Multiple All Rise writers quit over showrunner's treatment of race and gender
Despite being one of the few network series with a Black woman in the lead role, former employees say All Rise is hardly a bastion of racial diversity or gender equality.
In a New York Times report published Thursday, former writers on the CBS courtroom drama say they repeatedly clashed with showrunner Greg Spottiswood over the show's treatment of race and gender. Five of the show's seven original writers reportedly quit due to these conflicts, including the series' three highest-ranking writers of color. Those who spoke to the Times say Spottiswood, who is white, ignored or rebuffed their attempts to have the show accurately reflect the experiences of BIPOC individuals.
"We had to do so much behind the scenes to keep these scripts from being racist and offensive," writer-producer Shernold Edwards, a Black woman, told the Times. She recalled multiple instances in which the main character's dialogue or story lines struck her as inauthentic or stereotypical. When she attempted to raise objections to colleagues, she said, they asked her why the character's race mattered.
"The fact that I'm still being asked that question tells me that there are people on the show who are incapable of writing for people of color and should not be writing for people of color," Edwards wrote in an email to the show's producers, according to the Times.
All Rise, which is produced by Warner Bros. Television, stars Simone Missick as an idealistic Los Angeles judge, with the show following various courthouse figures' cases and personal lives. In a statement provided to EW, Warner Bros. said, "As soon as we became aware of concerns in the All Rise writers' room, we took steps to conduct a review of the work environment. The findings did not reveal conduct that would warrant removing [Spottiswood] from the Executive Producer role." After this investigation, which took place last year, the studio assigned a corporate coach to advise Spottiswood.
Representatives for CBS declined to comment.
Both Edwards and co-showrunner Sunil Nayar, an Indian American man, say they left the show after disagreements with Spottiswood over scripts' content. These allegedly included an incident in which Spottiswood tried to remove a scene, written by Nayar, in which Missick's character discussed racist policing with a Black bailiff after he had been stopped by police while jogging. The scene was restored after Missick raised objections, Nayar said.
In another instance, a script called for a naked man to join two women in an elevator, "and they continue their conversation as if nothing odd is going on," according to the Times. Nayar and Edwards say they raised objections to Spottiswood after "the majority of the show's writers" found the scene problematic, and the scene was ultimately revised.
Spottiswood said in a statement to EW, "When it appeared the writers room was struggling to function as effectively as it should, I recognized that I needed to change how I was working. I voluntarily sought management training and leadership coaching. I acknowledge that I can have a rhetorical, professorial tone in the room and that can be perceived by some as condescending, and that I can be defensive in creative conversations and debates."
Warner Bros. said that "despite significant efforts made by the studio to retain Mr. Nayar, he asked to be released from his duties as executive producer/co-showrunner, a decision we ultimately supported. With respect to the writing staff departures, we greatly valued everyone on the team, including Ms. Edwards, and our ultimate goal was to retain them." Dee Harris-Lawrence, a Black woman, was hired to replace Nayar as co-showrunner.
After the writers' departures, Spottiswood held a meeting to discuss the behind-the-scenes tensions, and "grew emotional as he told the staff that he had failed them," according to two anonymous individuals who spoke to the Times.
"I remain strongly committed to improving my communication style and skills; and to being a more inclusive leader — ensuring that writers and artists are not just heard, but feel listened to, respected, safe, and valued," the showrunner added in his statement.
CBS has renewed All Rise for a second season.