After accusing her 'One Tree Hill' boss of sexual harassment, the showrunner for Lifetime's 'UnReal' tells us how she creates a safe environment on her show

  • Lifetime’s “UnReal” tells a story in season three that embodies the #MeToo movement.
  • But writing for the season was complete before the movement started, according to showrunner Stacy Rukeyser.
  • A year-long hiatus is actually benefitting the show because of the movement.
  • Rukeyser, who accused her “One Tree Hill” boss Mark Schwann of creating a toxic environment for women, told Business Insider how she makes everyone working on her show feel comfortable.

It might seem like season three of Lifetime’s “UnReal” – which shows a main character coming to terms with a sexual assault that happened when she was 12 – was a direct result of the #MeToo movement. But it wasn’t.

“I would love to say we felt a change coming, but we really did not,” showrunner Stacy Rukeyser told Business Insider. Rukeyser is one of 18 women who came forward with accusations of sexual harassment against “One Tree Hill” showrunner Mark Schwann. In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter published in November 2017, Rukeyser described the show’s environment as a “frat house,” even though the show was for teenage girls, and most of the main characters were women.

Rukeyser told Business Insider that she runs her show in a very different way: the key, she said, is positivity, and making your employees feel like they can talk to you.

“UnReal,” which follows the lives of employees and contestants on “Everlasting” – a fictional dating reality series based on “The Bachelor” – has always been ahead of the curve. Its first season explored mental illness in a way that no show on TV had before, paving the way for other shows to do the same, like The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The series stars Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby, who have both been nominated for Emmys for their roles.

UnReal season 3LifetimeShiri Appleby as Rachel and Constance Zimmer as Quinn

Cultural relevance

Season three is not the first time the show has reflected its time. Since the beginning, “UnReal” has either created a cultural conversation, or added to it.

In addition to going deeper into the psyche of its main character, Rachel Goldberg, the show within a show had its first ever black suitor in season two, which aired in 2016. This sparked some controversy when people pointed out that over 20 seasons in, “The Bachelor” had never had a black lead, and had barely had any contestants of colour.

In February 2017, months after season two aired, ABC announced that Rachel Lindsay would be the first ever black bachelorette, suggesting that the conversation “UnReal” started possibly had an effect on the show it was satirizing.

In season three, “UnReal” continues its cultural relevance, and is paving the way for stories reflective of the #MeToo movement.

In the new season, which started on Lifetime Monday night, Rachel (Shiri Appleby) is coming to terms with her rape. Her mother, a therapist, ran her business at their home, with patients coming in and out constantly. When Rachel was 12, one of her mother’s patients raped her.

UnRealLifetimeCaitlin Fitzgerald plays Serena, a successful tycoon who’s looking for love on ‘Everlasting.’

A beneficial hiatus

Rukeyser said that while the season certainly seems like a result of #MeToo, it’s not: writing was already complete before the movement started. “Looking back on it, it just seems so lucky that they [Lifetime] held onto it [season 3],” Rukeyser said. The show was originally scheduled to air in summer of 2017.

“I would love to say we felt a change coming, but we really did not,” Rukeyser said. “We just felt things that we had experienced as women, and certainly some of it is women in Hollywood. We were just excited that we had a chance to talk about it.”

UnReal season 3LifetimeWriting for season three was complete for the accusations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men surfaced.

A safe, positive environment

“UnReal” depicts a TV show that is anything but safe and positive. Its characters are mean to each other, and typically only point out the negative.

But on the real-life set, Rukeyser goes out of her way to ensure that no one who works on “UnReal” feels unsafe or unappreciated, given the nature of the show and given her experience with Schwann on “One Tree Hill.”

“I definitely had been thinking for a very long time about all of the things I would do if I ever got a chance to run my own show,” Rukeyser said. “I care that everyone feels OK and feels safe. And if you don’t, I want you to come to me. So you have to set the standard from the beginning that this is important and something everyone should be aware of and then the same thing goes on set.”

UnReal season 3Lifetime‘UnReal’ creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro worked as a producer on ‘The Bachelor,’ and based the show on her experiences.

Rukeyser said the week her former boss Schwann was accused of sexual harassment, she flew to Vancouver for a season three table read.

“I said to everyone how important it was to me that everyone feels safe on this show, and I wanted to make sure they had my phone number, and my cell phone number, and that they knew they could call day or night,” she said. “And that I take these things really seriously. And that something will be done about it.”

Rukeyser said making people feel safe isn’t the only thing a showrunner can do to create a great environment, which in turn helps make a better show.

“There are hundreds of people who go into making this show, and I want everyone to feel a great sense of ownership,” Rukeyser said. “TV is an incredibly collaborative medium. But I have learned if you watch the dailies and the wardrobe looks great, you call the costume designer and you tell them. If an actor has a particularly great scene, call them and tell them that. You don’t call when the things are going wrong, basically. It’s basically just caring, not only about the stories you’re telling, but the experience you’re having while you’re making it.”

“UnReal” airs Mondays on Lifetime at 10 p.m. Catch up on the first two seasons on Hulu.

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