Amy Poehler. Shonda Rhimes. Lena Dunham. Women are having a moment on television right now. What used to be an old boys' club is slowly but surely being overtaken by an inspiring group of driven, hilarious ladies. Last night, FOX gathered some of the network's best and brightest for a meeting-of-the-minds-style panel dubbed Girls Night Out. Mindy Kaling and Jane Lynch joined Chelsea Peretti, star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Liz Meriwether, creator of New Girl; Heather Kadin, executive producer of Sleepy Hollow; Alex Borstein, voice of Lois on Family Guy; and Yeardley Smith, voice of Maggie on The Simpson, to talk about what it's like for women in the industry. To nobody's surprise, the dialogue was both motivating and gut-busting.
The stars kicked things off by sharing stories of their humble beginnings, which ranged from appearing in poorly attended off-off-Broadway plays to laboring through unpaid assistant gigs. Moderator Stacey Wilson of The Hollywood Reporter summed it up best: "You haven't made it in Hollywood until you worked for free."
Each veteran stressed the importance of hard work and persistence, but Chelsea Peretti also praised the value of maintaining good relationships. For her, a childhood friendship with Andy Samberg segued into a full-time gig on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. "Andy Samberg and I went to elementary school together back in Oakland — you may have heard of it," she joked to the audience. "I had a crush on him and I showed it by calling his house and hanging up over and over."
The ladies of FOX wanted their fans to know that just because they've all nabbed their dream jobs doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing. Take The Mindy Project — many critics and fans were hard on the show during its first season, and Kaling had to get used to dealing with naysayers. "I personally think that the show was better early on than other people do, but I'm used to that kind of reaction because people weren't sure about The Office season one either," she said. "You learn more — and get attached to characters — as a show goes on, but I'm still gonna stand by that first season."
One thing Kaling has figured out is the art of writing a relationship. She initially resisted the idea of her character getting together with Mindy Project's Danny, eventually conceding to the natural flow of the story. "[For awhile I thought] longing was so much more entertaining — you can relate to someone like that more than someone who has a boyfriend or a girlfriend," she said of on-screen Mindy's singledom. "Who cares about happy people? But, then, it became more challenging not to keep them together — Chris Messina has a superhuman ability to smolder and at a certain point you're like, 'go to him.' I just felt like it was time."
Kaling, Peretti, and the like are a source of inspiration for tons of aspiring young women, but there was a time when they themselves were seeking out advice. They reminisced about the guidance they received, and it runs the gamut from the insightful to the hilarious. Heather Kadin, executive producer of Sleepy Hollow, laughed about the directive she heard the most: "I always got advice to choose another career — they said it's the worst job and the industry would eat your soul."
Kaling's role models were a little more sage, and she passes on her mantra to the younger generation constantly. "My mom immigrated and had to start over as a doctor and had to work so hard," she said. "She used to look at the white men with good jobs and say, 'Why not me?' So, I think the same. You just have to let that thought bother you, and then let the bother fuel your creativity."
It can feel frustrating to try and break into an industry as exclusive as Hollywood, but Jane Lynch insists there's never been a better time for women to give it a shot. "I think it's a golden age for women right now," she told the audience. "You have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler building empires, and hopefully all of us here will build our own empires. It's just a good for women in TV. Maybe not so much for film, though — if you drive down Sunset the billboards are all men with guns."
So, with all this awesomeness going around, is there anything bad about being a television mogul? There were certainly no complaints among the group, but several women did admit to feeling a little, well, frazzled at times. Kaling blows off steam by watching The Walking Dead. ("Watching people get stabbed in the head over and over is wonderful.") And, New Girl creator Liz Meriwether deals with the craziness in a wholly original way: "Being a showrunner means everyone needs something from you constantly. It's exciting and amazing, but when I finally get to be alone I just need to, like, stare at a wall."
We understand the sentiment, but something tells us the success is worth the stress.