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TV writers: 'Catastrophic' Trump is making our jobs harder

‘Absolute sorrow, horror, depression’ inspiring creative resistance

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A collection of TV creators say worries about Donald Trump’s presidency is making their jobs to create entertainment much more challenging.

A panel at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, on Friday, titled “Trumped Up TV,” was assembled to analyze the impact of the president on the industry. The consensus of the group is that Trump has been rather distracting, to say the least.

“How can I possibly focus?” said Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Lost). “There’s a lot of stress eating involved … more than anything else, the torrent of news and information is about the stuff you do to mitigate your stress to be effective.”

Royal Pains producer Michael Rauch agreed, noting he has a rule that no computers or cell phones are allowed in his writers’ room while the team is working. But the moment there’s a break “the next hour all we’re talking about is how horrendous and depressing it is, then we’re back to work trying to be funny.”

The Vampire Diaries showrunner Julie Plec said the election brought about “absolute sorrow, horror, depression” behind the scenes of the show. Plec noted that she feels a responsibility to “double down on making it okay to be inclusive and not okay to be a bigot” in her storytelling given the current culture.

Beau Willimon (the creator of House of Cards) advocated balancing political activism fighting against the current administration’s policies with making entertainment. “I knew this was catastrophic … it felt like the whole country was slapped across the face with a two-by-four,” he said. “It’s become a negation to balance ones time to what you can do in any moment, hour, second. Whether you support Trump or not, it’s still at a traumatic event for the country, one way or another, in terms of the schism and polarization.”

Moderator Michael Schneider of Indiewire asked the panel about the common conservative charge that Hollywood creatives are living in an insular bubble that keeps them out of touch.

“In the show I’m doing now we have the first gay lead character in any network hour-long show,” said Rauch, who has a new drama on CBS next season titled Instinct starring Alan Cumming. “In the [focus group] testing for the pilot, the second his husband came on screen the dials plummeted…this happened the two times the husband was in the scene … it was a moment like when Trump won when you realize that we’ve made a ton of progress in this country but there’s still a ton of latent hatred … it helps us frame good vs. evil.”

Rauch said the testing resulted in the producers deciding to introduce certain elements in the series more slowly. “What it did for us was to make us realize to slow it down a little bit … we may have to introduce a storyline over more episodes.” 

While Willimon countered that Trump is the epitome of somebody who lives in a bubble. “We have a president who has never known what it means to hold a real job and to struggle … I think some stereotypes are true — Hollywood does lean left — but ask yourself why it does … artists are people who read a lot … who are curious about the world and when you write you’re imagining what the world could be, for better or worse…and that’s what being ‘in touch’ is all about … the only way our president attempts to do that is at 140 characters or less.”

And Paul Garnes (Queen Sugar) pointed out the struggle of female directors to get hired in TV, and noted, “Hollywood’s not [progressive] by nature, it’s a business by nature, and we’re fighting every day to make it that.”

Of course, these are writers of scripted shows. Trump has been a godsend for writers of late-night comedy shows, which has seen shows like Saturday Night Live and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert surge in the ratings.

Concluded the panelists:

“The resistance is strong,” Willimon said. “We’re seeing that every day, and I maintain hope.”

“There’s a strong possibility that great art can come out of this and we can all be okay,” Grillo-Marxuach said. “The only way we survive is being the most honest version of ourselves and tell the world to go f— itself if they don’t like it.”