Like the protagonists of her shows “Weeds
” and “Orange Is the New Black
,” Jenji Kohan
isn’t shy about speaking her mind. And she won’t hesitate to call someone out if she needs to. This is evident from the “Glow
” Executive Producer’s recent interview with The New Yorker. The piece sees Kohan talk openly about the numerous sexist interactions (and people) she’s encountered throughout her career as a TV writer and showrunner.
Her first writing job on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
” sounds like it was a nightmare. The writer’s room was a “toxic mess,” the source reveals, and only one other writer was a woman. Kohan’s fellow writers called her “White Devil Jew Bitch.”
After breaking into the business at “Fresh Prince
,” Kohan experienced “a dozen years of stunted ambition and Hollywood sexism,” The New Yorker writes. “She had her ‘tit grabbed’; her name was taken off a script. Once, when she was pregnant and about to have a job interview, her agent advised her to wear a big shirt and eat candy, so that the showrunner would think she was just fat. After a pitch meeting for ‘The Larry Sanders Show
,’ her agent told her that the show’s star, Garry Shandling
, wasn’t comfortable working with women.”
Things weren’t much better when she was able to land jobs. “I was fired from everything,” Kohan recalls. And in 2003 CBS picked up her pilot “The Stones
” but the studio didn’t want her as the series’ boss. They ended up making her brother, David, and his partner the showrunners.
Kohan did eventually become a successful TV writer, even before “Weeds
” began. She worked on beloved series like “Friends,” “Gilmore Girls
,” and “Sex and the City
” as well as “a few not-great sitcoms where she had good bosses.” But — finding it difficult to keep a satisfying job that would allow her to have a life — Kohan ended up writing over 15 pilots so she could “oversee her own show and control her hours.”
Happily, Kohan did manage to work in the writers’ room of her dreams — but it was one she had to fight for and make herself. When she created “Weeds
,” the Showtime comedy about a drug dealing widow, studio execs like Bob Greenblatt
“were uncomfortable with its twisted morality” and sent her endless notes. “I’d write back, note by note, for pages,” Kohan says. “Finally, [Greenblatt] wrote back a short e-mail that just said, ‘Fine, do what you want.’ . . . And I took it as carte blanche.”
Lifetime recently gave a straight-to-series order to Kohan’s next project, “American Princess.” From “Orange Is the New Black
” actress Jamie Denbo
, the show centers on Amanda, who joins a Renaissance Fair after her fiancé cheats on her and she suffers a nervous breakdown. Kohan will serve as exec producer.
,” the Netflix series Kohan exec produces, was renewed for a second season earlier this month. Created by “Nurse Jackie
” producers Liz Flahive
and Carly Mensch
” follows Ruth (Alison Brie
”), a struggling actress who gets the opportunity to be a Gorgeous Lady of Wrestling and finds it is the role she was born to play. The fact that Ruth’s former best friend (Betty Gilpin
, “Nurse Jackie
”) is also part of the show adds to the drama.
Head over to The New Yorker to read the full interview with Kohan.Jenji Kohan
Recounts Sexism She Faced While Building Her Writing Career was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium
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