Months before The Umbrella Academys premiere in February 2019, showrunner Steve Blackman knew he’d delivered Netflix a hit series. Forty-five million households would tune in to the first season — making it Netflix’s third-most-watched television series that year, behind Stranger Things and The Witcher. Anticipating a quick greenlight for Season Two, he began interviewing new writers. 

The job candidates included a female writing team — writers who split one salary as a package deal. Blackman interviewed the two women — one of whom was pregnant and in her third trimester — in person at his office on Netflix’s studio lot in Los Angeles. He later offered them a place in the writers room on a standard 20-week contract. After accepting the job, the pregnant writer informed Blackman she’d be taking maternity leave about one month in, while her writing partner would continue working.

The new mother returned from leave a month before her contract ended. When the writers room was extended another 10 weeks so the team could finish the season, everyone had their contracts extended, according to show sources, except for the female writing team.

Blackman allegedly blamed their exit on budget issues and wanting a more experienced writer to replace the duo. But according to a January 2023 human-resources complaint filed to Universal Content Productions, the NBC-owned production company behind The Umbrella Academy, Blackman had repeatedly grumbled to others that he felt “ripped off,” complaining he didn’t know the woman was pregnant when he hired her. “He told me he fired them because one was pregnant and didn’t tell him,” one writer from that season tells Rolling Stone. Three other sources say they heard Blackman make similar remarks. It wasn’t the only time people exited The Umbrella Academy — which returns for its fourth and final season Aug. 8 — under dubious circumstances, sources claim, including a support staffer who had declined to tell Blackman details of a private conversation, and a personal assistant who accidentally received Blackman’s prescription information. 

The writing pair declined to comment for this article. A spokesperson for Blackman claims he worked through UCP’s HR department to ensure the ending of the women’s contracts ending was handled “in full compliance with all policies and regulations,” and the decision was “solely based on performance and budget.” Blackman also denied any other allegations of retaliation. 

To the Umbrella Academy sources Rolling Stone spoke with, their experiences with Blackman are representative of a wider industry problem around showrunners. Placed at the helm of massive productions — big budgets, sprawling staffs — and granted broad creative license, they wield a tremendous amount of power. While they might have to answer to studio and network executives for general oversight over their shows, they ultimately have control of both day-to-day operations and overarching creative matters. Newcomers join these teams hoping to learn the business, strengthen their résumés, and gain mentorship, while established writers angle for producer-level promotions, hoping to one day become the next Quinta Brunson or Mike White. It’s a high-pressure, cutthroat environment ripe for exploitation and unchecked behavior. 

In conversations with 12 former Umbrella Academy writers and support staffers who worked across all four seasons — all of whom have experience in the often chaotic world of television production — several labeled their time there as one of the most tumultuous experiences of their careers. “Somebody called me, whispering basically into the phone, all freaked out, like, ‘Don’t take this job,’” one writer recalls. “Against my better judgment, I took the job.” (The majority of sources for this article requested their names be withheld, citing fears of professional retaliation.)

The staffers’ concerns and experiences were represented in the January 2023 HR complaint, reviewed by Rolling Stone, which accused Blackman of having a “long history of toxic, bullying, manipulative, and retaliatory behavior.” The sources and the HR complaint paint Blackman as a manipulative and chaotic showrunner who fostered a toxic workplace by pitting staffers against one another; creating an environment of fear and distrust; taking credit for other people’s work; and allegedly making lewd remarks that sources say they found to be sexist, homophobic, and transphobic. (Blackman’s behavior was also mentioned in two other complaints made by a writing-team member and an actress, Rolling Stone has learned.) 

“When we feel like one person holds the keys to our career, it’s hard,” explains one The Umbrella Academy support staffer. “They’re saying, ‘Hey, write these scenes,’ and making all these big promises, and you pour everything you have into the job only to be discarded after. It’s just devastating.… If we have protections for being credited for the work we do or have somebody to go to, I think it can protect us from this type of toxic behavior.”

Despite three people raising alarms across four seasons, a spring 2023 investigation carried out by UCP largely cleared Blackman of their accusations. But the investigation may have been less than comprehensive. A majority of people named in the January 2023 complaint tell Rolling Stone they were never contacted to discuss what they felt were scarring experiences with Blackman. And the Writers Guild of America West sided with some Season Four writers over a sole “teleplay by” credit Blackman had tried to give himself, according to a WGA committee report reviewed by Rolling Stone.  

In a statement, a spokesperson for Blackman generally denies accusations detailed in the complaint and by sources, calling them “entirely untrue” and “completely absurd.” “Over six years and four seasons overseeing thousands of crew, actors, and writers, Steve Blackman led The Umbrella Academy to become a beloved series with devoted fans, enthralling stories, and a dedicated team making it all possible,” Blackman’s representative tells Rolling Stone. “These allegations from a handful of disgruntled employees are completely false and outrageous, and in no way reflect the collaborative, respectful, and successful working environment Mr. Blackman has cultivated.” 

