The Bold Type Showrunner Sarah Watson Talks Feminism, Internet Trolls & Reading The Comments

Photo: Courtesy of Freeform
If you tuned into Freeform's Pretty Little Liars to witness the unbreakable bond of female friendship, than the network's new offering, The Bold Type, won't disappoint. Based on the stories of the female staffers at Cosmopolitan — and, specifically, the magazine's former Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles — The Bold Type follows three young aspiring-somethings as they strive to make their media dreams a reality at the fictional Scarlet Magazine. The show's trio consists of Kat (Aisha Dee), the company's young, confident social media director; Jane (Katie Stevens), a newbie writer struggling to find her voice; and Sutton (Meghann Fahy), an assistant with hopes of a fashion career.
While the premise of the series may have shades of The Devil Wears Prada, there's zero cattiness at this mag — in addition to the trio being ride-or-die BFFs, they're also led by the enviable Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin), who wants only the best from, and more importantly for, her staff. As a writer who has been asked more than once if her working environment brings out "the claws" in ambitious women (ugh), The Bold Type is refreshing — and reflective of an industry that now, more than ever, needs the voices of young women.
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I spoke with The Bold Type's showrunner Sarah Watson about the feminism of The Bold Type, internet trolls, and why we need this show right now.
What inspired you to create this show?
"This is a world that I've always loved. I've always been enamored by this glamorous magazine world. So, I had a meeting with [a producer on this show,] and he had a relationship with Joanna from Cosmopolitan magazine. I was so excited. A week later, I flew myself out to New York and met with Joanna. I got to go to Cosmo and go into the shoe closet. It was just every bit as exciting as I'd hoped it'd be. In the past decade or so, it would've been a lot harder to do a show about a magazine. The articles come out only once a month, so there's not that immediacy. Obviously with digital, it allows to tell these much quicker stories. Even since I've started working on the show, the space for female journalists' writing has become so much more relevant."
Why did you choose Kat, Jane, and Sutton to tell these stories through?
"It felt like where you are in your mid-twenties. You always have one friend who succeeds first and it's not necessarily the friend who's the most talented. Kat has this millennial spirit of 'I can do anything!' and it got her this far. I think Sutton, deep down, has the most drive out of any of them, but she's not as accustomed to speaking up for herself. That's really her journey. Then, Jane, who's known what she wants to do her entire life. In your mid-twenties, you can be at wildly different places in your career, but it was also important to me to show how much they support each other. Those are the types of female friendships I have been fortunate to have in my life. I feel like that's not something we see a lot of on TV. Often, there's a lot of backstabbing. Obviously, they're going to have conflict, but I wanted the drama to still come from a place of them supporting each other."
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Photo: Courtesy of Freeform
You're playing against the Devil Wears Prada trope. Jacqueline wants to support the assistants and young writers. Why not have the boss be a Miranda Priestly-type?
"Well, first of all, I felt that it was time to show a female boss like that on TV because that's not often the type of boss we see. It's the kind of mentors and kind of bosses I've had. When I first met Joanna, I was so inspired by her because she is tough and she does have high expectations, but she also nurtures her staff in the way that they rise to meet those expectations. She's just such an incredible figure in that way. I got to know her, not just through her, but through talking to a lot of the staff at Cosmo. You can just see how much they respect her and how much they try that much harder for her. I really felt like it was time to show that kind of female boss on TV."
I'm curious what feminism means to you, and also to the women of Scarlet. How would a Scarlet writer describe feminism?
"We spent so much time talking about this and, in the writers' room, we always talk about the ever-moving target of feminism. It's impossible to define. There's been all this intention in the last year or two to put a definition on it. Who's included? Who's not? To me, it's all about believing that women can do everything and empowering women to do everything. It's as simple and clean as that."
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Photo: Courtesy of Freeform
There's a trolling storyline in episode 3, in which one of the characters is being targeted by cruel commenters online for speaking out about gender equality. Why make this a big plot point?
"There were a couple specifics. Being a woman and ever having tweeted anything — I'm sure you've been through it — we are targets. Everyone is a target on the internet. I, specifically, have one friend who was trolled during Gamergate. To see how vicious and ruthless and personal it got... I also was very inspired by another TV writer. I won't say her name, but she's very successful, you'd absolutely know her. She admitted to me once, 'I am a very successful woman with a great life and a great job and I have cried myself to sleep over things people have said to me on Twitter.' It was such a gut punch."
What do you think young women should take away from The Bold Type?
"Well, what's really exciting is that now it goes back to the positives of Twitter. I do believe that the internet brings out the best and it brings out the worst. Now that we've had our sneak peek and were able to see some of the responses, it seems like women are craving these kinds of role models on TV and these kinds of friendships. I just want women out there – and men – to be able to see that we can be positive forces. We can support each other. We can lift each other up. The drama can come from the external, not from each other. That is a world that is my dream come true."
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Do you have any more plans to incorporate real world stories into The Bold Type?
"Definitely real world issues. Definitely real world problems that myself and my writers are facing. In terms of teasing, I would just expect to see these women living in the world of 2017 in America and everything that entails."
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