human Resources investigations into Brad Kern, the showrunner of “NCIS: New Orleans,” an obvious question was whether his alleged behavior was part of a pattern. Did that pattern extend back to his days as showrunner of WB’s “Charmed”?
According to former staffers who worked for Kern there — including Krista Vernoff, who is now the showrunner of “Grey’s Anatomy” — there was allegedly troubling behavior in that workplace as well. Given that actor, producer and activist Alyssa Milano, one of the stars of “Charmed” and a producer of the show for five years, has been vocal about issues related to sexual harassment and assault, it made sense to reach out to her. (Kern has declined to comment on these allegations.)
Here’s what Milano had to say about working with Kern, the entertainment industry culture, and the reforms that could help all employees and artists feel safe, respected and protected.
We’ve learned that Kern was investigated twice by H.R. for alleged misconduct. What was your experience working with him?
First of all, I’m sick over this. Second of all, obviously this is part of the purging that needs to happen through the Me Too movement and women finding their voice and standing up and supporting each other. But having said that, we were in a situation — and maybe it was by design, I have no idea — but we never saw our writers or knew where the writer’s room was or where Brad was. They were in a completely different building — I think it was the Spelling building, and we shot at Paramount. And it was so bad that sometimes we couldn’t even get him on the phone. Holly [Marie Combs] and I produced the last five years of the show, and when we would try to get him on the phone, we couldn’t get him. When we would get him on the phone, he wouldn’t have the script in front of him, so we just assumed he wasn’t in the office.
We didn’t have an on-set producer so Holly [Marie Combs] and I took on that role. We would make on-set adjustments, because there was no one on set to make those adjustments. And Brad was the showrunner, so he ran the writer’s room. I don’t think that it was necessarily a bad way of doing it, because the show was on for eight years, but there were definitely moments where, as actors who also produced, we would look for dialogue changes and we were always very conscious about getting approval for them, and we were not able to get Brad on the phone. That was the extent of our interaction with him other than the few times he came down to the set for celebratory purposes — when we reached our 150th episode, or when we wrapped the final season. It was definitely a disconnect.
So clearly, I had no clue that was going on. In our working environment, the first, second and third names on the call sheet were all women. We ran a very fair set environment, and it breaks my heart that anything that was happening over in that writer’s room was not [respectful], especially on a show about female empowerment.
There were women who recently worked for him who talked about him allegedly making a breast-feeding mother feel ashamed and singled out.
That’s a whole other thing that I’ve also fought for — being able to breastfeed, not only in public but on the job as a working mom. I mean, [the workplace] is also a breastfeeding issue, and how we’ve completely sexualized breasts to the extent that we forget what they’re really for. These are among the things that we as collective group as women are fighting for right now.
According to one writer who worked on “Charmed,” he would allegedly call a female executive “Tits McGee.” He allegedly told the female writers that they should write while nude because that would improve their writing.
It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable. It’s totally unacceptable, because it’s not only sexual harassment, it’s bullying. That to me is like something that you would do if you were a bully in high school trying to shut someone up.
This is part of a bigger systemic issue, what I’ve been trying to be so vocal about. This is not just our industry. This happens everywhere and it’s awful, and it is the patriarchy, where the system was built to make people fear coming forward, or to make it acceptable that in a writers’ room, someone can do this to a woman. And it really upsets me.
I do think things are going to change. I do have hope that through this collective ache that we’re feeling in our industry will change the industry, and this collective ache that we’re feeling globally will change the world. I do have faith.
Speaking of “Charmed,” did you ever feel that the tone of the show changed? So much of it was about women who supported each other and were empowered and literally had powers. But did you ever feel that there was a sexist attitude creeping in to some of the scripts or the storytelling?
No. I don’t think that. I would have to go back and read the scripts, but I never felt that while I was shooting. I thought that there was always a push to have us dressed in a way that was showing skin, but that’s the way we were portrayed at that time. We were sexualized, and that was something that was happening all over the business. I don’t think that was unique to “Charmed” or Brad.
To me, one big question is, what are our unions are doing to protect women? The WGA, SAG, the DGA. What are unions doing? I mean, “Charmed” was what, 20 years ago? How can this can be going on with one particular person for 20 years and yet the behavior can still happen? And it takes an intense gender equality movement for things to change.
This is the activist in me. When are we going to put in place some kind of protocol where women and men can go to their union and file these complaints, and there is some kind of code of conduct? And things are investigated and there’s some sort of action that can be taken to, not only stop it, but to prevent it from happening in the future. There’s nothing in place that actually allows us to report [these problems] and figure out who is the poison and eliminate the poison.
Given that you’re an activist and you’ve been an actor in the industry for years, and you’ve been vocal in this movement for change, what would you say to men and women in the entertainment industry about what they can do?
They’ve got to go to their union. The studios need to come down on it harder on H.R. If Human Resources is just ignoring that there are issues, because a certain person keep things on schedule and keep their budgets in line — because mind you, this is all about money. Any studio — it’s not about ethics. What is above that? There’s nothing in place. This is not only Hollywood. There’s nothing in place for Wall Street. There’s nothing in place for the health-care industry. Who do we go to above the people who pay us for our work? Who is it? I think it’s got to be the unions. The unions have to protect people.
The thing I would tell people is, I’m sorry you’re getting screwed by the studio — have you gone to the union and filed a complaint? And if the unions are not listening, then we need to blow the roof off that.
The reason why this [harassment] conversation is so important right now is because we have a very small window of opportunity to really make effective, lasting, meaningful change. And where Hollywood goes, the state of California goes. Where the state of California goes, the country goes. Where our country goes, the entire world goes. So we have a certain responsibility — and when I say we, I mean all of our unions, all of our studios, all of our executives — anyone in a position of power has a responsibility to really fix this problem.
It’s so important, because Hollywood tells us the story of who we are — as people and as women.
Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. By the way, I think that TV does it much better than in the film industry, and in part, that’s because of money too. Women are the consumers of the family, advertising always caters to women, and we make the decisions in our households. So we — the actresses in this industry — are in a position of power because of those things. Television has told amazing, beautiful stories about women, and I think that we should continue to do that — continue to show strong women.
I like to think “Charmed” had something to do with that change. We were, at the time, the longest-running show with female leads. It was all about female empowerment, and there weren’t many shows like that, except maybe “Cagney & Lacey” and “Buffy” around that time. But we have to do more, and we have to do it better, and television is such a huge part of that.
Look, I’m doing a Netflix show right now [“Insatiable”]. Our showrunner is a woman. We’ve had two female directors so far, and there are more coming up. Television still has work to do, but television is [less exclusionary] than film, and that’s why you see so many film actors coming over and making the crossover to TV. That never would have happened 10 years ago, but that’s why you see Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon doing television. It’s because we are able to tell these complex stories of women.