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Inside fired All Rise showrunner Greg Spottiswood's toxic workplace: He allegedly referred to two Black colleagues as "monkeys"

  • CBS ousted Spottiswood in March, seven months after The New York Times detailed how he clashed with his diverse writers' room in Season 1, prompting nearly all of his writers from that season to "mutiny." According to Maureen Ryan, Spottiswood's troubles continued in Season 2, even after an internal probe resulted in new co-showrunner Dee Harris-Lawrence, who is Black, joining the show. In fact, it was during a group Zoom call with Harris-Lawrence and another writer, who is also Black, that Spottiswood allegedly made his "monkey" comment. "Look at that," Spottiswood allegedly said, "a monkey passing the ball to another monkey." A source tells Ryan that Spottiswood immediately said "I didn't mean it like that." Yet the source says he never addressed the comment again. "It was just not acknowledged, which in and of itself was jarring, aside from the words used," the source tells Ryan. "I don't think he meant to employ the weight of that term, but he absolutely did use those words — and then no one said anything. And that to me says more about the work culture than the actual use of the term. Intention doesn't dictate harm. You have to be able to show some level of accountability, especially in a workplace scenario where you're in charge. You have to realize the gravity of the situation and make amends for the harm done." As Ryan notes, Spottiswood's misconduct scandal was different. "Spottiswood has not been accused of anything remotely like sexual assault," explains Ryan. "He's not even a flamboyant screamer or baked-potato-thrower in the mold of (Scott) Rudin. In fact, his tenure at All Rise is a cautionary tale precisely because descriptions of his alleged behavior, attitudes and conduct fall into subtler categories that are probably even more prevalent in the TV industry — and more likely to be enabled...According to most of the All Rise sources I spoke to, Spottiswood created a 'hostile' atmosphere in dozens of quiet, confidence-shredding ways, and was regularly insensitive, arrogant and defensive in workplace conversations, including those that would necessarily take place at a show about a Black female judge." Conway Preston, a white writer on Season 1, tells Ryan: "Greg made the choice to write a television show about people of color, and hired a room full of people of color who could have elevated and added perspective to the story he chose to tell, despite it not being his lived experience. And instead, he all too often denied their input and made their lives miserable every step of the way." Despite Spottiswood overseeing a diverse cast and writers' room, Ryan reports his "disrespect bled onto the screen, according to many sources from both seasons, who describe a showrunner so entrenched in his worldview that it was difficult to get him to consistently build responsible storytelling around life experiences that did not match his opinions and expectations as a middle-aged white man from Canada." Another source tells Ryan that Spottiswood's poor management and "petulance" frequently sent the show off the rails during both seasons. Spottiswood did not respond to most of the questions Ryan sent about the allegations in her story. Instead, he released the following statement: "I created All Rise with the intent of amplifying the power of a Black female lead along with a diverse cast to share with viewers a new POV on a myriad of important issues that our criminal justice system is currently facing. It was essential to me that I collaborate with a diverse group of talented writers and craftspeople to ensure that All Rise was an inclusive and representative environment and that it reflected the city it was set in. I recognize that I was not as successful as I hoped and that my communication style during the creative process sometimes was counterproductive."

    TOPICS: Greg Spottiswood, CBS, All Rise