HFPA hosts TV showrunners panel with J.J. Abrams, David E. Kelley, Norman Lear, Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes, Jill Soloway

This week at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association hosted a special TV Game Changers panel celebrating many of television’s biggest power players. The six TV showrunners, who are all Golden Globe winners, were J.J. Abrams (“Lost”), David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal”), Norman Lear (“All in the Family”), Ryan Murphy (“Glee”), Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Jill Soloway (“Transparent”).

HFPA member Jenny Cooney moderated the lively discussion to a packed house of A-listers including Debbie Allen, Michael Bolton, Matt Bomer, Justin Chambers, Darren Criss, Tony Goldwyn, Kathryn Hahn, Lea Michele, Brent Miller, Rita Moreno, Matthew Morrison, Evan Peters, James Van Der Beek and Kate Walsh. The panelists spoke at length about their creative process, the media landscape, their inspiration and what TV shows they’re currently watching. Here are some highlights from the event:

Ryan Murphy spoke to the audience about his experience with change in the industry. “I never changed. What changed in my life were the executives. When I started, it was tough for me. At work, they would tell me ‘you’re too gay, your writing is too gay, your characters are too gay.’ It was painful for me. By the time I did Glee, I was still in fight mode but the executives wanted more gay, more of the gay character. I felt very liberated. That has been a great change in my life.”

Creator of “Transparent,” Jill Soloway gave insight into their inspiration behind their work. “I grew up in Chicago in the middle of the civil rights movement and believing that through politics, the world could change. I grew up thinking it was the beginning of the changing of the world. When I became to be in the position to make television, I realized if it wasn’t part of a movement, it didn’t matter to me.” Soloway also commented on the recent revelations about harassment and settlements in Hollywood. “What struck me the most is that men have invested in women not telling their stories. Women are being paid to shut up, and I want that money to make movies.”

Shonda Rhimes revealed she enjoys the struggle it takes to tell different stories on television. “I have to admit, part of me enjoys going into battle. You can shoot someone in the face at 8 p.m. on television, but if a woman puts her hand on another woman’s thigh, people lose it. I love to fight that.” She also touched on embracing diversity when hiring. “It’s all about finding creative voices. It’s not a liability hiring people of color or women. People hire people who respond to them – it’s not a special effort that we take.”

Norman Lear gave the audience his take on streaming which has recently changed the television landscape. “The thing that’s very different about streaming is you can’t be topical. You can’t be right on top of the story. There’s also no syndication – it’s a different business mode. You simply don’t make as much because you can’t syndicate the show. It’s there forever, anytime for the world.”

David E. Kelley reminisced about a moment in his life before his career began where he went to an empty theater to find inspiration. While sitting alone, he was approached by a woman who was no taller than five feet tall. After explaining to her that he was there hoping the theater would speak to him, she paused and said, “Get the f*** out! Go find your inspiration somewhere else.”

J.J. Abrams, speaking about when he won an ASCAP Award for “Lost,” expressed the importance of music and how integral it is in television. He added that some of his favorite Golden Globes moments were when Keri Russell and Jennifer Garner prevailed for “Felicity” and “Alias,” respectively.

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