January 12, 2018
‘Good Girls Revolt’ Isn’t Returning, But It Should
Amazon’s newsroom drama rooted in a historical part of the women’s movement is exactly what we need right now.
The Amazon original show Good Girls Revolt has been making some headlines recently, now that hopes for its comeback have basically gone away entirely. Premiering its pilot episode in 2015, and then its full first season in October of 2016, the show ran for one full season and was quickly dropped by Amazon, in spite of it receiving positive reviews and growing popularity. And more specifically, it was dropped by then-Amazon Studio Head Roy Price, who wasn’t too keen on the show, and was later suspended from Amazon, and then resigned, due to sexual harassment charges against him. After its cancellation, a campaign emerged from fans, some of the cast, and creator Dana Calvo, for the show to return, with many using the hashtag #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt. For a while, there was word that Sony, who produced the show, was looking to possibly bring it back, but as of recent, it’s been announced that the show will not be returning for a second season. However, it really deserves one.
Good Girls Revolt is based on Lynn Povich’s book titled “The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace.” Inspired by the real-life events described in the book, about the 46 women who sued Newsweek for the right to be reporters, the show takes place in the late 60s/early 70s and follows the fictional characters Patti Robinson, Jane Hollander, and Cindy Reston. They work at News of the Week, a fictional magazine based on Newsweek. There are also fictionalizations of real-life figures such as Nora Ephron and civil-rights attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton in the show. The women who work at the magazine are researchers, who do the fact-checking, run errands, get the mail, and help with the reporting for their male counterparts, but are not writers. Well, not writers who get bylines anyway. The season spends time establishing each of the characters and builds up their frustrations with their positions at the magazine, realizing they will never be able to move up the ladder and become writers. They begin to notice the sexism in their lives, inside and outside the newsroom, leading to their ultimate decision to sue for gender discrimination.
In the pilot episode, there is a scene where Nora Ephron’s character (played by Grace Gummer) writes an impressive story that one of the higher-ups at the magazine loves and wants to run. When he then goes to congratulate the writer on their excellent work, he finds out Ephron wrote it, and he immediately chooses not to run the exact story she wrote, all because a woman wrote it. Ephron’s character challenges him on this, which leads to her quitting to which the boss says, “Your name is all you have in journalism. So good luck Nora Ephron.”
Well, we all know how that turned out for her. She, of course, went on to have a very successful writing career. But this begins the show, with the remaining researchers shook up by what they witnessed, pushing them forward in the episodes to come.
This particular scene is fictionalized to an extent. Stated in a fact-checking of the show done by Rolling Stone, and discussed to a greater extent in Povich’s book, a woman named Judy Gingold was the one who began the initial desire for change at Newsweek. Although, Ephron in real life is one of the women who left the magazine due to this discrimination and lack of opportunity. As Povich states in her book:
“Some of the more ambitious young women saw the lay of the land right away. Nora Ephron, Ellen Goodman, Jane Bryant Quinn, and Susan Brownmiller all started at Newsweek in the early 1960s, but left fairly quickly and developed very successful writing careers elsewhere. ‘I thought I ‘d work my way up–to the clip desk, to research, and eventually to writer–once I proved my worth,’ said Jane Bryant Quinn. ‘But I discovered that I’d never become a writer, just an older and older researcher, making my younger and younger male writers look good.’”
It’s big moments, like the Ephron moment in the show, that really get your heart racing and make you feel strongly about the system in place and the hope of the movement emerging. And it’s the more subtle-ish sexism placed throughout every episode, like when one of the male writers tells his female researcher that she’s “cute” when she’s got a scoop, or another writer kissing his researcher on New Year’s Eve at midnight, when it was completely uncalled for and unwanted, that makes it feel all the more real. While all of it is atrocious, apparently one of Povich’s remarks in helping with the show, according to a Newsweek article, was that there was much more sexism in reality than portrayed in the show. And that’s scary in its own right. Calvo stated there were certain limits to what they could depict, which makes it even scarier, thinking about the things that couldn’t be shown on a mature TV show from a streaming network. Though in making most of the characters fictional and toning down the sexism to an extent, Povich has also noted, after being a consultant on the show and reading the scripts, that the overall essence and feeling of what the female characters experience is real and accurate.
