In Memoriam: D.C. Fontana and How William Shatner’s Chest Inspired one (or more) Female Television Writers to Succeed in the Boys Club of Hollywood

In fond memory of D.C Fontana, who died yesterday at the age of 80, I am reposting this homage I wrote for the Mindful(l) Media podcast in 2015. She will be greatly missed. – Rosanne


In Memoriam: D.C. Fontana, Star Trek & Women via Mindful(l) Media

How William Shatner’s Chest Inspired one (or more) Female Television Writers to Succeed in the Boys Club of Hollywood

As a child I didn’t come to Star Trek for the fantasy or for the fun futuristic optimism or even for the glory of the gadgetry of the tricorders and communicators. I came for William Shatner’s chest. Glimpsed quickly one day while changing channels, my pre-adolescent hormones screeched to a halt as I sat transfixed. That tight Star Fleet uniform shirt truly rippled across his chest, which seemed to strain to be released. We didn’t ‘flip’ in those pre-remote days. We sat in front of the set and manually spun the dial like the combination lock on our high school lockers, which brought us in to much closer contact with the (sometimes still black and white) pictures flashing upon our (compared to modern day frightfully small) screens. I don’t even remember which episode it was that first placed his pecs in front of me, but this obsession with Shatner’s chest focused me so much so that I never cared for the writers’ propensity for finding ways for his co-star to flaunt his own brand of sexuality. Forcing the unfeeling Mr. Spock to feel never moved me at all, so in second, third and fourth runs I never found “This Side of Paradise” much to my liking. In the epic mash up between Sexy Shatner and Sexy Spock, Shatner always won. But being a budding television writer even as a ten year old, I recognized in the idea the need to offer the actor a way out of the rigid character description enforced upon him by his creator.

Fontana 1970sViewed now from the perspective of a fifty-year old female television writer and scholar, no longer merely a fan, I find the episode fascinating for what it says about the history of women writers — and the female characters they create — in television. In those days of heady chest-worshipping I didn’t know that the D. C. in D. C. Fontana stood for Dorothy Catherine. When I later learned that information from reading The Making of Star Trek, I took her success as a beacon for my own journey, as did many other future female television writers I came to meet throughout my career. While countless books have been written about the influence of the program on science fiction and on television in general, what I came to learn was the influence Star Trek wielded on bringing women into the industry — and how their participation changes the way female characters are portrayed.

Because of Fontana, future writers of future Trek franchises invited other female writers to pitch ideas so that, to my great joy twenty years after I stumbled upon the original Trek, I found myself in the offices of Star Trek: The Next Generation pitching ideas for stories involving what was still largely a boys club of characters. Sure, they had accepted two women into their continuing cast — both in ‘soft’ occupations as ship’s counselor and medical doctor and still under the command of Captain Picard. But the franchise had proved a stepping stone for a variety of female writers I admired (including Jane Espenson and Melinda M. Snodgrass) and I was excited to be among them. I never sold a story to that iteration of the show, but I kept watching — and kept noticing — that written by women, female characters were (and sadly are still) often more developed (in ways other than their chest measurements).

In “Paradise” that is true of what actress Nichelle Nichols is given to do as our cast regular female, Lt. Nyota Uhura (whose first name I never knew until the writing of this essay) and what Jill Ireland is given to do as the guest character, Spock’s former girlfriend, Leila (who in the tradition of sex objects was never provided a last name). Normally confined to dialogue discussing ‘hailing frequencies’ and only seen taking orders from Captain Kirk, in “Paradise” Uhura commits mutiny against her captain. He has to state for the Captain’s log that, “Lt. Uhura has effectively sabotaged all communications.” While all the male starship members also commit mutiny, Uhura is given one-on-one screen time with the lead actor to do so. Likewise, while Leila seems at first to only be demonstrating that the most perfect, porcelain-faced blonde can even be sexy in overalls, she was also spouting Thoreau (as in Henry David) and his brand of 19th century Transcendentalist philosophy to Spock — and to the audience. For a show airing at the height of the hippie movement, Leila served as a mouthpiece for their dream of peaceful co-existence, one not yet shared by other generations. In several online interviews Fontana has chosen Leila as one of her favorite characters, so we know much of what Leila says comes from Fontana’s own philosophies.

