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Sexual Harassment: TV

Sexual Harassment: TV — Our report on the state of the TV industry

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He would touch my leg under the desk while we were co-anchoring the newscast. It really bothered me and I told him many times to stop. He’d do something very embarrassing — grab his pants and push them up so his balls would show, then tell me to look at him. I went to the personnel manager, who told me to be patient because of the image of the station. He unzipped my skirt in the studio. Twice. I went to the personnel manager and said, ”If you don’t get him off, I’m not giving the news tonight.” They demoted me to reporter and lowered my salary. — A TV Newswoman

Television has more women in positions of power than any other part of the entertainment industry, but the power has a price. ”You’re dealing with groups that used to be all male and are now coed,” says a woman at ABC. ”But things are being shaken up hierarchically. Women are trying to exert power without being overpowering, and these things clash all the time.”

The result of the collision is frequently sexual harassment — and, according to Cindy Marano, executive director of the National Commission on Working Women, ”it doesn’t matter how much money you make or what your title is.” Sexual harassment in TV has many victims: a movie-of-the-week writer who was almost raped by a network vice president when she offered to drive him somewhere because of his ”eye trouble”; a costume designer who had her budget slashed by her unit production manager when she turned down his proposition.

Delta Burke and Morgan Fairchild have gone public with their stories of harassment, but only when their careers were relatively secure. A lesser-known actress, glowingly told by a high-powered flack that she was the kind of person ”women want to look like and men want to f—,” was told by another publicist, ”You have two choices. You can smear him in the press, or you can leave it alone. And he’s very powerful.” The decision was easy.

Yet TV is still low on the harassment scale. The number of incidents is highest in the news divisions, moderately common on prime-time shows (many women stars, a fair number of women execs), and virtually nil on soaps. ”Twenty years ago women took daytime seriously enough to invest their careers in it,” explains Felicia Minei Behr, executive producer of All My Children. ”Now they’re in the positions of power.”

Even in prime time, women are using TV to make a statement. Last season Kathryn Pratt, co-executive producer for CBS’ WIOU, wrote a scene in which a harassed co-anchor says to her partner, on air, ”I’ll tell you about it just as soon as you take your hand off my thigh.” A similar incident happened to Pratt; she still won’t say where. ”I wish I’d come forth and been as forthright as Anita Hill,” she says. ”But ultimately you get your revenge — by writing about it.”

Additional reporting by Alan Carter and Cheryl McCall

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