It is late December, 1969. We are in the Editorial Department of a fictional national news magazine called News of the Week. The news coming across the teletype machines is reporting the outbreak of violence at a free concert held at Altamont, CA. Four people would die and scores were injured. We may not have realized it at the time, but the 1960’s were not going out on a high note.
So begins the Amazon Original Series called Good Girls Revolt. Actually, the opening credits feature video and still images of New York in the late 1960’s. The Rolling Stones song Gimme Shelter was the accompanying music.
Managing Editor Wick McFadden (Jim Belushi plays Wick) has just called the entire editorial staff into the room. He proceeds to read the lead paragraph of what was to be a cover story.
McFadden: This piece hit the bull’s-eye.
Researcher Nora Ephron steps forward: That was me…he did do a court story. I rewrote it.
McFadden: Girls do not do rewrites
Ephron: Why not?
McFadden: That’s simply how we do things here. We have rules, protocol…
Ephron: Those rules are dumb. If the copy is good, it’s good.
McFadden: Young lady. You might not want to make waves; lest we have doubts about our decision to hire you.
Ephron: But you just said my rewrite hit the bull’s-eye. That was your word..bull’s eye
McFadden noticing that every one in the room is listening intently…Why is is everyone standing around? Back to work. [Looking at Ephron] You too dear…
Ephron: This is ridiculous… I quit!
That was Grace Gummer as Nora Ephron.
And in that minute and four-second clip from Episode One, we have the substance of Good Girls Revolt. This was the sixties and while there were women in the workplace, at this magazine, the women weren’t reporters or editors – they were called Researchers. They assembled files of information for the reporters. They fetched coffee, made copies, did the filing, wrote captions for the photos, and the all the rest of the grunt work that went into creating a published piece in News of the Week Magazine. But the reporters, they were the ones that got the by-lines, the fame, and of course, the higher pay.
If you think that News of the Week might be a thinly disguised company name for Newsweek Magazine; You’d be right. You see, this dramatic series is based on a real story. Some 46 female employees of the magazine filed a complaint in 1970 with the EEOC charging the management with systemic discrimination against them in the practices of hiring and promotions.
This series is based on a non-fiction book by Lynn Povich called The Good Girls Revolt. Povich herself was one of the women who was a party to this historic lawsuit.
The case was handled by Eleanor Hughes Norton, here played by Joy Bryant. As stated above, the events of the series take place in December of 1969 through March 23rd of 1970.
It was on that day, that the formal complaint was filed with the EEOC, and a press conference was held at the ACLU headquarters in Manhattan.
For the record, we are talking about the end of 1960’s and the first few months of 1970. That is nearly 47 full years ago. And today, the very same Eleanor Holmes Norton, at the age of 79, is a member of the United States Congress. She is the delegate representing the District of Columbia and has held the seat in Congress since 1991.
As for the series, Good Girls Revolt doesn’t play as a documentary. It will undoubtedly remind you of AMC’s Mad Men. Like Mad Men, the setting is an office. Smoking occurs any time and anywhere. All of the men either have a small bar set up in their office, or at minimum, a bottle and glasses in their desk.
The women in the series all are set up in what is called The Pit. The Pit is a half staircase lower than the platform where the reporters and columnists all sit. The executives are a full staircase above that. It will take a while for us to find this out, but almost all the women are making about a third of what their reporters make.
At News of the Week, women may not write a story, or get a by-line. All of the publishing credit goes to the men. Women are not promoted. In fact not one women’s name appears on the mast-head page of the magazine. We will meet a women who has worked as a Researcher at the magazine for 40 years without a single promotion.
If all of that seems strange to you today – it was the norm at the time. So let’s meet the major players:
Patti Robinson is played by Genevieve Angelson. She’s the closest thing to a hippie among the girls.
She’s a free spirit. She is sleeping with her reporter at the magazine. She will smoke pot when she can. She is also the one who is going to be most willing to take the small steps that will eventually become the trail blazing giant steps forward toward women’s equality.