Of course, in the end television was then (and still is now) a man’s world so Uhura’s and Leila’s interests are eventually subsumed by Kirk’s desire to prove, “Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.” This philosophy discounts ‘woman’ as part of ‘man’ and makes the female-gendered idea of creating peace and happiness submissive to the more male dominant idea of success defined by changing the world around him. Why is a love of nature, as evidenced in Spock’s line: “I have seen a dragon… but I’ve never stopped to look at clouds before, or rainbows” less of an ambition for man? Even the American Founding Fathers cared more for the land and its beauty than these final frontier founders seem to do as they travel the galaxy. Why is the existence of this previous girlfriend and the chance to hear “I love you” from a formerly feeling-less alien male, less of an ambition of (wo)man?

Fontana 2012Despite her straining to include her voice in this world, the male producer(s) still stamped their voice on the final product that became “This Side of Paradise”. Over the course of my career, I came to learn that Fontana shared that experience with many of the female writers who followed her, each one planting just enough seeds or dropping just enough breadcrumbs of her own opinion onto the fields of male creation for the rest of us ‘chick writers’ to follow. Where as a child I saw “This Side of Paradise” as an epic battle between sexy male leads, as an adult I see it as the continued battle for the hearts and minds of the audience waged by writers of different genders. It is a fight that several other sisters have carried on through the decades and one I’m willing to declare has been won by a relative newcomer to the scene, Shonda Rhimes. Through the creation of her own new frontier in Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes provides male and female audiences alike with an all-inclusive world entirely conceived in a female mind. What do both the male and female doctors of Seattle Grace Hospital hope to provide their patients everyday? As Rodenberry provided a masculine ‘trek’ for man into the final frontier, the feminine goal Rhimes provides her characters is right there in the title of the hospital, ‘grace’. (And thanks to D. C. Fontana, Shonda chose to use her first name in her credits.)

All this musing makes me wonder how many young female writers are now coming to their careers because of a love of the way Patrick Dempsey’s chest ripples under his uniform shirt?

Screenwriters (once again) left out of Los Angeles Times Maleficent Story!

Screenwriters (once again) left out of Los Angeles Times Maleficent Story!

This is definitely driving me crazy!

After reading the attached article I had to write this letter to the Los Angeles Times:

Did Tracy Brown  really write a whole article (“How Angelina Jolie’s daughter inspired the secret backstory of ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’”) about the story process for the new Maleficent sequel WITHOUT ONCE mentioning the name of the credited screenwriters – Linda Woolverton (who also wrote the original film) and Noah Harpster?

The article even begins with naming the director in the first sentence. This is a ludicrous example of the unexplained contempt journalists (who are writers themselves) seem to have against screenwriters – or solid evidence that the now disproved-in-academia-but-still-mistakenly-believed-by-others auteur theory still holds sway. But directors do not write their films unless you call them ‘writer-directors’.

Read the entire article – “How Angelina Jolie’s daughter inspired the secret backstory of ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’”

Comments On Who Will Win The Streaming Wars?

How many streaming services will you subscribe to before streaming costs as much as that cable cord so many of us have cut?

I predict Netflix will survive based on being early to the game and how they have struck so many co-production deals in major countries all over the world so they are seeding their service with material to please a greater audience.

Yes Disney+ will do well but in my family we cut cable when my son outgrew the Disney Channel – which happens in all families eventually so I don’t think even the core of lifelong Disney fans will be enough to make the service necessary forever. Yes, they have the Marvel and Star Wars worlds now, but I own the films in those franchises already… so subscribing brings me nothing new…But we’ll see, won’t we? — Rosanne

Who will win the streaming wars?

Comments On Who Will Win he Streaming Wars?

An epic battle is brewing in the entertainment industry. In the coming months, most of the biggest media conglomerates will launch their own streaming services in a high-stakes effort to remain relevant by selling movies, TV programming and short-form videos directly to viewers.

While the much-anticipated slugfest between the Walt Disney Co. and Netflix Inc. is sure to garner the most attention, AT&T Inc.’s HBO Max and Comcast Corp.’s Peacock also are getting ready to enter the fray, as are Apple Inc.’s Apple TV+ and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s Quibi.

The competition for subscription and advertising dollars has already led to disruption and anxiety. Studios are spending heavily to lock up prolific showrunners and popular older shows that they hope will get viewers to subscribe. Recently, tensions flared as Disney began rejecting Netflix ads on its TV channels.