At the current height of the “Me Too” movement and the revolution that appears to be gaining traction against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and in life in general, the show really proves itself timely, if not necessary. What probably began as a project to show how far we have come, ended up being a project that reflects how far we still have to go. Later in the season, there is a scene in which one of the new higher-ups at the magazine pulls out his penis in front of Jane while they are at an art museum, just to show it off and ask her what she thinks. She is stunned and doesn’t know what to do or say. Watching that scene today, with all of the recent news about men in positions of power exposing themselves to women, was jaw-dropping and frightening. In terms of sexual harassment in the workplace between 1969 and 2017, sadly, not much has really changed at all.
Releasing right before the 2016 presidential election, it’s clear that one of the goals of the show was to reminisce on historical women’s issues at a time when we were close to getting our first female president. For a Vanity Fair piece published in late October 2016, Povich remarked on the Roger Ailes scandal occurring earlier that year and mentioned:
“…we anticipated that Hillary would raise a lot of women’s issues in this campaign, but we had no idea this kind of sexual harassment was going to dominate the conversation.”
So, reflecting on history rather than remarking on the present seemed to be the purpose, and due to current events, it ended up being the opposite.
Something else that makes the show feel more grounded is that it doesn’t get completely lost in the white feminist narrative, as depictions of the women’s movement based in the 60s often do. Even though the main characters are three white women, the show actively highlights where they are sometimes amiss in their worldview. When Patti asks Denise, an African-American researcher at the magazine, to join their movement and be a part of the lawsuit against News of the Week, she doesn’t understand why Denise is reluctant to join. It takes Denise spelling out for her the difference in their privileges, the fight against injustice that she already has to face in the world every day, and the lack of racial diversity at the magazine, for her lack of enthusiasm to resonate with Patti. It had never crossed her mind because it hadn’t had to before.
The show also shines in its ability to parallel the sexism going on at the magazine to the sexism going on in the women’s private lives. Patti has an on and off romantic relationship with her partner at the magazine, who she loves, but her desire to be a reporter and a writer, and his holding her back, weighs on her heavily. Jane grapples with her father’s financial hold on her life and his pushing her toward getting married when it’s clear she might actually want to be a career girl. Cindy, meanwhile, begins to notice her husband’s sexist and abusive nature and the lack of sexual pleasure and excitement in their married life. Once they begin to notice the problems going on at News of the Week, they begin to notice the problem everywhere and can no longer live comfortably with their current lives. It’s messy and complicated.
Aside from its relevance, the show deserves a second season because it is truly well-done, entertaining, and empowering to watch. The various main characters are fully-fleshed out people that captivate you and have you following all of their stories pretty much equally, which is an important part of the show because the movement wasn’t ever just about one person or one hero. It was a team of women who stood up and said “no.” And none of what followed that rejection came easily to them. As a newsroom-based story, it portrays the thrill and the challenge of having a career in journalism, that would probably excite and remind any current or aspiring journalist of why they chose the profession in the first place. Plus, with films like The Post this year placing famed journalism professionals like Katherine Graham (who was actually President and Publisher of Newsweek during this real-life movement) to the forefront, this aligns perfectly with that interest. While the show chose to create a fictional publisher for the News of the Week magazine rather than portray Graham, it still included her famous response when notified about the women’s lawsuit against the magazine that was, “Which side am I supposed to be on?” Povich told The Daily Beast in an interview that Graham’s response reflected the confusion of many women during the 60s and 70s regarding feminism and the women’s movement.
At present, it is important to have reminders as to why journalism is such a necessary and vital profession. However, while the show emphasizes and somewhat dramatizes the great rush of the job, it doesn’t exactly glamorize it in an unrealistic light. The show itself also had a good number of female writers and directors working on it, including Lynn Povich as a consultant for the historical accuracy, and therefore, the perspective on the movement is not out of touch.
It’s not clear exactly why the show is not going to be picked up for a second season. From a rating standpoint, it’s not as if it was doing poorly with critics or audiences. In fact, despite claims of the opposite from the former head of drama and comedy at Amazon, outlets such as The Hollywood Reporter and Variety reported, based on data from the Symphony Advanced Media, that the show had a high completion rate of 80 percent. It really should have a chance to continue to grow as a series. After all, the story was really just beginning, and having a show like that air at a time like this in the world, would be cathartic in a sense. Even though a good majority of the show is fictional, it raises awareness to a part of history that is often not mentioned. These are things that we don’t learn in history books at school but are an important part of understanding where we are today and the gender divides in the world.
Good Girls Revolt deserves another opportunity, but even though it won’t be getting one, the first season is a treasure on its own and will be valued in the years to come.