Tina Fey’s Sitcom Predicted the Harvey Weinstein Scandal
Thursday’s episode of ‘Great News’ centers on a media mogul who sexually harasses underling employees, and then discredits them while courting the loyalty of colleagues.
Tina Fey has proven particularly prescient when it comes to comeuppance of the entertainment industry’s most notorious sexual abusers. It’s probably because while so many other people in the business engaged in “whispers,” to use a term that’s been floating around in the past days, about these powerful men and their behavior, Fey hasn’t been afraid to loudly call them out.
Back in 2009, Fey’s NBC sitcom 30 Rock made one of the few mainstream acknowledgments of Bill Cosby’s rumored pattern of sexual assaults, when Tracy Morgan’s character told someone on the phone pretending to be Cosby, “You've got a lot of nerve getting on the phone with me after what you did to my Aunt Paulette!'”
And in the wake of allegations of sexual assault, rape, sexual coercion, forceful touching, exposure, and numerous sexual harassment settlements against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, many have acknowledged that Fey and 30 Rock were among the few showbiz players to publicly put Weinstein on blast for what was regarded an “open secret” about his misconduct.
“Oh please, I'm not afraid of anyone in show business,” says Jane Krakowski’s character, desperate actress Jenna Maroney, who, as a running joke, has few qualms over compromising herself for her career and more fame. “I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions... out of five.”
Now, another Tina Fey sitcom seems to, once again, have “known.”
On Thursday night, NBC’s sitcom Great News, which was created by former 30 Rock writer Tracey Wigfield and on which Fey currently guest stars and is executive producer, will air an episode that is eerily well-timed to resonate with the details of the Harvey Weinstein allegations.
In fact, despite having been written and filmed well before the New York Times or New Yorker investigations from this past week were published, the main plot, which deals with a media mogul’s pattern of sexual harassment, are strikingly similar to those of the Weinstein case.
The twist is that Tina Fey plays the harasser.
Fey joined this season of Great News, a sitcom about a junior news producer named Katie (Briga Heelan) whose mom (Andrea Martin) joins the office as a late-in-life intern, to play a megalomaniac corporate boss.
The episode is titled “Honeypot,” which is just one of the ways it echoes the Weinstein exposés. Sources in Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker story detail ruses in which female executives would feign attending meetings only to abandon the women Weinstein was luring soon after, calling themselves the “honeypot” in reference to bait traps set for bears.
The simple, non-spoilery premise is that Fey’s character, Diana St. Tropez, is set for a big corporate promotion. Before she leaves her current position in the newsroom, she begins calling her male staff into her office and coerces them into performing strange sexual acts, which they feel pressured into because she’s their boss. One producer is forced to pick up a pencil while she checks him out. Another is asked to eat a banana in front of her. Martin’s character stumbles into a raunchy game of Go Fish.
The men go to Katie for support and advice on how to report Diana, but Katie doesn’t believe that they were harassed. She’s so dismissive of their claims that the men start to convince themselves that they were wrong and that they weren’t sexually harassed, and are maybe even complicit—a twist that echoes the guilt the women in the New Yorker article reported feeling, that they could have done more to prevent what happened to them.
While the men implore Katie to believe them, the dialogue becomes a transcript of our collective cultural skepticism of women who come forward alleging misconduct against a powerful man whose “casting couch” they might have visited.
“Are you saying we asked for this?” one asks. “No, I’m saying...what were you wearing?” Katie responds.
“That wasn’t sexual harassment. They wanted it,” another character says when told of the men’s allegations.
“How many more men have to come forward before you believe us?” one of the victims asks.
Then, the episode delves into the web of people surrounding an abuser who regularly condone, forgive, and cover up the actions, often because they know that staying complicit can help their careers while speaking out against it will ruin them.
Katie struggles with whether to confront Diana about the accusations levied by her co-workers, saying she wants to be loyal. When Diana discovers that Katie knew but didn’t say anything, she rewards her for her silence: “That shows loyalty.”
It so mirrors to the Weinstein situation and his network of facilitators that, were it not written months ago, you’d scoff at how on-the-nose it is.
There’s a greater point the episode makes about how men in powerful media roles are rewarded with gigantic payouts when their actions are made public that we won’t spoil. But that’s where the actual inspiration—the cases of Bill O’Reilly and Billy Bush—comes in. The Weinstein similarities are a frustrating coincidence. This happens so regularly and along the same pattern that the investigations didn’t even have to be published for a satire of showbiz sexual harassment to bear uncanny similarity to them.
The genius of the episode is in the gender reversal and the lunacy of the sexual acts Fey’s character has the men perform. By painting the harassment as implausible and ridiculous while playing the victims’ distress at face value, the series lays bare the insanity of the excuses abusers and enablers make, and the misogyny of the conspirators and complicit parties who question and discredit accusers.
In an interview ahead of season two centered on whether the show would tackle Donald Trump and the current political climate, Great News creator Tracey Wigfield told Variety, “We like to poke fun at news and trends in politics and current events rather than trying to keep up with what’s happening, because you couldn’t.”
That might be the most upsetting part of this episode’s timeliness.
The abuse of women by high powered men in media was so omnipresent even before the Weinstein exposés that this comedy’s statement on it is timed to air amid such a major case, but it’s merely coincidental. Sadly, the satire isn’t timely. As it stands, it’s timeless.