Julie Plec, uber-showrunner of three CW series, had a confession: She’s a crier. In times of anger, frustration or disappointment, it’s easy for Plec to turn into a waterworks.
But holding back tears on the job has been one of the toughest things she’s experienced in her rapid rise to the ranks of top showrunners. “I hate that as a woman you feel like tears are such a sign of weakness. If you cry, it defines you as a woman: ‘She’s a crier,’ ” Plec said Tuesday during a Television Critics Assn. panel session featuring female showrunners and exec producers of CW series.
In a perfect world, men and women would be allowed to cry if that happens to be the emotional release they need at any given time. But that is not the case, she said. “You end up exposing your vulnerability in a way that makes you feel weak,” Plec said. “It’s where I’ve struggled the most” on the job.
Plec’s candor was echoed by Diane Ruggiero-Wright, showrunner of “iZombie.” She described situations where she strained physically to fight back tears that welled up. “You’ll be tainted with that stigma” if caught bawling on the set, she said. Ruggiero-Wright got a big laugh by adding: “I’m Italian, so I’ll cry but then I’ll also flip a table.”
The panel of eight women swapped stories about power struggles and condescending bosses, the difference between male and female scribes and the eternal search for work-life balance. The group marveled at the shift during the past few years in the atmosphere in writers rooms. Where women were once one or two members of a group of eight to 12 scribes, the exponential growth of series production has opened doors at all levels.
“Jane the Virgin” showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman underscored the shift by noting how she reached out to her agents as the show geared up for its second season with a predominantly female writing team. “I said ‘We need a man. Send me some,” she said.
The shows represented on the panel also underscored the lack of “chick show” pigeonholing in job opportunities that range from soaps to comedies to genre shows to period costumers. Gabrielle Stanton, exec producer of “The Flash,” said the question of whether she has what it takes to write a high-octane auctioneer never comes up. “I’ve done a lot of writing for characters that are aliens,” she said. “To this day I don’t know if they were male or female.”
The women were quick to credit the CW for an enlightened approach to hiring, especially at the top. “They treat us like showrunners, not like female showrunners,” said Laurie McCarthy of “Reign.”
One of the biggest differences that the panelists cited between women and men in writers rooms is that women are typically more focused on having a life outside of the job. Without getting too gender specific, Aline Brosh McKenna of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” noted that some people “rely on the workplace for more of their personal satisfaction. Women (often) want to go home to their lives.”
Other panelists agreed with Brosh McKenna’s point that effective showrunning that allows writers to keep a semblance of normal hours is healthy for all involved. “If you’re efficient you can strike that balance and allow the people who work with you to go out and have lives,” McCarthy said.
But there is no question that showrunning is a demanding job that is incredibly hard to juggling along with children, particularly young children. Snyder Urman said she purposely situated her “Jane the Virgin” office near her house in order to be able to go home at least for a few hours and be with her 4- and 5-year-old during dinner time before heading back to work.
“It’s the round-the-clockness of the job” that is the hardest adjustment, said Wendy Mericle, of “Arrow.” “Giving time to kids and giving time to the job that you love — it’s the challenge of balancing those two.”
The panelists agreed that women in positions of authority still have an obligation to help bring up the next generation by proactively hiring women writers and directors in particular. Caroline Dries, of “Vampire Diaries,” credited Plec as a mentor and champion for women through her troika of dramas: “Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals” and the upcoming midseason entry “Containment.”
“I always want to hire the best writers for the job,” Ruggiero-Wright said. “If all things are equal, if I have a choice between a man and a woman I’m going to support the sisterhood.”
(Pictured: Wendy Mericle, Diane Ruggiero-Wright, Caroline Dries, Julie Plec, Jennie Snyder Urman, Aline Brosh McKenna, Laurie McCarthy and Gabrielle Stanton)