Matthew Weiner’s press tour for his debut book, Heather, The Totality, hasn’t quite gone as planned.
The press circuit for the Mad Men creator’s novel, published Nov. 7 to mixed reviews, has hit a few roadblocks after former Mad Men writer Kater Gordon accused the showrunner of sexual harassment on Nov. 9 when she told The Information that while writing late on the series one night, Weiner told her that she owed it to him to see her naked. After winning an Emmy for co-writing that episode with Weiner, Gordon was let go from the drama and never worked in Hollywood again. Amid the claims, roughly a third of Weiner’s previously scheduled book events have been canceled, and there have been awkward moments at some of the ones that have gone on as planned.
A day after Gordon’s accusations became public, Weiner, who is currently working on the upcoming Amazon anthology series The Romanoffs, spoke at a Harvard Book Store event at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to The Boston Globe, a woman in the audience during a Q&A portion asked about the loss of mentorship opportunities in the current climate. Weiner used the question to deny Gordon’s claims, even though a person with knowledge of the event says the audience member wasn’t asking specifically about the allegations. Weiner was then supposed to stay and introduce a movie screening (he picked the film, The Earrings of Madame de…), but the venue decided last minute that it was best that he not do so. Nearby, television host Jim Braude was scheduled to interview Weiner on news channel WGBH Greater Boston, but Braude said in a tweet that the author canceled on him after Braude told Weiner he’d have to ask about the sexual harassment claims.
Wednesday night in Portland, Oregon, literary radio show host David Naimon was set to moderate a conversation with Weiner at Powell’s Bookstore but pulled out of the event days before and was replaced by writer Alana Newhouse, a friend of Weiner’s. “Once the news broke, I knew I couldn’t do the interview and pretend these allegations didn’t exist — not when Weiner’s book, like his show, dramatizes certain masculine psychologies within a larger climate of sexism,” Naimon told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m heartened by the bravery of the women coming forward now, and for the first time in my lifetime being believed, with their stories of abuse taken seriously. I wanted to take them seriously, too.”
Naimon explained that he’d planned to talk to Weiner about the role of gender in his book, and the ways in which the novel’s main female character is, according to his reading, made into an object. He hoped broaching the subject would lead into a conversation about “the ways in which the Harvey Weinstein revelations show us that perhaps we aren’t as far from the Mad Men workplace sexism of half a century ago as we’d like to think.” Instead, the event went on with sub-in moderator Newhouse, who didn’t ask about the allegations. While not an uncommon practice, audience members were to write their questions for Weiner down on notecards, some of which would be read aloud near the end of the discussion. One man in the sparse crowd (there were about 80 chairs out and only 20 were filled) reportedly asked whether they really had to write them down and couldn’t just speak up with their question. “Yes, you do,” Newhouse told the crowd, according to someone present at the event.
At a separate event hosted by Book Passage in San Rafael, California, on Tuesday, interviewer Michael Krasny, a radio host for KQED, addressed the harassment claims head-on. “The moderator started the event by asking Matt Weiner for his side, stating in his question that it is a he-said/she-said type of event where nobody will ever really know what happened other than the two people involved,” said a person who attended the discussion. “Weiner said that the allegations are not true, and then he deflected to his involvement with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.” The attendee added that the showrunner went on to talk about Mad Men, and how one of the reasons Weiner made the drama was to take on the rampant harassment of women in the workplace: “It felt like he was saying, ‘I made my life’s work and passion to be about this issue,’ so he doesn’t know why someone would accuse him of doing something that he’s fought against.”
In responding to Krasny’s initial question, Weiner reiterated more than once that the claims against him were “simply not true,” according to the individual. His reaction marks a key distinction from the statement his representative released in response to Gordon’s claims, in which Weiner didn’t outright deny that the remarks were made but instead noted that he “does not remember saying this comment nor does it reflect a comment he would say to any colleague.” When the moderator asked for Weiner’s opinion on why, if the allegations were not true, someone would allege that he made such inappropriate remarks, Weiner allegedly responded that “he couldn’t really begin to try to explain or understand why.”
While each of the events has placed no restrictions on the crowd when it has come time for audience questions, the individual at the San Rafael event interviewed felt like attendees were indirectly encouraged to steer clear of harassment talk. “They made a point to say that we’re a respectful audience and that we hope that your questions will be the same. In my opinion, it was being directed at, ‘Let’s not bring this up or do anything that would be argumentative,’” says the individual. The brief Q&A that followed, like many of the others on the tour, went on without incident, mostly focused on questions about Mad Men, Weiner’s writing process and his forthcoming Amazon show.
Other events that were on the schedule for Weiner to promote Heather, The Totality were outright canceled. The former Sopranos scribe was set to be interviewed by fellow novelist and screenwriter Maria Semple in Seattle, Washington, earlier this week, but the organizing group, Town Hall, canceled the conversation days before. In a statement given to the Seattle Times, the organization’s director Wier Harman said that the event “would not be possible, or responsible, in light of recent reporting.” A second at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., originally slated for Sunday, Nov. 12, was also axed.
Another stop on the tour — one in Weiner’s current hometown, Los Angeles — was slated to take place Thursday night, with journalist Susan Orlean set to interview the showrunner at the Santa Monica event. Ted Habte-Gabr, the founder and producer of organizing group Live Talks, sent an email to its patrons days prior, explaining that they decided not to move forward with the event “after we concluded that recent news reports would overshadow our intention to present a conversation about Mr. Weiner’s new book.” It became the third public appearance of Weiner’s to be canceled over the course of a week. His next event is a conversation with Jenji Kohan set for Friday at Chevalier’s bookstore in Los Angeles, which a book store rep says will still take place despite the allegations.