Women writers, producers and assistants across Twitter turned the hashtag #NotWorthLess into a trend Wednesday, shining a light on issues of pay inequality in the entertainment business. Sparked by screenwriter Adele Lim’s recent decision to walk away from the “Crazy Rich Asians” sequel in protest of being paid less than her male co-writer, dozens of writers shared their own pay-inequity stories. Two of those writers spoke with Variety at length about their experiences.
Ashley Gable served as a co-executive producer and then executive producer on CBS’ “The Mentalist,” produced by Warner Bros. Television, for four years between 2008 and 2012. As her three-year contract neared an end, she was earning $25,000 per episode. Then she discovered that she was being paid about two-thirds of the $40,000 per episode that her male peers were making, each of whom had joined the show later than her.
She negotiated up to $30,000 per episode, which she said the studio called “an outsized raise,” but hit a ceiling on talks. Gable said she never even asked to be paid as much as the two male colleagues with the same title: she asked for $35,000, about 88% of their salaries.
Warner Bros.’ final offer was “thirty and be grateful,” Gable told Variety. “I took it and was angry.” She stayed on for another year and then left.
Gable, whose lengthy list of credits includes “Magnum P.I.,” “Designated Survivor” and “Bull,” said that she lays no blame on her fellow writers and producers, but on the studio. Warner Bros. was not immediately available for comment.
“They’re great,” said Gable of her male counterparts on the show. “They deserve every penny they were paid, but I, too, was great and deserve to be paid the same.”
“Bruno Heller is a wonderful person and I owe him a great deal,” said Gable of “The Mentalist” showrunner, describing her decision to creatively part ways with him as an amicable one. She says the salary issue was a factor in her dissatisfaction on the show, and one that prompted her exit.
After 3 years on a hit show, found out I was paid 2/3 of what 2 male EPs made (one joined Yr 2, one Yr 3). They're both great; I was as good or better. WB said they'd give me 3/4 of what the men made. I left a year later. WB puzzled at my ingratitude. #NotWorthLess
— Ashley Gable (@Ashley_Gable) September 18, 2019
“This is our employers doing this,” she said. “This is not writers s—ting on other writers. It’s the studio’s responsibility to pay people fairly and to pay women the same as men.”
Sarah Watson (“The Bold Type,” “Parenthood”), Minhal Baig (“Hala,” “Ramy”) and Lilla Zuckerman (“Agents of Shield,” “Suits”) are just a few of the other writers who came forward on Twitter to talk about their experiences with disparities in hiring and salary practices between men and women writers in Hollywood.
Patricia Carr, whose credits include “Reign,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “90210” and other series, met with CBS Studios to discuss a position at “NCIS: New Orleans” in 2018.
“My position on that was simply: I worked for CBS [Television] Studios on a number of different shows, all the way up to being a showrunner for them,” Carr told Variety. “They definitely knew who I was. I knew what they could afford. I knew the show was making money. And what I asked for was not top dollar for the position they were offering me, but for what I thought was fair compensation, based on what they had paid me in the past.”
That included a 3% increase — “just really, for them not to let inflation deflate my paycheck,” Carr said. CBS countered with a final offer that was 25% below her desired figure. She declined the offer.
CBS Television Studios declined to comment. Sources familiar with the negotiations say that the offer made to Carr factored into the notion that she was now looking to be hired as a solo producer after being part of a writing team for years. Writing teams effectively have to split the salary of one writer.
Carr, anticipating this argument, said that it is easy to be “haunted by an early [salary] quote.”
Instead, she said the show hired a white, male writer who had less experience but gave him a higher title and paid him more than she asked for. Adam Targum joined the writers’ room in her stead.
“I was told by people working on the show that it was a significant amount more money than even what I had asked for,” said Carr.
Targum was let go in January after being the subject of an HR complaint. Sources say his salary at “NCIS: New Orleans” was a reflection of immediate prior experience as a showrunner.
But some writers believe the deck is stacked against them when negotiations are based on past salaries that are themselves based on initial, low-ball figures.
Here’s my #NotWorthLess story (thread). I’m a UL female writer. In 2018, CBS Studios – who I’d worked for a lot – made me an offer on “NCIS: New Orleans:” Co-EP at the usual low-ball opening number. I countered w/ a # equivalent to my old CBS Studios fee plus 3%/yr increase. 1/2
— Patti Carr (@PattiCarrWrites) September 18, 2019
“I’ve heard these things throughout the years,” said Carr, bringing up Lim’s experience with “Crazy Rich Asians” negotiations.
“I worked with Adele [on “Life, Unexpected”] in the past, so I knew her,” said Carr. “I knew the quality of her work. I was extremely confident in what her contribution had been. So it just seemed like a very factual situation. She was being candid in sharing that publicly, and that’s really important, and it inspired me and made me feel like: If we all have the opportunity to do this, there definitely is a story there, and there is a story that we need to be sharing with each other.”
Like Gable, Carr has no animosity toward the other writers who were involved, including the writer who was hired after she declined CBS’ offer.
“The only potential villain in this story is CBS Studios,” said Carr, adding that “if nobody pushes back on these things, then it’s really hard for anyone to push back on these things.”
Here are some of the other writers sharing their #NotWorthLess stories on Twitter:
A client set a show up with a studio and received the most abysmally low offer I had ever seen, in both title (ESE?!) and money. We weren’t asking for more than what is considered baseline for the creator of a show, but BA said she didn’t have enough experience to merit our…
— Scarrett Fear (@xoxoGG) September 18, 2019