It’s been just about two months since the revelations about producer Andrew Kreisberg’s misconduct came to light, leading to his dismissal from his role as showrunner of “The Flash” and “Supergirl.”
In an extensive interview with Variety in his office on the Warner Bros. lot, it’s clear Greg Berlanti — whose Berlanti Productions banner oversees those series, among others — is still coming to terms with what he might have done differently. (Kreisberg has denied the allegations.) With 10 series in production across broadcast, cable, and streaming, along with directing an upcoming movie, “Love, Simon” (based on the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”), Berlanti has been juggling the demands of those multiple productions alongside addressing the workplace issues raised by the Kreisberg reports.
There’s been rampant speculation about what Berlanti knew and when, and whether he protected the producer. But while Berlanti says he was aware of Kreisberg’s anger management issues, and had worked with the producer to resolve them, he says he only learned of the sexual harassment complaints — and the full extent of his misconduct — a week before Variety’s story broke.
“I was shocked, I was disappointed, I was confused,” says Berlanti. “But my overwhelming desire then and to this moment was how can I fix this, how can I help people that may have been hurt in any way. That is still the predominant feeling I have about all of it. So that supersedes all of the other feelings and emotions.”
Here, Berlanti opens up to Variety about how he’s going to combat the problem going forward, his plans for parity behind and in front of the camera, and what other projects he has in development.
When did you first learn what was going on with Kreisberg?
I first received an allegation about Andrew and harassment about a week before the Variety article came out. It was from a third party, not affiliated with any of the shows, who called me and shared something with me that I found deeply upsetting. I immediately alerted Warner Brothers. They had just heard the same thing and decided they were going to begin an internal investigation right away. The article came out and brought other things to light. Immediately Sarah [Schechter, head of Berlanti Productions] and I went around to all the writer’s rooms and post rooms and up to the sets and encouraged everyone to report anything that they had known or seen and that they were safe to report it. [Warner Bros. TV] completed their investigation and shared the findings with us and then made their determination [to fire Kreisberg]. And we agreed with it.
How has the mood been on the sets and in writers’ rooms since?
I have to say I think everything’s been so much more open and positive. I think everyone, everywhere we went really saw this crisis as an opportunity to — myself included — to create an incredibly positive place to work. This is particularly disappointing to me that it happened. Because in my career, I really prided myself on creating, I thought, really positive places for individuals to work. And specifically my favorite thing about my job was working with writers in writers’ rooms. So the fact that this happened there was really upsetting and disappointing. But again, I see it as an opportunity to learn and to grow and to do my part to work even harder to make sure that I’m creating the kind of atmosphere and environment that I thought that I was.
What policies and procedures have you put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Well, I’ve been reading everything I can. I’ve said this before, and prior to this issue coming up in the industry, that it’s such a fascinating thing that showrunners get handed these $40, $50, $60 million companies without any human resources experience. And so you’re learning how to be a creative boss, a creative leader, you’re learning budgets, you’re learning how to manage people and personalities. I’ve been looking really closely at things we can do now to improve the systems that were already in place that I thought were more effective than they were. One, for instance: We always do entry interviews and advocate to all of our showrunners different writers that we would like them to hire. Now we’re instituting as a company [a rule that] if a writer gets let go from any of our shows, we’re going to do our own exit interview with them as well. I’m going to do anonymous performance reviews at the end of every season that get submitted to all the departments that showrunners are in charge of directly — the post [production] department and all of the writers on each of the shows — so that they can let us know what we can be doing better and not have it be attributable to them. Hopefully I’ll find out more stuff from that about what we can be doing better as a company, and that people will feel safe to criticize. And finally the number one thing I feel like it’s my responsibility to do is to create a culture that’s really working with Warner Brothers and human resources so that people feel safe to report [misconduct].
What are you going to do personally? Beyond putting H.R. procedures in place, how can you make yourself more available so that people feel like they can come to you?
