A Forgotten Show Warned Us About Harvey Weinstein (In 1999)
Hey, remember the 1999 Fox sitcom Action?
No? Not even a little bit? Don't worry, that's normal. Action might be long forgotten by most people, but that's just because it was ahead of its time. By about 18 years, to be precise. Seem like an oddly specific number? Bear with us ...
On the surface, Action had all the hallmarks of a surefire success. It featured cameos by Hollywood A-listers like Keanu Reeves and Salma Hayek, it was produced by Joel Silver fresh off the success of The Matrix, and it starred Jay Mohr, which ... look, not everything can be a hallmark, OK?
The show focused on fictional movie producer Peter Dragon, which you'll notice is not even close to "Joel Silver." Barely even any consonants in common. But as much as Silver wanted to distance himself from the character (for reasons that will soon become clear), one of the show's major hooks was the idea that Silver would use his own experiences as a producer to create an accurate depiction of "what [Hollywood] is about." What that town is about, apparently, is addiction, exploitation, suicide, and at least a little bestiality. When even HBO laughed them out of the coke-stall, Fox snapped up the show and put it in a 9 p.m. time slot, up against Frasier.
Honestly, it's hard to see what went wrong here.
But unlike most dead sitcoms, today Action is more relevant than ever, in light of, um, certain new information.
As more and more stories of Hollywood sexual abuse and exploitation come to light, we can plainly see that Action was decades ahead of the curve. The show frankly dealt with the industry's sex crimes in almost every episode. In fact, it was kind of a running gag throughout the show. Some brief highlights include:
-- A revelation early in the show that Peter's production assistant had to sleep with him to get her job.
-- A studio chief nicknamed Bobby G (allegedly based on Barry Diller) who intimidates everyone around him by whipping out his enormous penis during meetings.
-- Peter informing his female staff that those who "routinely confuse a hand in the blouse with sexual harassment" might want to "call that bitch Gloria Allred and get her off my ass."
-- Peter's ex-wife confessing that she once raped him while he was passed out in a drug stupor.
Even Salma Hayek's cameo is based around a sexual harassment gag. Hayek, who obviously has had plenty of experience with handsy bigwigs in real life, confronts Peter for sexually harassing her in an audition and masturbating in front of her. He doesn't deny what he did -- he just doesn't remember doing it to her specifically. The joke is that despite being the worst person imaginable, Peter is the simply the Hollywood norm. In hindsight, that's ... not actually a joke at all.
Also in the show, we are introduced to a pair of twin brothers named Elliot and Bill Rothstein -- hugely influential Hollywood producers, as well as gluttonous bullies who like to throw their weight around, sometimes literally.
The Weinsteins (sorry, the "Rothsteins") are also remorseless and sexually exploitative. In the last episode of the show, after Peter and his colleague Wendy Ward (a former child star turned sex worker turned producer) find out that the rights to one of their movies are owned by the Rothsteins, she is given an offer: Full rights to the movie, as long as she sleeps with the Rothsteins.
Driven by loyalty and desperation, Wendy spends a night with the Rothsteins, while dressed in full, humiliating Elephant Princess (her childhood show) regalia. Peter waits outside in his limo, and when Wendy emerges the next morning, she quits the movie business on the spot.
Peter is taken aback by her sudden departure, and tells her she's "overreacting" in "quitting show business because [she] had to fuck a couple of fat guys to get a script back." Despondent, Wendy replies that she knows he thinks that, and that's the problem.
Unlike Family Guy and 30 Rock, the writers of Action made it clear they weren't just joking around about the rampant sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood. The scene doesn't even try to be funny. Everyone is genuinely hurt, and Wendy is legitimately traumatized. Peter has his film back, sure, but his vile nature has lost him one of his few true friends. Wendy finally accepts that in Hollywood, powerful men get to do what they want to who they want, because no one is willing to stop them.
Or at least, they weren't at the time ...
Bevan sometimes writes things when he isn't distracted by the All Blacks or old episodes of The Simpsons. You can read his stuff at http://www.bevanmorgan.com
The actress who played Wendy Ward in Action actually wrote a book about her experiences in Hollywood called I Blame Dennis Hopper. Give it a read!
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