Fox Television hosted a panel of the network’s finest women Monday night at their “Girls Night Out” event at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre, part of the Academy of Arts and Sciences complex in North Hollywood.
Seven extremely talented and funny women spoke on the panel: “Glee’s” own Sue Sylvester, Jane Lynch; Chelsea Peretti of the freshman comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”; multi-hyphenated creator and star of “The Mindy Project,” Mindy Kaling; the creator of “New Girl,” Liz Meriwether; Heather Kadin, the exec producer of the new drama “Sleepy Hollow”; and two veteran voiceover stars, the voice of Lisa Simpson, Yeardley Smith, and the voice of “Family Guy’s” Lois Griffin, Alex Borstein. Host Cat Deeley of “So You Think You Can Dance” was also scheduled to appear but had to cancel.
Host and moderator Stacey Wilson of The Hollywood Reporter asked each of the women a few questions about their respective shows and their starts in the industry.
One of the newer members of the Fox family, Peretti is also a stand-up comedienne and a former writer on “Parks & Recreation.” She also knew her costar Andy Samberg in high school.
“I thought he was really dreamy at the time, and indicated that by calling his house and hanging up on his mom,” she admitted dryly.
When asked about her reservations of playing a character on screen versus being in the writers’ room, Peretti said, “My reservations were nil. Seems like a great idea to me.”
Lynch expressed the difficulty of being on the set of “Glee” without Cory Monteith, who died suddenly last July.
“In the choir room, we have a photograph of Finn with one of the funny lines that he said, so we see him every day,” she said. “I think he had such a big part in why this show is such a hit and it’s really, really difficult. Everybody gets through it in their own way, but there is a huge gaping hole in the show.”
Kaling discussed the will-they-won’t-they nature of her character’s relationship with Chris Messina’s Danny Castellano on “The Mindy Project.”
“‘Won’t they’ is delicious,” she explained. “‘Will they’ is something you’ve seen, and longing is just so much more entertaining, and you relate to that person more than the person who just has a girlfriend or boyfriend. Like, who cares about happy people? It’s pining that gives it the underdog feeling.”
She also said it’s more challenging not to put them together when working with someone like Messina.
“He just smolders upon sight like he’s an X-Man,” she said. “He has a superhuman ability to smolder.”
Meriwether, looking and sounding very much like her alter-ego Jessica Day, discussed her experience working with the elusive Prince on the Super Bowl episode of “New Girl.”
“It’s clear to me how he’s been so successful,” she said. “Just his attention to detail, and he has this amazing sense of self.”
Kadin elaborated on the difficulties of producing “Sleepy Hollow,” a show set simultaneously in the past, present, and supernatural.
“They’re all difficult [episodes] because it’s that kind of show where we’re throwing out something that is totally not producible and trying to make it happen,” she said, while singling out one episode.
“Mark Goffman, who runs the show, wanted to do an episode where we capture and interrogate the headless horsemen, which, for various reasons, is a challenge,” she said with a laugh. After considering several ideas (“‘Maybe he would write on a whiteboard!’”), they ultimately chose to have the horseman communicate through John Cho’s character. “For something that could’ve been really, really stupid, I think it turned out well. We’re pretty happy with it.”
The member of the Fox family the longest, Smith auditioned for “The Simpsons” some 27 years ago at its inception (“we had to push play and record at the same time on the tape recorder,” she explained). Despite little understanding for her job and naysayers all around, Smith is clearly very pleased with the show’s success.
“I’d been teased for having such an interesting, odd voice as a child, so I certainly never thought it would be my fortune,” she said. “Who has the last laugh now.”
She also explained that executive producer James L. Brooks had some sway in how the show was run. “[He] made a point of saying, ‘I’ll only do the Simpsons half-hour if we get no studio or network notes.’” In addition to wanting to please Brooks, Smith says the studio head told Brooks “‘This show’s never gonna do anything, so you can have whatever you want.’ And it’s still true, we get no studio or network notes.”
“Seth is one of the most frustrating people to work with because he’s a Mozart. We’re all just Salieris and he’s friggin’ Mozart,” she explained. “He’ll get storyboards from the artists, and Seth would erase an eyeball and change it, like, a fraction of a centimeter, and he’s right. He just had this finely tuned eye and ear, and it’s just remarkable working with him.”
When Wilson asked if any of the women had advice they wanted to share, or tell people to ignore, Peretti expressed frustration that everyone told her she needed to get headshots.
“I never got work because of a headshot and I spent so much money,” she said of the box of photos that still languish in her home. “I don’t know what to do with them. I did cut holes out of the eyes once and wear my own face as a mask.”
Lynch mentioned that it’s a good time for women in television right now, but less so for women in movies. “If you drive down Sunset Boulevard and look at billboards for films, it’s all men with guns and a woman in the background looking worried for them,” she said.
Kaling chimed in, “You are not even in the category where you could be the Worried Woman.”
“Right, I’d be the best friend of the Worried Woman,” Lynch replied.
Kaling imparted some excellent advice she received from her mother, a Nigerian doctor who had to start over when she immigrated to America.
“She used to look at the white men who had the jobs that she wanted and she used to say, ‘Why not me?’” Kaling said. “You have to say ‘why not me,’ because no one’s gonna tell you that you can do it, so you just have to let that thought bother you and let the bother fuel your creativity.”
Click the images below for larger views, and check back for video footage. All photos by Renée Camus.