I didn’t realize the degree to which people I think I am [unapproachable]. You are interfacing with so many people all day long across all the shows, and people are sharing stuff with you and talking to you about this problem or that thing. So I really thought I was being communicative and open, but I didn’t realize the degree to which people felt like I was a person in a tower who was unapproachable in some way. And so that’s on me. I have to make more calls, set up more lunches, have more dinners, fly up more to Vancouver in particular. It’s on me to reach out more to them and to let them know that I’m here and I’m available. And that’s been happening. I’ve been getting a lot more calls. I’m getting more e-mails and calls and check-ins from people across the shows. I didn’t get into this business to have multiple shows. I got in this business because I love telling stories and I love working with people. And so I never want the fact that we have so much stuff going on to prohibit me from doing the things I love the most.
What have you learned from the experience?
I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that I never want to get away from being more directly involved as much as possible with the people that I’m working with and the shows that I’m working on. And to keep the lines of communication open. One thing I’ve learned is as approachable as you may think you are as a boss or as long as you may have worked with someone that it’s really scary for people to come in your office and report or talk about things that they’ve been going through that they thought were inappropriate. I want to work as hard as I can to reinforce my own values and to find ways that, even as the shows and our responsibilities broaden that people know who I am. And know what my values are and what I stand for and that everyone on any show that we’re affiliated with feels respected safe, inspired. And feels like their work is going to be judged on its merits and nothing else. That we’re doing everything we can to create a culture that is reflective of who we are as people and the kind of workplace that I would want to work in if I were a baby writer today. I’ve learned that you can think you’re doing those things and still you can be working harder to do those things. And that if you really feel that way, then that should be your number one priority.
Part of the problem has been the lack of women in leadership roles industry-wide. What efforts are you making for representation and parity in front of and behind the camera?
I’ve always said and I meant it and I said it before we were in the climate we’re in now that it’s just better business. It’s incredibly rewarding to give people opportunities, and probably the most rewarding part of the job is when you’re giving new people opportunities that wouldn’t typically have them. It makes the stories and the shows fresher and it challenges the shows creatively in ways they haven’t been challenged before. We’ve been working the last two or three years to get our director lists and writers rooms more balanced. We’re close, if not all, with all of the superhero shows are 50 percent either women or people of diversity. We haven’t spoken a lot about it because we’ve just been focused on doing it. But it’s always rewarding for me when I get calls from other showrunners about our lists so they can steal them away from us. It’s much more important for me now more than ever.
You said at the screening for your new movie, “Love Simon,” is that it’s the first movie from a major studio with a gay teen lead. How is that possible in this day and age?
Yes, it’s the first big budget film with a gay teen lead. When they sent the script to me I was just as surprised as you were that it didn’t exist yet. And that moment I wanted to do anything I could to be a part of it.
What was it about the script that appealed to you?
Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger [the co-showrunners of “This Is Us”] had done a wonderful job. It reminded me of those John Hughes movies from when I was a kid. It was heartfelt and smart and witty and it didn’t talk down to the subject matter. It embraced the subject matter. But being gay wasn’t all it was about. It really felt anthemic in a way. My interest in it was twofold. One was the subject matter but the other was there’s just not a lot of movies where the tone is dramatic and comedic. I felt like its tone was a real return to a lot of movies I’d grown up with … Being gay myself didn’t just connect me more with the material but connected me more with the people involved in making the movie. Everybody was very cognizant of putting something out there that hadn’t been out there before.
What do you want people to take away from the movie?
I would love a few things. I would love more than anything for it to be the kind of movie that makes them feel. I would have been excited to go make a movie like this even if it had nothing to do with being gay because it just felt so warm and real. And I was triply excited that it was so specific about the gay experience. The other thing that came up a lot while we were making the movie too was that we all come out. I think everyone really does have that moment in their life where they announce themselves to the world and maybe the world isn’t [supportive]. When I was coming out to my parents, my sister was getting a divorce at the same time and I remember it was equally terrifying for both of us to share our truths with them. That was the first moment I think as an adult I realized that everyone has this experience where they say to their parents and their friends, “This is who I am.” And so hopefully after entertaining people, this [movie] allows some people to be more themselves.
