A different kind of destruction

Designing Women was my flagship CBS show, and Evening Shade had just been lauded as the best new comedy of the season. CBS chairman Howard Stringer and president Jeff Sagansky attended many of the Designing Women tapings, reveling in the show, quoting the lines and giving us carte blanche to tackle any subject, including sexual harassment, domestic violence and pornography. They even greenlighted an entire episode satirizing Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination. It was, to say the least, exhilarating. Little did I know that it would soon all be over.

By 1995, Mr. Stringer and Mr. Sagansky were gone and a new, unknown (to me) president named Les Moonves had taken over. By then, I was producing a new pilot, prophetically titled Fully Clothed Non-Dancing Women. I was immediately concerned when I heard that Mr. Moonves was rumored to be a big fan of topless bars. Then, someone delivered the news that he especially hated Designing Women and their loud-mouthed speeches. He showed up at the first table read and took a chair directly across from mine (actress Illeana Douglas, who later accused him of sexual harassment, sat next to me). Having been voted most popular in high school, I felt confident that I would be able to charm him. I was wrong. He sat and stared at me throughout the entire reading with eyes that were stunningly cold, as in, “You are so dead.” I had not experienced such a menacing look since Charles Manson tried to stare me down on a daily basis when I was a young reporter covering that trial. As soon as the pilot was completed, Moonves informed me that it would not be picked up. I was at the pinnacle of my career. I would not work again for seven years.

This is odd since her shows had been so successful. He just didn’t like them…although he kept telling her he did, while adding that he wasn’t going to do them anyway.

Then, I began to hear from female CBS employees about his mercurial, misogynist behavior, with actresses being ushered in and out of his office. His mantra, I was told, was, “Why would I wanna cast ’em if I don’t wanna fuck ’em?” And he was an angry bully who enjoyed telling people, “I will tear off the top of your head and piss on your brain!”

Soon, I would hear how he had invited a famous actress to lunch in the CBS dining room. Coming off the cancellation of her iconic detective show, the star began pitching a new one. He informed her that she was too old to be on his network. She began to cry and stood up to go. He stood up too, taking her by the shoulders and telling her, “I can’t let you leave like this.” She reacted, suddenly touched. Then he shoved his tongue down her throat. I know this happened because the star is the person who told me.

“Too old” to be on his network.

I took pride in being part of a network that always seemed to be rife with crazy, interesting, brash women, from Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda, to Maude, to Murphy Brown, to the Designing Women. Many of these female characters paved the way for women to be single, to pursue careers and equal pay and to lead rich, romantic lives with reproductive rights.

As I walked, I noticed that the portraits of all these iconic women were no longer adorning the walls. I don’t know why and I didn’t ask. I just know that the likes of them have rarely been seen on that network again. Thanks to Les Moonves, I can only guess they all became vaginal swabs in crime labs on CSI Amarillo.

For years, Moonves loaded up the network with highly profitable, male-dominated series, always careful to stir in and amply reward an occasional actress, like the fabulous Patti Heaton or the irresistible Kaley Cuoco. But mostly, he presided over a plethora of macho crime shows featuring a virtual genocide of dead naked hotties in morgue drawers, with sadistic female autopsy reports, ratcheted up each week (“Is that a missing breast implant, lieutenant?” “Yes sir, we also found playing cards in her uterus.”) On the day I officially parted company with CBS, the same day Mr. Moonves said he would only pay a tiny fraction of the penalties, my incredulous agent asked what he should tell me. Mr. Moonves replied, “Tell her to go fuck herself!”

So that’s years of feminist-flavored sitcoms that never happened along with years of misogynist drooling over female corpses.

Oh well, it’s only women.

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