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Jeff Garlin Wasn't the Only Problem Behind the Scenes of 'The Goldbergs'

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 8, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 8, 2023 |


Maureen Ryan’s excellent Burn It Down: Power: Complicity and a Call to Change for Hollywood is the talk of the industry this week (here’s Kayleigh’s review), and I tore through the audiobook in less than 48 hours. It’s brilliantly written, enraging, upsetting, exhausting, and instructive (the second part of the book addresses ways to improve workplace culture in Hollywood). It’s also engrossing, the kind of book you can somehow get completely lost in, particularly if you’re interested in the inner workings of the Hollywood system.

Ryan has posted the chapter online on the poisonous culture behind the scenes on Lost, and there’s plenty of online coverage of the chapter on the troubles of the Sleepy Hollow set, but Ryan also delves into the decades-long toxic institution that is Saturday Night Live and Lorne Michaels’ role in it. However, a lot of what Maureen Ryan takes aim at in Burn It Down is not just the bad actors but the people (mostly men) who enable it.

To wit: We all know about Jeff Garlin’s disrespectful and disgusting behavior on the set of The Goldbergsthanks largely to Ryan’s reporting — but Ryan spends a chapter on the man who enabled Garlin to get away with it for as long as he did, Adam F. Goldberg, the creator of The Goldbergs. Goldberg departed as showrunner after season six, but Jeff Garlin’s bad behavior began long before that. According to a source who spoke to Ryan, Goldberg “turned his head away from that situation.”

It wasn’t just the Garlin situation, either. While a number of the writers who worked for Goldberg had positive things to say about him — he was an “encouraging boss and generous mentor” — he didn’t spend a lot of time on the set, which might be acceptable if you’re a writer. But Goldberg was the showrunner, and he had an obligation to protect his employees because there was no one else who could (recall that Garlin exited the show himself after Ryan reported that HR had opened several investigations into his behavior, investigations that apparently went nowhere until Garlin was outed by Ryan).

Garlin got away with a lot of bad behavior, but so did a writer a source referred to as a “vicious misogynist” and a “gender terrorist” who should have been fired (he was not, and continues to work “and prosper” today).

“It could be a difficult environment, for some very difficult, particularly for those who were not male or within the upper tiers of power on the show,” Ryan wrote, based on her sources. “As a boss, Adam F. Goldberg allowed and enabled a culture that was frequently juvenile and challenging and could be particularly tough on women. Multiple people told me that, especially in The Goldbergs early seasons, the attrition rate for the show’s few female writers was high and that on the show’s sound stages, writers’ room, and elsewhere, unprofessional behavior by The Goldbergs’ star Jeff Garlin and others was not unusual.”

“The problems at the show didn’t necessarily stem from what he, himself did,” a source told Ryan. The troubles often arose “from what he allowed: Pranking, sexual innuendos, and jokes. Normal features behind the scenes at comedy shows regularly veered into inappropriate or uncomfortable situations that these sources told me they didn’t know how to address given how much power Goldberg had.”

“It was a big boys club of men who were probably always kind of the dorks in high school that got picked on, then all of a sudden, they had this power,” a source told Ryan.

In the absence of the showrunner, my guess is that, at least on the set, a lot of the responsibility for protecting cast and crew members often fell to Wendi McLendon-Covey. It’s amazing that she stuck around for as long as she did to fill that role.

You can, and should, buy Burn It Down from your local booksellers.