Any other movies on the horizon for you?
Not at this moment. It took everything out of me to just continue the shows and to do this movie. There were new shows that we were launching over this last year at the same time and that’s always the most challenging, the new ones because you don’t really know what they are yet. You’re trying to find them and figure them out. There are a few film things we’ve been developing for a little while now. “Little Shop of Horrors” is something I was a fan of as a kid. I produced a production of it in college, and as of right now we’ve been adapting it for the screen with a writer and I would direct that. But we don’t have a draft yet, so that’s a bit of a ways off. And we’re waiting to hear about pilots. It’s that time of year. So you may know more than I do about what they like where.
You’ve got a few new shows you’re about to roll out, including “Black Lightning,” which premieres tonight. Why did you want to add this to your lineup of superhero shows?
From the beginning, Mara and Salim [Akil] had an incredibly specific vision about what they wanted this to be and feel and look like, and I really felt like it was our job in this process to just give them all the tools that are based on our experience so they had as much knowledge as they could. It’s been much more I think the technical aspect of it like stunts and DPs and production design and when do you need a suit done by so you can air it in time. Our role has been more informational and supportive that way, and it’s been incredibly rewarding because it’s helping them in a different capacity.
It’s going exist outside of the Arrowverse, correct?
Yes. As far as I know everyone’s always wanted that. Salim wants that. And the studio and the network want that. They’re very different tonal shows. As people watch them. I’m not sure they could sort of ever quite imagine yet how we would be able to ever connect those things. It’s always existed outside.
“You,” which is premiering later this year on Lifetime, got a straight-to-series order after Showtime passed on it, as did “Sabrina” at Netflix. Do you prefer pilots or going straight to series?
I always prefer a pilot. I think it’s ultimately a lot easier because you really can sit back and pause. Going straight to series is just harder because you’re trying to predict a lot more problems before they happen. Because you haven’t seen them happen yet. So when you’re watching dailies it’s like you’re watching a pilot. Obviously the other side of that is when you get to go to a series you really can plan long term. You’re not just trying to make the best pilot you can. You get to think about the whole show so that’s exciting as a writer and storyteller… “Political Animals” was the first thing I think I ever did that was picked up straight to series and that was so unheard of then, and now it’s so much more in vogue. It just speaks to the studios’ and networks’ desires to have content right away.
So that age-old question: How do you balance all that you have on your plate?
There’s obviously growing pains now. I go a lot of times where the problems are. I’ve been looking at for myself how I can still be involved more day to day creatively and not feel like we’re a corporation. And feel like we’re not just flying at 20,000 feet but that we’re in the nitty-gritty of certain episodes. Breaking of the arcs for the year is incredibly important. The outline and the script and casting are key things because that’s where you can affect the most change. The day-to-day production of things, that’s still the hardest to keep abreast about. And the last thing I’d say is making sure that it’s stuff you’re really excited about because if you’re doing 8 things or 9 things or 10 things, it just feels like you’re getting to work on this thing that you’re really passionate about and excited about, and the people that you’re doing it with. I’ve always divided up these projects by in terms of the people that I’m working on them with. .. I think some people in my position sometimes get too much credit. The reality is there are these incredibly creative and talented people at the forefront. What has been really rewarding for me at this moment in my life and my career is helping the Sera Gambles and the Robertos [Aguirre-Scassa, showrunner of “Riverdale” and “Sabrina”] and the Salims and the Chris Fedaks [showrunner of ABC’s “Deception”], helping those people achieve their vision. It keeps it fresh for me. It allows us to stay involved in this form of storytelling that we love.
You’re about to get the Brandon Tartikoff award from NATPE. What does it mean to you?
As a kid who grew up loving all the shows Brandon Tartikoff was a benefactor of in the 80’s, I can’t imagine a higher honor. He was the first executive whose name I knew, and it was synonymous with not just fun TV but smart TV. He was and still is the standard bearer for excellence in the art form as being the key to success and longevity of any show.