Read the entire article – Who will win the streaming wars?

Dr. Rosanne Welch Named As The New Executive Director Of Stephens College MFA In TV And Screenwriting Program

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From Stephens College Office of Academic Affairs…

I am pleased to share with you the following announcement about an exciting change of leadership for the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting program. Congratulations to the team and thank you for all of your hard work building an amazing program.
– Dr. Leslie Willey, Stephens College Vice President for Academic Affairs

Rmw profile 2019The Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting  established in 2014, has named Dr. Rosanne Welch as the new executive director. Program founder and former director Ken LaZebnik will serve as Writer-in-Residence, while Khanisha Foster ’17, a graduate of the M.F.A. program, will serve as associate director. The program also features 15 faculty mentors and a rotating group of guest lecturers, all working writers, members of the Writers Guild and successful industry professionals.

Welch has served as a faculty member in the M.F.A. program since its start, creating a set of courses around the history of screenwriting, and teaching courses in one-hour drama. Her television writing credits include “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Picket Fences,” “ABC News: Nightline” and “Touched by an Angel.”

She edited “When Women Wrote Hollywood,” a book of essays published in 2018 that was named runner-up for the Susan Koppelman Award honoring the best anthology, multi-authored or edited book in feminist studies by the Popular Culture Association. She co-edited “Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia,” which was named to both the 2018 Outstanding References Sources List and the list of Best Historical Materials by the American Library Association, and authored “Why the Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television and American Popular Culture.”

Welch serves as book reviews editor for the Journal of Screenwriting and on the editorial board for Written By magazine. She was elected to the executive committee of the International Screenwriting Research Network this year for a two-year term.

Video games following path of films in their marketing and “Death Stranding” Game Trailer

What’s interesting about this video game trailer (is first of all that they have trailers for video games!) but that at the 5:36 mark they begin giving the credits for all the relatively big name actors in this – including Guillermo del Toro and (for me) Lindsay Wagner (the original Bionic Woman) which shows how this new-ish art form is following the path of films – which originally did not name their actors until they realized actors bring in audience.

Also, that the branding of the creator “Kojima Productions”. The parallels between these arts-turned-businesses are so interesting. — Rosanne

** Notes originally from discussion with Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting students 


Video games following path of films in their marketing and

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Remember to Credit The Screenwriter!

Remember to Credit The Screenwriter!

While we at Screenwriting Research Network strive to force a focus on screenwriters, we need allies in the non-academic world to properly credit them.

In that vein, I recently wrote to the Guardian’s film critic about a moment in his review of ‘Gangs of New York’ where he credited the director for a visual moment that occurred, clearly and firstly, in the original script — something that happens far too frequently. Often, such letters yield nothing outside of getting the issue off my chest, but today I received this response:

“Dear Dr Welch: many thanks for your email, which has been passed on to me. Your comment is entirely fair: I should have credited this moment to the screenwriters: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan. With all good wishes,”

I received this response after sending this email to The Guardian’s film desk:

“As a professor of Screenwriting History for an MFA program in the U.S. I greatly enjoy sharing your reviews of American films with my students, so I hope you don’t mind my noting a small mistake I found while researching your review of Gangs of New York – but again, being a professor of Screenwriting History (not film history because film history is the history of directors) I found you fell victim to one of the age-old issues of the old auteur theory. You credited a visual moment to the director when, in fact, it had existed in the original script, therefore the credit ought to have gone to the writer(s) and their imaginations and use of quality research.” 

“The streets erupt in a saturnalia of lawlessness, to which the director adds an inspired touch: an escaped elephant from Barnum’s circus trumpeting down the rubble-strewn streets.”

Yet that elephant was in the script (which I researched at the WGA Library in Los Angeles) all along, as you can see:

“116 EXT. CANAL STREET DAWN

The first thing we see is an ELEPHANT, who trumpets fearfully at the sudden sound of the shattered door. The gang stops, wary of this huge refugee from Barnum’s Museum, but the animal is more frightened of them. It hurries on down the street…”

I only make this point because those kinds of errors lead to the continued idea that directors are the only authors of a film – an idea most film programs are debunking by the day. I hope critics (since they are also writers) will remember screenwriters more prominently in their work in the future. I have taken to reminding people that, when you speak of your favorite films you rarely recount memorable camera angles, but in fact you recount your favorite dialogue and that is the realm of the writer. Often, as in this instance, many of the visuals credited to directors were first imagined by writers as well.

Dr. Rosanne Welch

Elena Ferrante: A Power of Our Own via The New York Times

Excellent opinion piece by Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym for an Italian novelist, author of the four Neapolitan novels beginning with ‘My Brilliant Friend’ that have been turned into an HBO series).

It covers the power of storytelling and the way the world needs to adapt to the way women wield power.

FerranteElena Ferrante: A Power of Our Own
Power is a story told by women. For centuries, men have colonized storytelling. That era is over.

Power, although hard to handle, is greatly desired. There is no person or group or sect or party or mob that doesn’t want power, convinced that it would know how to use it as no one ever has before.

I’m no different. And yet I’ve always been afraid of having authority assigned to me. Whether it was at school or at work, men were in the majority in any governing body and the women adopted male ways. I never felt at ease, so I stayed on the sidelines. I was sure that I didn’t have the strength to sustain conflicts with men, and that I would betray myself by adapting my views to theirs. For millenniums, every expression of power has been conditioned by male attitudes toward the world. To women, then, it seems that power can be used only in the ways that men have traditionally used it.

Read the entire article – Elena Ferrante: A Power of Our Own



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Jerrie Cobb, America’s first female astronaut candidate, dies at 88 via NBC News

I first learned about Jerrie Cobb when I wrote my Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space in 1998 (a great year all around!).

She was among the Mercury 13 (whom no one has done a film on yet) who Jackie Cochran paid to take all the astronaut training given to the male candidates. Jerrie outscored them all – men and women – but then NASA added the requirement that astronauts also have experience as military test pilots – which, naturally, no women had ever done since they weren’t then allowed in those positions in any branch of the military.

What’s so cool about Jerrie is she taught me to keep on going no matter what – because when NASA said no, she spent the rest of her pilot career delivering humanitarian packages to the Amazon. She deserved to go into space. The best she got was when Eileen Collins became the first female pilot of the space shuttle and she invited Jerrie and the other surviving members of the Mercury 13 to the 1995 shuttle launch (Collins later also became the first female space commander.)

Amazing women all around – their names ought to be as well known as the boys who made it into orbit.

Jerrie Cobb, America's first female astronaut candidate, dies at 88 via NBC News

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — America’s first female astronaut candidate, pilot Jerrie Cobb, who pushed for equality in space but never reached its heights, has died.

Cobb died in Florida at age 88 on March 18 following a brief illness. News of her death came Thursday from journalist Miles O’Brien, serving as a family spokesman.

In 1961, Cobb became the first woman to pass astronaut testing. Altogether, 13 women passed the arduous physical testing and became known as the Mercury 13. But NASA already had its Mercury 7 astronauts, all jet test pilots and all military men.

None of the Mercury 13 ever reached space, despite Cobb’s testimony in 1962 before a Congressional panel.

“We seek, only, a place in our nation’s space future without discrimination,” she told a special House subcommittee on the selection of astronauts.

Read Jerrie Cobb, America’s first female astronaut candidate, dies at 88 via NBC News

JerrieCobb MercuryCapsule


Lear more about women in aviation and space with this encyclopedia

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Rosanne Hosts The New Mentoris Project Podcast – Episode 1 – No Person Above The Law – Judge John Sirica

Hosting the Mentoris Project Podcast has been both fun, engaging and educational – I love meeting and interviewing writers from all over the country and learning about their subjects.

In my latest conversation with Cynthia Cooper, author of No Person Above the Law: A Novel Based on the Life of Judge John J. SiricaI learned more about Watergate and Judge John Sirica, the justice who caused Nixon’s resignation than I thought possible. 

Did you know how many times those infamous tapes were requested by the court?  Or how many tapes there were in total?  Imagine being the man tasked with listening to them all and having to decide which information might be top secret and which information could be released to the public.

Listen to this interview and hear all about it!

Rosanne and “When Women Wrote Hollywood” Highlighted on Cal State Fullerton Web Site

How exciting – the folks who man the main website at Cal State Fullerton choseto highlight an article recently written about the book I edited – When Women Wrote Hollywood – on the very, very front of the university website – so when you log on, I’m the one of the first things you see.  Pretty cool. — Rosanne

Rosanne and


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