Months ago, when they were pitching, writing, and shooting tonight’s episode, the Great News team didn’t know their episode about sexual harassment would so closely echo what was happening in the real news. How could they? What they did know was that the episode was getting at something deeply entrenched in the power structures of the American media landscape. Sadly, the episode likely would’ve felt timely whenever it came out.
Still, it was undoubtedly a challenge — it’s not exactly the most hilarious subject. Vulture spoke with the show’s creator-showrunner Tracey Wigfield about how exactly they walked the line to keep it funny without losing the point, how Tina Fey’s Diana differs from Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, and more.
What was the discussion like about doing an episode about sexual harassment?
Between when our last season aired and we started writing this one, so many powerful men had been exposed as workplace harassers/abusers, especially in the media. Since our show is set at a cable news network, we thought it was an appropriate subject for us to tackle.
Tina signed on for three episodes, but this is the one she got a writing credit on. Why did she want to take on this story?
Tina offered to co-write one of the episodes she was appearing in, and this just happened to be the one she ended up with.
This is obviously a sensitive subject — how did you deliberately walk the line of still being a comedy show while not belittling the seriousness of this topic?
Having a woman be the harasser gave us some leeway in terms of comedy, because it highlights how ridiculous it would be to accuse a male victim of “asking for it” by wearing a polo shirt. It’s absurd how people concoct reasons to doubt victims, and we wanted to focus on that aspect of it. I think we did a good job walking the line. Cut to Friday morning when I get demolished on Twitter and have to delete all my social-media accounts.
What were the discussions like around the ending, with the decision for her to reveal it was a trick?
The most ridiculous thing about how these abuse scandals have played out is how the men involved often get rewarded rather than punished. If you don’t like your job and you know harassing women will get you a massive severance package and no criminal repercussions, isn’t that almost an incentive to do it? We thought we could show a female executive harassing her employees to get a golden parachute without absolving any of the male executives who do it out of sociopathic horniness.
When you knew Tina was going to be guesting, how did you decide on this character?
We conceived Tina’s character, Diana, as a Sheryl Sandberg–style superwoman who has figured out how to have it all as a modern, working woman. We wanted our main character, Katie (Briga Heelan), to think of her as a role model and do stories about women seeking mentors in their careers. We also thought Diana could be a funny foil for Carol (Andrea Martin) who has a lot of outmoded opinions about women, children, and marriage.
Partly because it’s Tina, in some ways Diana feels like if Jack Donaghy were female. Was that deliberate? What did you and Tina want from her character?
Diana and Jack are both rich and powerful media executives, but I think they’re pretty different characters. Diana’s all about pushing women harder to surpass men, while Jack comes from a more traditional place of old boys’ clubs and the golf course. I think they would actually hate each other, but also have a very intense affair full of complex sexual gamesmanship.
Which leads me to a question I was wondering while watching this episode. You wrote for 30 Rock. Jack was a character who was at minimum sexist with boundary issues. Not to mention TGS in general didn’t feel like the most hospitable work environment. I was wondering: Do you think 30 Rock could’ve had an episode where Jack was accused of sexual harassment?
There are big differences in what you can do with guest characters and your leads. I don’t think we ever would have done a 30 Rock episode where Jack harassed a woman, because that’s too unlikable and wouldn’t be something he could come back from.
What has it been like this last week with the Harvey Weinstein news breaking when you knew you had this episode coming?
The timing is a weird coincidence. But we’re still deep in production, so these last few days have mostly been about working late and eating horribly like all the other ones.
This interview has been edited and condensed.