Great News may be set in the newsroom of a fictional cable news network, but it’s not reactive to the real-life news cycle.
Yet now that allegations of sexual harassment against mega-producer Harvey Weinstein have surfaced in recent days, the NBC sitcom’s latest episode — an installment about staff members of MMN dealing with unwanted advances from their boss Diana St. Tropez (guest star Tina Fey) — has become all too timely.
But the episode, which aired Thursday night, didn’t just talk about sexual harassment in the workplace; it forced viewers to see the issue through a new lens by flipping the gender usually involved in such cases. Instead of having a male manager prey on employees, the show had Diana play the predator. And it turned out she really was playing the part — Diana explains in the final act that all she wanted was to get out of her job with a cushy settlement worth millions of dollars, reputation be damned. Because after all, that’s what the men always get, isn’t it?
Creator Tracey Wigfield breaks down how the writers drew comedy from a serious issue, and what it was like to see an episode of Great News offer relevant commentary on news in real life.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Obviously, this show is not written in real time every week to react to the news. How have you felt this week about this episode being so timely?
TRACEY WIGFIELD: We wrote and shot the episode in the summer and obviously had no idea that it would coincide with this major news story. But unfortunately, this episode would have been timely if it had come out almost any week in the last year, and probably in the next year too. We didn’t come up with this idea out of nowhere. It was a reaction to the dozens of powerful men, especially in media, who keep getting revealed to be serial abusers.
Tell us more about breaking the episode’s story. How did the idea come about to address sexual harassment?
Leading up to when we started writing season 2, basically a thousand powerful men got exposed for sexual harassment. So many of them were in the media, and since our show is about a cable news network, we thought it was an obvious subject for us to tackle.
We typically see these cases perpetrated by men. Why was it important for you to have a woman be the offender? How did you and the writers land on having Tina’s character be the culprit?
Tina’s character is the powerful boss of MMN, the fictional cable news network on our show. We wanted to highlight that it’s not just gender that allows you to get away with harassment, it’s how much power you have over your employees.
Also having a woman be the harasser gave us some leeway in terms of comedy, because it highlighted how ridiculous it would be to accuse a male victim of “asking for it” by going to a superior’s office alone late at night or wearing a provocative button-down shirt. It’s absurd how we make up reasons to doubt women who come forward with stories of abuse, instead of just believing them.
At the end of the episode, we see that Diana had been harassing her staff not because she’s a creep but because she wanted gender equality, to be able to do exactly what men do, down to the last disgusting detail — and to get out of being the CEO with a golden parachute to boot. How did the writing team come up with that twist?
That twist was a genius idea from one of our top writers, the Advisory Board of Fox News.
Ah, well on that note, what do you hope viewers take away from that twist? Is it the fact that we let people like Roger Ailes and Bill Cosby — both of whom are punchlines in this episode — off easy?
That was definitely part of our intention. It seems like, in a fair system, being exposed for decades of sex crimes maybe shouldn’t come with a reward of 40 million dollars.
Finally, if the Weinstein news had been breaking while the writers were tackling this episode, how would the story have changed?
This particular story is still a raw nerve for a lot of people, especially the women who came forward, so we probably wouldn’t have wanted to work Harvey Weinstein into the story too much. Maybe in a future episode, we’ll show him eating out of a dumpster or something?
Great News airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.