Ladies and gentlemen, our subject for today is the sexual harrasment of women in the workplace, 1980 style. We will examine it from several angles, both by direct reportage and indirect depiction, showing it as both conscious and unconscious, we will show its effects on the two reporters dealing with the issue and along the way we will fail to bring everything together as a cohesive story. And, though a subtle conclusion will be depicted, the only actual outcome we will show is a failure. However, in not ‘solving’ the problem we will at least be true to life.
I’m not really sure how much detail I need to go into about this episode of Lou Grant: the somewhat didactic paragraph above basically says it all. The episode began with the quasi-comic scenario of a guy in a pick-up running over garbage cans to frighten the man putting his out but crashing into a car and getting badly injured.
This was Warren, over-emotional, heavily jealous, defending his wife Lorraine (who was not quite the beauty she was in his eyes), who’d been fired by her boss for ‘developing a bad attitude’, the bad attitude including resenting said boss grabbing her breast.
Rossi’s on that side of the story, taking seriously the aspect of the effect on the husband of a sexually harrassed wife, growing to hate the story because of what he’s learning about his fellow man.
Closer to home, the rest of the episode revolved around the Trib itself. The new reporter – actually an old one returning after leaving to have kids – is Catherine Marks (Lynn Carlin). At first Lou resents her for Charlie hiring her over his choice, but her no-nonsense attitude and obvious ability wins him over and they start dating, until the sexual harrassent story gets in the way and both are forced to confront the extent to which the boss-employee relationship may influence them: didacticism 101.
Then there’s Heidi. Heidi (Cassandra Foster) is the City Room hottie, whose desk must always be kept within sight, and who the men, Lou included, get up to watch leave in her tight pants, bending over.
Of more importance is Karen (Marilyn Jones), a fresh faced, blonde girl with a hint of a young Laura Dern, newly employed in advertising under boss Lloyd Bracken (David Spielberg). Lloyd’s your basic sleazebag boss. Karen’s obviously been employed for her looks and the expectation she’ll sleep with him. He’s full of suggestiveness, touchy-feely hands on shoulders or hugs. Karen hates it, but can’t break the cycle because she’s one of the many many women who go through this thing feeling helpless: unable to protest, unwilling to fight, to create the hassle.
Billie’s on her part of the story. Billie is intially cool. Billie doesn’t stand for foolishness, she striks back immediately, and she has a lack of empathy for why other women don’t/can’t do what she does that’s surprising in a reporter. but Billie is seeing Karen’s story at close range, trying to be supportive, but not quite gettng why Karen puts up with it.
There’s no ending to a story like this, no credible way of saying we’ve won over this kind of male-domain privilege and entitlement. The Trib runs the story. Mrs Pynchon sets up a Grievance Comittee where Karen and her ilk can raise complaints. Karen won’t use it though, Karen’s quitting, in the hope (no doubt vain) that she can find a job where her looks won’t count against being allowed to get on and work.
Rossi, given the chance to quite legitimately get his hands on Heidi, passes it up and even averts his gaze from her raised-to-his-eye-level bum.
The only end we get is Billie getting exasperated at Lloyd’s win and shopping him to Lou, who, now he knows what he wanted to know no longer wants to know it. But Lloyd’s after a reporter to assist in designing an a. It’s pretty clear where his thoughts lie as he names Heidi first (I need her for something), then Susie (she’s busy). Then Lou gets that sneaky look on his face and offers Billie, who Lloyd accepts. We’re being offered the offscreen solution that Lloyd will try it on with her and wind up out on his ear as Billie will not back away from a complaint, but it’s a weak ending that hopes we’ll overlook all the reasonable objections Lloyd would be able to mount.
No, not an episode that works, for all that it bravely Shows instead of Telling. It was defeated by the complexity of the subject, even though the subject is devastatingly simple: it’s Wrong, all of it. And somehow that basic point, the wood, if you like, was not really visible for all the trees.