The High Price of Hollywood Health Care

At first I refused the offer to write for the George Lopez show. After all, I fancied myself an author-slash-poet-slash-critical thinking essayist and had just purchased a brand new IBM ThinkPad to prove it. (Note, this was back in 2002.)

Besides, I’d heard all about the “not so female friendly” environment of the predominately male TV writer’s room. But the job had allure: In addition to a steady paycheck, my own office and the opportunity to represent my gender and ethnicity to a larger audience, I learned that after 20 weeks I would have…health insurance.

Ah, free health insurance. Have three words ever sounded so powerfully alluring, albeit hopelessly unattainable, to American ears?

While a minimal insurance policy protected my brand new laptop, I didn’t have one for myself at the time. It was daunting to learn that so many insurance carriers found my status– self-employed, single,  female, mid-30s–questionable. As the absence of having a proper health policy nagged at me, I reluctantly took the job.

I learned my first day at Warner Brother’s Studios that the TV writer’s room was very much like a grade-school classroom: There was always that one attention-seeking kid (in this case, the male TV sitcom writer) throwing wise-cracking outbursts for the sole attention of the teacher (the male Hollywood executive producer). While many of the cracks were aimed at Latino culture, there were all too many comments made about women–women who were deemed ugly, too fat or, on the flip-side, well-worth “banging.”

It was standard procedure to “go with the flow” and perhaps chuckle at such “jokes.” Any opposition deemed one too sensitive, not a team player. Soon enough, my stomach started to hurt. My lower back ached. I woke up with nausea and dread knowing I would have to spend my days and nights feigning acceptance in such an environment.

Finally, after twenty weeks of enduring “humor” that was dated, offensive or stereotypically demeaning, I received my reward: a Writers’ Guild of America Certified Health Insurance Card.

But while I was thankful for insurance and proud to have been on a successful Latino-themed show, it was easy for me to decide not to renew my option for the following season of George Lopez. Yes, my Hollywood health-care policy offered generous deductibles for everything from post-rehab/psychiatric therapy to surgical body enhancements, but the wisest choice for me was to charge up my ThinkPad and focus on a career path that I could physically and emotionally afford.

ABOVE: George Lopez — creator, writer, producer and star of the ‘George Lopez’ TV show. Photo courtesy of Maggie “Maggiejumps” / CC BY 2.0

Comments

  1. It’s no wonder women don’t fare too well in front of camera when we have adolescent boys writing for them. Sorry you couldn’t hang on but can’t blame you for leaving. No one should have to work in that environment. Thanks Michele for shining a light on Hollywood’s dirty little secret.

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