As she will say later on – I don’t want to watch the news, I want to feel a part of it.
The second of the three female leads has Erin Darke as Cindy Reston. Cindy is working as the researcher/assistant for Ned, the Photo editor. Around the office, Cindy is known as Mouse – she is after all the quiet one.
Cindy is married to Lenny, who is finishing law school. Their agreement is that Cindy will work for a year, possibly writing a novel as well, and after that, she’s to step away from the work force to become a homemaker and a mother.
However, her husband, who is a bit of a lout at best, has taken it upon himself to escalate the time-table. He creates an opportunity for a pregnancy by puncturing Cindy’s diaphragm. So it will come as no surprise when we see that in addition to being unsatisfied at work, Cindy also has to deal with the unpleasantness of her marriage.
The third female at the office is Jane Hollander played by the beautiful Ana Camp. Jane is a favorite of all the male staffers. She’s beautiful, smart, and especially accommodating. She’s from a wealthy background, she studied at Bryn Mawr, and she’s been seeing another off spring from a wealthy family – one Chad Huntington, who has already begun his Wall Street career.
Jane is also a virgin, and is unashamed of that fact. She’s not as career oriented as either Patti or Cindy, and that’s because she’s already embraced the idea of marriage and motherhood as her future.
Another thought about Jane. She’s being urged to marry Chad by her parents, and she wants to. He’s the one that is dragging his heels. Her parents have also suggested that Jane change jobs and work at a place that was less Jewish. The reality was that Jewish men and women were a distinct and small minority at News of The Week; so Jane’s parents’ concerns were invalid.
Now what about the men at News of the Week. We’ve already introduced you to Wick McFadden. He’s old school, and bound by tradition.
Wick has no interest in changing things at the magazine.
The Editor in Chief is a guy called Finn Wodehouse who is played by Chris Diamantopulous. He runs the magazine and is absolutely in command.
He’s got a beautiful trophy wife, a luxury apartment, and is driven to work in a chauffeured limo each day.
The reporter that Patti is involved with is Doug Rhodes (played by Hunter Parrish). He is the best writer at the magazine, only he needs lots of time to absorb and understand the material he’s writing about.
He’s kind of a fearless guy and he was the one who wrote the article that helped bring the Black Panthers into prominence.
The last of the main characters is Eleanor Holmes Norton, the ACLU lawyer who worked with the girls at News of the Week.
Her best scene is when she’s looking at the mast-head of the magazine.
Norton: Senior Editors – all men. You’re never going to get your names on this page. Are you good with that?
So how does this story play out. Well, there’s 10 episodes of an hour each. Given what we know about today’s work place, there’s not a lot of what you might call suspense. The girls involved have to keep their plans to file a formal complaint with the EEOC, secret as a leak of any of the info might jeopardize their jobs. Realistically, I think they series might have worked better with just 8 episodes.
This series was never going to be able to hold a candle to Mad Men. Which means that all of the comparisons to Mad Men, which are inevitable, are actually besides the point.
I think most of the casting was great as was the attention to period detail. But we are talking about events that occurred nearly 50 years ago. So while the show may hold your interest as a period and historical drama it isn’t really compelling. Notice I said drama as there’s not much in the way of humor in this series.
There’s plenty of sex, nudity, and the language hasn’t been softened or scrubbed. Those of us who lived through period will recall the iconic historical moments like the Vietnam War, the postal strike which Nixon settled by ordering the National Guard to deliver the mail, the happenings at the Chelsea Hotel, the music of the times, Altamont, and the sexual revolution, and the drugs. But in truth, the viewership for the series will break down into two camps – those who lived through those times is the first. The second group will be those who want a sense of what it was like for their parents at the end of the sixties and the start of the seventies.
I think the series is worth watching, and although it is far from perfect, it deserves a look. Have a gander at the full trailer: