There were no holds barred during the comedy panel for Variety’s “A Night in the Writers’ Room” on Thursday.
When asked by Variety’s managing editor of TV, Cynthia Littleton, about the impact of the “Roseanne” cancellation, “The Good Place” creator Michael Schur plainly stated: “Most people on the shows represented on this panel aren’t racist. Most of the actors on our show didn’t dress up as Hitler and bake cookies and then have a photo shoot.”
Schur continued, clarifying that: “The mistake wasn’t canceling the show. The mistake was giving her the show to begin with. She’s been that way for a really long time. It was not a surprise.”
Peter Farrelly, “Loudermilk” executive producer, concurred: “To me, the chilling thing would’ve been if they didn’t cancel it.”
In an evening rife with discussion about crafting humor in Trump’s America, “Vida” showrunner Tanya Saracho confessed how “I write an all-Latinx show. It’s horrible out here for Latinx now. How can you turn these times into anything when you’re being called a rapist and a murderer by — I’m trying to get my citizenship so … [can’t name names]”
Gloria Calderon Kellett, co-creator of Netflix’s “One Day at a Time,” chimed in: “I, like Tanya, make a Latinx show. We are under attack daily by our president. He’s constantly trying to dehumanize people in our community. So trying to make people laugh and humanize and normalize the experience is very relevant for people in America right now.”
“Get Shorty” showrunner Davey Holmes asked Calderon Kellett if she feels an added pressure to get her show right, to which she replied: “For sure, especially when there aren’t a lot of Latinx shows right now on TV. Tanya and I know each other and we’ve done a million panels together. We’re like ‘the two.'”
To the horror of her fellow panelists, Calderon Kellett recollected the story of how when the two showrunners previously worked together in a writers’ room in 2012, they were called “sp– and span.” The only show that the two have worked together on is “Devious Maids.”
As she described looking back on her career when the Me Too Movement broke out, “everyone did a self-audit. I went through mine and thought: ‘Oh, my God. I’m so broken.'”
Saracho recalled how Calderon Kellett would make jokes about it. “I’d just gotten here a few months [ago], too. And I was like: ‘This is Hollywood? This is horrible.’ Even you were laughing. Gloria was like: ‘I’ll be sp–. You can be span.’ Like make a joke about it and then we’ll move on. We were the only two Latinas.”
Calderon Kellett’s strategy was to pull women coming up behind her aside and tell them: “This is how it is in this room. We’re going to get through it and one day be the boss. Now, we’re the boss so it worked out.”
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” creator and star Rachel Bloom was so shaken by the casual slur-slinging that she volunteered to follow up and report it to HR now, years later. “I can report it anonymously for you if you write it on a piece of paper. I’ll call and do my 1950s secretary voice so they won’t know. Just let me know.”
Judd Apatow, executive producer on “Crashing,” joked: “I’m going on IMDb for this motherf—er.”
As their fellow panelists rallied behind the two women and tried to find explanations for such verbal harassment, “I’m Sorry” showrunner Andrea Savage wondered about the “age of the showrunners when that happened. I feel like it’s naive, but maybe it’s filtered out when younger people are coming up,” she said. “There’s diversity in numbers.”
Schur offered a plotline from the second season of “Master of None” as a potential stepping stone. “Aziz’s character is told he’s auditioning for a show another Indian-American guy is auditioning for and they like both of them. He’s told there can’t be two when an email gets out from the guy who runs the network,” he said. “We couldn’t come up with an ending. Then, we thought: ‘What if that guy dies? The old guy dies and is replaced by someone younger who has a better idea.”
While Schur conceded the ideas of the 39-year-old woman who replaces “the 68-year-old white dude” who died of a heart attack are not so great either, it is a step toward making the industry better.
In contrast to Saracho and Calderon Kellett’s experience in 2012, panelists also spoke on the notion of fostering warm writers’ rooms.
“Mom” co-creator Gemma Baker described how the writers have been together for six seasons and now feels like it’s a family. “It’s a pretty apologetic room. On the way to our cars, we’ll go: ‘The thing I said two days ago, sorry if I offended you.’ Just apologizing. We care about each other.”
“Jane the Virgin” showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman noted how “we give paternity leaves and we give long ones. It’s just a different environment than lots of shows that are comedies. Sometimes we’ll have meetings where we cry, and we’re like: ‘It’s okay.'”
Savage also explained, despite how her writers’ room is a “dirty, dirty room,” “we hire all people who have families and keep our writers’ room hours very family-friendly. We don’t start ’til after drop-off in the morning and try to end before 4 o’clock. You can do that. There’s a rule on my show — don’t write any exterior night scenes because I’m not going to shoot at night. I’m going to get home to put my daughter to bed.” She added: “Sometimes it takes a woman to go: ‘This can happen this way.'”
The panelists also spoke on the immediacy of social media responses and how it enriches the storytelling.
As “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” gave Bloom’s character the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder this season, Bloom acknowledged “that we had to be held accountable to doctors and people with BPD, depression, and anxiety. What we didn’t anticipate, which I guess is the good facet of Twitter, was how fans of our show started giving each other advice on Twitter. Like: ‘I’m having suicidal thoughts and don’t have insurance. Where should I go?’ Seeing how fans helped each other on Twitter, especially in light of the storyline we did, was actually really beautiful.”
“Atlanta” writer Stephen Glover expressed his and his co-writers’ surprise when they realized the positive viewer response after each episode on Twitter, especially as the show comes from a “weird perspective. Growing up, me and Donald would feel like the world is kind of scary and fun — in this weird mix of these things. Donald talks about things feeling like you’re in a nightmare sometimes.”
Receiving boisterous laughs from the audience, Glover recalled a story that inspired one of the episodes of the show: “We were out one night outside this club. We were chilling talking to friends afterwards. Then, there was a shooting. These guys got into a fight. One guy pulls out a gun and shoots up in the air. Two undercover police officers come outside. They shoot him and people are running and screaming. We’re driving away, like: ‘Oh, my goodness, that was intense.’ Then, this guy drives up beside us like: ‘Did you see that back there? That was crazy. Yeah, have a good night.’ Then, we go to Waffle House afterwards. It’s dark and scary. That’s like life. We’re laughing about a guy being murdered. That’s what we try to bring to ‘Atlanta.'”