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If it weren’t for a scheduling conflict, Betty Thomas might not have won an Emmy in 1993.
“I wasn’t supposed to direct that script,” recalls Thomas of “For Peter’s Sake,” the episode of HBO’s Dream On for which she won outstanding directing for a comedy series. “Tommy Schlamme was assigned that, but then he went and did some pilot. … I stole his Emmy from him, happily.”
Thomas had already earned a supporting actress Emmy for her role as Sgt. Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues and had been directing TV series such as Doogie Howser, M.D. and Parenthood for several years, but her comedy directing victory made her the first woman to top that category — an achievement she didn’t even realize until reading about it almost 25 years later. (Another female director wouldn’t win again until Gail Mancuso took home the Emmy for Modern Family in 2013.)
“If you think about it, you do understand why that’s true, because there were no women directing almost anything, but certainly comedy,” Thomas says. Dream On, created by Marta Kauffman and David Crane pre-Friends, dealt with sexuality and nudity and, according to Thomas, almost required a female director to make everything more comfortable. “You have to get the female energy, which I think is an open, fun, let’s-see-what’s-going-to-happen energy.” Thomas went on to helm films including The Brady Bunch Movie, Private Parts, Dr. Dolittle, 28 Days and John Tucker Must Die.
As for today’s opportunities for female directors, Thomas says: “It’s a nightmare still in a lot of places. … There’s work to be done, and here’s the reason why [we should do it]: because women are good. It’s not because they’re women, it’s because they’re good.”
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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