In the light of the recent Harvey Weinstein exposés, TV writer Janis Hirsch (The Nanny, Frasier) wrote a tell-all guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about how sexual harassment in Hollywood cost her a job.
She was offered a position by Garry Shandling in 1986 to write for his series, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Relatively new to Hollywood, she began her career as a staff writer in 1982 for the sitcom Square Pegs, which starred a teenage Sarah Jessica Parker, and had written scripts for hit series such as The Facts of Life and One Day at a Time.
She initially enjoyed the job, writing, “It started out as a lot of fun. A bunch of cool smart guys and me working on a show where Garry didn’t just break the fourth wall but rode around behind it in a golf cart.” She found success there quickly, having written two of the first six episodes, both of which earned her praise as “the only woman on staff” in the Los Angeles Times.
Things quickly turned sour. The men began excluding her from meetings, using excuses such as “We couldn’t find you,” while she was sitting at her desk. They excluded her from the writing table as well, assigning her scenes that featured the only female cast member, which the men derogatorily referred to as “the slit scenes.” It wouldn’t occur to her until later what they meant.
Things continued to get worse until one day in Shandling’s office she was humiliated by an actor on the show, who draped his “flaccid penis” on her shoulder while other writers watched. “Riotous laughter ensued from all but one of us,” Hirsch recalled.
When she was later called into a producer’s office to discuss the problem, she was relieved that things were finally being addressed. When she was told she should quit, she was shocked. After calling her agent, thinking she should sue the company, she came to the realization she’d never be able to get a job writing again in Hollywood if she spoke up.
Although Hirsch didn’t name the actor who assaulted her, she says he hasn’t had much success in recent years, with his last credit as “Father” [in an indie movie]. She reveals he also played a character credited as “Judge” [in another indie movie]. It’s fairly easy to figure out which actor from It’s Garry Shandling’s Show she’s talking about.
She continues to be a successful Hollywood writer and producer, recently fixing a pilot with a team of writers including two other women. Hirsch finishes her column with a new anecdote, talking about how the two other female writers walked with her to her car one night, talking about the men they’d worked with and how the men like the ones in that Shandling writers’ room still exist — but they are known and avoidable.
Hirsch recounts: “As I was unlocking my Prius, they stopped me. ‘Thank you for getting that flaccid penis on your shoulder so we never had to.’” ~ Hayley Michaud