On August 20, The New York Times shed light on a litany of issues allegedly plaguing the writer’s room of CBS’s freshmen procedural All Rise, with exclusive interviews from former members of the show’s staff. 5 writers allegedly quit over disputes on story issues involving both race and gender that persisted under the alleged watch of showrunner Greg Spottiswood (All Rise, Remedy).
Shernold Edwards (Haven, Anne with an E) and Sunil Nayar (CSI: Miami, Revenge), who served as writers and producers, were The New York Times main sources, though other intel from behind-the-scenes at All Rise was presented anonymously. Edwards and Nayar were 2 of the 5 staff – as well as 2 of the 3 high ranking writers of color – who quit after their treatment on the show.
Serving as an executive producer on All Rise as well as a writer, Nayar commented that he felt tokenized by CBS and Spottiswood, saying “I was only there because I’m the brown guy” (New York Times). Edwards shared similar sentiments to Nayar throughout the article and delved deeper into these conflicts on social media after the article’s release. Edwards thanked New York Times journalist Nicole Sperling for her piece on Instagram, where she spoke about her responsibility to tell “truth about toxic work environments, about token “diversity” hiring, about media corporations throttling change.”
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https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/20/business/media/all-rise-cbs-writers.html?referringSource=articleShare Thank you Nicole Sperling. I’m glad this is finally coming to light. It was a difficult experience that not one of us should have to go through. We need to stand up, stand together and tell the truth… Truth about toxic work environments, about token “diversity” hiring, about media corporations throttling change. This is not over. We’re not going away. We’re only getting louder. This is a fraction of a story that started in Canada and Canada needs to take responsibility for enabling and exporting people like this. Many writers have been mistreated. I hope the Canadian media and entertainment industry takes notice, digs deeper and keeps this receipt. This cannot continue. Do more and do it faster. Let us tell stories. #P-Valley, #Diggstown, #IMayDestroyYou, #Lovecraftcountry, #Insecure, #Vida, #WorkinProgress, #Twenties, #SheDiesTomorrow #ShermansShowcase, #HighFidelity, #TheBisexual, #EverythingsGonnaBeOkay. Give us the same chances white men have been given for decades.
For co-producer Edwards, All Rise is not the first occasion in which she found her voice dismissed in a network writer’s room. In 2018, Edwards appeared on the Writer’s Panel podcast where she disclosed her experiences working as a writer and producer on season 3 of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. “It was the singular most unpleasant experience I’ve had and I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want to be seen as someone who tells tales. I didn’t want to be seen as someone who’s really racially sensitive or, as a woman, very sensitive to the way I’ve been treated” Edwards said to Writer’s Panel host Ben Blacker (Supernatural, The Thrilling Adventure Hour). A year after that interview, Edwards was put in a similar position at All Rise, but this time she was less hesitant to fire back at the alleged treatment that, she claims, “comes from the top down” (Writer’s Panel).
Thank you @moryan for helping to bring this into the light. I was the only black female writer on #SleepyHollow S3. I talk a little bit about my experience on @benblacker ‘s Writers Panel podcast (at 29:05). https://t.co/ztbmWDGt1B
— Shernold Edwards (@ShernoldEdwards) June 19, 2020
Courtroom 302, the book that served as a basis for All Rise, featured a white man as its protagonist, but when adapting the novel for television, CBS, often criticized for its lack of primetime diversity, cast Simone Missick (Luke Cage) in the lead role, via The New York Times. Multiple writers voicing concerns about being allegedly dismissed on topics of race and gender by Spottiswood, a white showrunner, would understandably create conflict when those writer’s were tasked with creating stories centered on Black, female protagonist. Concerns about topics so integral to the protagonists’ identity going unheard in the room, led to criticism from writers about what kind of representation ended up on the screen. For Edwards, the answer is that “[Spottiswood] makes race palatable for a CBS audience and the CBS brass, because he doesn’t know anything about it, so there is this strange tone of nothing being said, but the visual representation is there. It’s safe, and it’s empty. All the reality is absent” (New York Times). This continued frustration led Edwards, Nayar and 3 others to quit the show, despite its 5 million viewers and renewal for a second season, via The New York Times.
Though The New York Times article centers on testimonials from Nayar and Edwards, their stories indicated that the writers were not the only ones who struggled with some of the story lines presented by Spottiswood. A scene Nayar wrote, in which Missick and a Black coworker discuss an incident involving racial profiling by the police, was cut from the script by Spottiswood. The showrunner argued that “such harassment [is] so common that it would not merit a discussion between two Black co-workers.” (New York Times). However, Nayar reported that this omission to his script was reconsidered when Missick insisted “her character would look callous if she did not acknowledge what had happened to her colleague” (New York Times). Edwards detailed another scrapped plot line, involving a gang of machete-wielding Latin American teenagers, that was cut after actress Lindsey Mendez (Dogfight, Wicked) vocalized concerns.
Complaints and departures from within the writer’s room at All Rise led to an internal investigation into Spottiswood by Warner Bros. The production company refused to comment to The New York Times, but commented in a public statement: “as soon as we became aware of concerns in the All Rise writers’ room, we took steps to conduct a review of the work environment.” The investigation was said to have identified “areas of improvement” in Spottiswood’s showrunning, but no “conduct that would warrant removing series creator Greg Spottiswood from the executive producer role” (New York Times). Spottiswood will stay on as the CBS courtroom drama moves into its second season, but he will now be accompanied by a “corporate coach”, a Black woman, meant to correct the troubling behavior exhibited in his handling of the show’s first season, via The New York Times.
Too many white people in TV treat writers of color esp WOC w the attitude, “you’re lucky to be here. Now be silent.” No, those BIPOC folk work SO HARD to be here. Then watch white men around them *not* have to repeat levels & often get promoted much higher/faster. Lucky?!? Gtfo
— Mo Ryan (@moryan) August 20, 2020
Mo Ryan, an entertainment reporter and contributing editor at Vanity Fair, has been on top of this story on social media, tweeting support for Edwards and other Women of Color who have shared their stories about mistreatment in writer’s rooms. Ryan commented on Twitter: “too many white people in TV treat writers of color [especially Women of Color] w the attitude, ‘you’re lucky to be here. Now be silent.’” According to The New York Times, conversations on race, brought about by the protests of police brutality this past summer, have “caused some entertainment companies to question longstanding industry practices.” A refusal to conform to this unspoken practice of silence, even when met with mistreatment in the writer’s room, is one of those “longstanding industry practices” (New York Times) that writers like Edwards and Nayar help dismantle with their outspoken departures from All Rise.