The unsettling trend of ’90s TV stars’ manipulation by producers

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Thirty years after the fact, we’re learning some troubling things about how actors, writers, and performers were treated on some of the most family friendly shows of the ’90s. For example, we’ve already covered some of the tribulations faced by Boy Meets World actress Trina McGee-Davis.

Turns out there’s more to the story. Over on the celebrity gossip subreddit r/Deuxmoi, a thread about Trina McGee’s treatment brought out some other allegations as well. Here’s the post:

While we’ve covered the McGee stuff, there are some nuggets of new information courtesy of user selphiefairy. For example, there’s been a lot of talk about Will Friedle and his apology to McGee over racist comments on the Pod Meets World podcast.

… I got serious “I’m a conservative but since I live in LA i have to couch most of it” from Will [Friedle]. If we’re talking about performative apologies, he literally went on and on loudly about how much Trina “changed his life” over and over again because Trina had to explain to him that he couldn’t call a black woman Aunt Jemima. Like, I’m glad you got over your ignorance but come on. Way to make it about you.

User aitathrowawayzz said: “Will understood his comment was wrong immediately and sought to personally (non-publicly) apologize to Trina both in-person and with a lengthy handwritten letter.” There was also mention of how Danielle Fishel and McGee didn’t get along.

Danielle, by Trina’s account, was rude/cold during BMW and then GMW, and only apologized (publicly or privately) after Trina came out with her experiences following #BLM. It just felt like Danielle saw that she could easily be cancelled for poor/microaggressive behaviour towards Trina and quickly sought to rectify that, and she blamed her attitude on going through a divorce or something, which was bizarre.

We are just getting started folks. Selphiefairy then gets into how people on the show pitted the two actresses together.

In the podcast episode they mentioned (too briefly) there were people specifically pitting the female cast members, including Danielle and Trina, against one another. They kind of suggested Danielle and Trina’s dislike of each other while working on the show had to do with Michael Jacobs telling both of them lies about the other. And since they didn’t really hang out, it was easy for both to just accept these rumors as fact without clarifying in person with the other girl. And it just became this self perpetuating thing.

To summarize, it sounds like McGee had a terrible time as a Black woman on a hit show in the ’90s.

Joss Whedon Allegations

In the ’90s and early aughts, filmmaker and director Joss Whedon was known as the showrunner for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff Angel (among other things). User Selphiefairy also mentioned that he faced some allegations as well.

“Joss Whedon has also been called out for pitting female cast members against each other on Buffy too. Like is this a common thing? Is it some weird power trip?” So what happened?

Back in January, Vulture did a deep dive on Whedon and some of the allegations against him. For example, Sophia Crawford and Jeff Pruitt, who played Sarah Michelle Gellar’s stunt double and stunt coordinator on the show, claim the showrunner was abusive on set.

In an interview with MetroUK, Pruitt said the working relationship with Whedon started “great”, but that it worsened as the show went on and Whedon got more and more controlling. Pruitt said he was fed up and wanted to leave and pursue other projects, but “producers told me that Joss reacted as if I was having an affair or something behind his back.”

When Pruitt was asked to return, he said, there were conditions. One of those was that producers needed to meet with Crawford before season 5 work began. She also shared her experience: “I was called into the office and I was given an ultimatum. And they said to me, ‘Come back to the show, but you need to leave Jeff, or don’t come back.’ And so I basically started crying. And I said “F you. That’s horrible, bye.”

That’s when the working relationship really started to deteriorate, Pruitt said: “Joss told both Sophia and I that ‘no one will ever hire you again after this.’ He never says to anyone that he’ll see to it you never work in this town again. He is very careful. He only insinuates that no one will ever hire you again if you don’t please him.”

Whedon’s issue with James Marsters on ‘Buffy’

James Marsters as Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

One of the more popular characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the charismatic spiky-haired vampire antagonist Spike, played by James Marsters. On an episode of the Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum podcast, Marsters revealed that Whedon was unhappy with how popular Spike was on the show.

“I remember he backed me up against a wall one day and he was just like, ‘I don’t care how popular you are, kid, you’re dead. You hear me? Dead. Dead!'”

