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Women at the CW work to keep sexual violence off their shows

Women at the CW work to keep sexual violence off their shows
From left, CW executive producers, Wendy Mericle ("Arrow"), Diane Ruggiero-Wright ("iZombie), Caroline Dries ("The Vampire Diaries"), Julie Plec ("The Vampire Diaries" and "The Originals"), Jennie Snyder Urman ("Jane the Virgin"), Aline Brosh McKenna ("Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Laurie McCarthy ("Reign") and Gabrielle Stanton ("The Flash") participate in the "Running the Show: The Women Executive Producers of The CW" panel at The CW Summer TCA Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Aug. 11, 2015. (Richard Shotwell /lInvision / AP)

Don't expect to see rape and gratuitous violence against women on the CW, because the women in charge there just prefer not to show it.

The young-skewing, fast-growing network boasts an impressive number of female showrunners, eight of whom took the stage during Tuesday's installment of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour to talk about helming the network's bevy of supernatural and female-led series.

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There's no shortage of sex, love triangles, brutal fights, beheadings and fake blood on the CW. In fact, snapping a nuisance vampire's neck has become commonplace on its long-running drama "The Vampire Diaries" and its spinoff "The Originals." But the network took flack this year for the rape of its female lead on the soapy historical drama "Reign."

Though the show's executive producer, Laurie Stanton, did not address the December episode during the panel, several of her co-panelists did explain why they abstain from using sexual assault as a narrative device.

"I have this rule that I've broken a million times," said Julie Plec, executive producer of "The Vampire Diaries," "The Originals" and "Containment." "As a fan, watching TV: Never make anyone an alcoholic, raped, never make them molested because when all is said and done their character becomes singularly about being that. You lose the ability to write them as human beings without that problem weighing over them."

Her action-packed series have included "plenty of toxic things," many of which she's encouraged, including "crazy abuse and wild murders, women beating up men, and men beating up women." But they've come about by having conversations in diverse writers rooms to figure out "where that line is" and provide stopgaps along the way.

"For me it's always been about not wanting to," she added. "And in the supernatural shows not wanting to get so real world that your character has to live deeply and solely in that real world and carry that burden for the rest of their life on the show."

"My guy just runs fast," "The Flash" EP Gabrielle Stanton joked.
"iZombie" and "Veronica Mars" executive producer Diane Ruggiero-Wright said that seeing graphic violence in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" just upset her and it's a reality she just doesn't want to know about it. And when she's running her own show she has the power to avoid those realities, though that wasn't always the case in other parts of her career.

"Sometimes you're on staffs of other shows where you're not the showrunner and you have to do a rape storyline and you don't want to do it. And you know when you're watching it, they're going to see your name on the episode and they're going to think you think that this is your interpretation of what it feels like to be a female And it sucks. And it's not," she said. "You're on a staff of a show and you have to write. It's such a horrible position to be in as a writer, and I've been a writer in that position."

The "Bates Motel" consulting producer said that rape stories usually work when it's part of the storytelling, but "there are so many people who do it and it's gratuitous and I think you have to be responsible about it."

"I can take violence it has a sci-fi element. You can just be brutal if you're in space. You're a vampire, you're a werewolf and that's violent, then I'm fine," she quipped. "But once it's real life that can happen it freaks me out. On our show, she's a zombie, it's not really happening, guys! I can kind of feel cushy in that."

In contrast, the network's broody comic book-drama "Arrow" features fewer supernatural elements and a lead who's grappled with fatal retribution, broken family dynamics and DC Comics formidable League of Assassins. But it too draws the line at sexual violence.

"We don't do sexual violence, and that's always been part of culture of show before I came on," said executive producer Wendy Mericle. "Ultimately it's been done so much, you can see it on almost any procedural on TV, and it's not that interesting at the end of the day. Let's try to challenge ourselves and do something in a way that doesn't glorify that. And that's the kind of challenge we present ourselves whenever the conversation goes that way. That's when we try to steer it back."

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Follow me on Twitter @NardineSaad.

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