4/23/2004 Add a comment

In the hysteria surrounding the end of Friends, a sexual harrassment lawsuit filed by a terminated writer's assistant on the show gives some insight into the "creative process" that generated the hit TV show. Amaani Lyle, the former assistant, was hired effectively to transcribe the conversations the writers would have while developing scripts, with the goal of producing accurate records of decent jokes, hit lines, and story ideas. She was fired four months later, ostensibly for failing to type as quickly as her application had promised. She subsequently hit the writers with a sexual harrassment lawsuit. All of that seems fairly normal--but here's the kicker. The conduct that she describes--sexually coarse, vulgar and demeaning language, disparaging comments about the fertility of a female actor on the show, speculation on the sex lives of the actors, physical imitations of sexual activity, vulgar drawings on calendars and other public materials, and extensive recaps of personal sexual experiences--seems not to have been contested by the defendants. Of course, they argue that it was taken out of context and that it sounds worse than it really was, but they admit to the substance of many of the allegations. So what's their defense? They say that it was creatively necessary for developing a show about sexually active young adults. Quoted directly from the court opinion:

"Here, defendants argue the sexually explicit conversations among the writers were not gratuitous but had a compelling business purpose: to generate ideas for jokes, dialogue and story ideas for the show which routinely contains sexual innuendos and adult humor and situations. According to the defendants no alternative to these sexual brainstorming sessions exists. As a writers' assistant tasked with taking notes on these jokes, dialogue and story lines Lyle had to be present during the entire session, even when the writers were discussing their personal sexual exploits or fantasies, because, as Malins explained, 'you just never knew when something was going to pop up.'" (LYLE v. WARNER BROS. TV PRODUCTIONS, 2004 Cal. App. LEXIS 579)

The court pretty much slammed that one down by refusing to rule in the defendant's behalf, saying that these were issues for a jury to determine. And I've got to say--while it's easy to see how the defendants could argue that they were simply engaged in the creative process, the more vile parts of the opinion (which I have not quoted) lend some heft to Ms. Lyle's contention that she was subjected to a hostile work environment. My bet is that both parties will now settle under seal, but if this went to a jury trial, it could be a fascinating ride. Gretchen