Marsters also said he could tell Whedon wasn’t joking around and “was angry” about the whole thing. The issue helps to illustrate the kind of behaviour that was tolerated by showrunners in the ’90s and aughts. And that’s not all.

Whedon and the pregnant Charisma Carpenter

Buffy the vampire slayer

Charisma Carpenter was a regular on both Buffy and the spinoff Angel, but she found out she was getting fired when someone in the press called her. While showrunner initially wrote it into the show, she said she felt Whedon was “honestly mad” at her for the pregnancy.

She was eventually written out of the series. Carpenter said it was a complicated situation.

“I think he was mad at me and I say that in a loving way, which is – it’s a very complicated dynamic working for somebody so many years, and expectations, and also being on a show for eight years, you gotta live your life. And sometimes living your life gets in the way of maybe the creator’s vision for the future. And that becomes a conflict, and that was my experience.”

Carpenter was a bit more direct in February of 2021. She tweeted “#IStandWithRayFisher” after the Justice League actor said Whedon demonstrated “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” behaviour during reshoots. She said her experience with Whedon was similar and that he created a “hostile and toxic working environment” that put a huge strain on her pregnancy.

Whedon’s Response

Whedon responded to some of the allegations in the apparent hopes that it would revive his career, as he’s been removed from his latest HBO Max show The Nevers and doesn’t really have anything on the horizon. In addition to the aforementioned issues, he was also accused of having several affairs while handling Buffy.

Whedon claimed he was “powerless” to not pursue sexual affairs with women on the show and that he was terrified he would be discovered. He did not, however, apologize or express concern for the women involved. He was also not allowed to be alone in a room with Michelle Trachtenberg, who was 15 at the time of filming.

As for Carpenter’s allegations, Whedon said: “I was not mannerly. Most of my experiences with Charisma were delightful and charming. She struggled sometimes with her lines, but nobody could hit a punch line harder than her.”

He also said he didn’t think he deserved all the vitriol.

“I think I’m one of the nicer showrunners that’s ever been,” he said, and went on to say that people are using “every weaponizable word of the modern era to make it seem like I was an abusive monster.”

Phew. Let’s move on.

One Tree Hill allegations

One Tree Hill Pictured: Shantel VanSanten as Quinn, James Lafferty as Nathan and Bethany Joy Galeotti as Haley, Austin Nichols as Julian, Sophia Bush as Brooke, Jana Kramer as Alex, Robert Buckley as Clay Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/The CW © 2009 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

One Tree Hill, an early aughts teen drama that ran from 2003 to 2012, was a favorite show for a lot of young people at the time. It was created by Mark Schwahn, who saw his career in television dissipate after allegations surfaced against him as well.

Reddit user littledove0 also mentioned the circumstances in the thread.

So what happened? In 2017, Variety published an article detailing crew and cast members stories about harassment from Schwahn. Hilarie Burton, who played Peyton Sawyer, said she fought with Schwan over the sexualization of her character. That fight got her labeled as “difficult.”

She also said “Things took a turn in season three. That’s when Mark decided that I was his muse.” She said he kissed her against her will and touched her inappropriately, even in front of his wife.

Schawn would also pit the women against each other and be verbally abusive, all while lying about having relationships with cast members. Michelle Furtney-Goodman, a writer on the show, said Schwahn harassed her in front of everyone. From the article:

“[Schwahn] forced her head down between her knees, balanced a soda can on her, and joked about her performing oral sex. Another female actor, speaking anonymously, described pushing Schwahn away after he grabbed her suddenly and pulled her between his thighs. The alleged incident occurred on set, in front of crew.”

Almost 20 women came forward claiming harassment. Another writer, Audrey Wauchope, said Schwahn touched her frequently and inappropriately and showed her naked pictures of an actress he was sleeping with at the time.

There is a whole lot of other stuff Schwahn is accused of doing as well.

These instances of harassment paint a different picture of the sunny nostalgia of late ’90s television. Instead of a happy go lucky experience, many actresses and writers found themselves in uncomfortable positions as unchecked showrunners ran rampant.

Hopefully, with all of this attention on the issue, things have improved.