Rolling Stone sent numerous emails and texts to Netflix publicists for The Umbrella Academy regarding this article, and did not receive a response or acknowledgment of the detailed request. UCP said in a statement that it is “committed to providing a safe and respectful workplace. When concerns are reported, they are promptly reviewed, thoroughly investigated, and appropriate action is taken.” 

The Umbrella Academy cast with Blackman (back center with baseball cap)

Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

Hollywood has long been a place where silence is golden, particularly for outsiders trying to break in. Keep your head down, do whatever you’re asked, and don’t complain, or risk being shut out of the industry altogether. But in recent years, there’s been a cultural shift toward outing toxic working environments, and a push for studios to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for bad behavior.

Showrunner and executive producer Monica Owusu-Breen, who has hundreds of credits across Lost, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Charmed, and others, spoke to journalist Maureen Ryan for her 2023 book, Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood, about the challenges of showrunning, saying it “brings out the worst in you.” “The person I was in my first showrunning gig is not the person I am now,” she says. “I have apologized to people, because the stress is hard.” Still, Owusu-Breen says there’s no excuse for what she and others endured during the creation of Lost at the hands of showrunners Damon Lindelof and producer Carlton Cuse. 

Actor Harold Perrineau recounted to Ryan how he was effectively written off the hit ABC show after advocating for his character, Michael, to Lindelof and Cuse. “It was all very much, ‘How dare you,’” he said. Lost writers claimed the working environment that Lindelof and Cuse cultivated was rife with racism, sexism, bullying, and retaliation, prompting a public apology from both. A year earlier, writers under Nickelodeon’s Dan Schneider, who helmed kids’ shows such as iCarly and Drake & Josh, detailed how he allegedly refused them bathroom breaks and tormented women with misogynistic jokes. In April, Schneider apologized for some of his behavior toward his writers, saying “the fact that I participated in that, especially when I was leading the room, embarrasses me. I shouldn’t have done it.” And last June, HBO’s The Other Two ended amid HR complaints against showrunners Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider for alleged verbal abuse and brutally long hours. (The claims were investigated and both were formally cleared of wrongdoing.) 

Still, it’s daunting going up against a showrunner — especially one like Blackman, who landed a multimillion-dollar Netflix deal and placed eighth on The Hollywood Reporter’s 2022 list of top showrunners

Blackman’s path to Hollywood was not traditional. He pivoted from a brief stint as a divorce attorney to producing and writing, pulling from his legal background to co-create his first show, the Canadian law drama The Associates. He later worked on Private Practice and Fargo before landing the showrunner gig for The Umbrella Academy. The comic-book series on which the show is based, originally created and written by My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, offered Netflix the chance to enter the superhero genre, which had been dominated by a factory churn of Marvel films and Disney+ spinoff shows. 

The enthusiastic response to the series proved Blackman could handle that pressure, and by 2020, Netflix offered him an overall development deal reportedly worth $50 million. The streamer announced in 2022 that Blackman would spearhead the adaptation of the popular video game Horizon Zero Dawn and create the original outer-space thriller series Orbital as part of that deal. 

“Somebody called me, whispering basically into the phone all freaked out, like ‘Don’t take this job.’”

Staff Writer

Even before Blackman got the Netflix seal of approval, a gig on The Umbrella Academy seemed like an unmissable opportunity for seasoned veterans and aspiring writers. And it was. Writers and support staffers across four seasons say they are immensely proud of their work. They fleshed out a dynamic show, filled with quick-witted, complex characters, action-heavy sequences, time travel twists, and tongue-in-cheek dance numbers. 

But success in Blackman’s world, multiple sources say, meant unwavering loyalty. Those who failed to meet his standard of allegiance were allegedly put on the chopping block. “I was told even prior to my first day of work, he’s all about loyalty,” says one support staffer. A second source claims that meant blindly backing “whatever his bad ideas are.” 

Merely offering an alternative to Blackman’s suggestions or standing up for other staffers were viewed as disloyal acts, sources say. One writer believes Blackman trashed their work and pitches after they’d voiced concern that he seemed harsher on female writers. “I learned over time that’s what he did when he was pissed at someone,” they say. “He was definitely into retaliation.” The writer didn’t return the following season.

“You have to tread carefully with Steve because there have been times when people stand up to him and then their status is diminished or they are taken off the show,” explains another writer. “If you push back, he’s going to punish you for it. You’ll be doing things that are just your job, like standing up for a story point, [and] he’ll think that’s some sort of a power grab and you’ll get the brunt of it.” 

The January 2023 HR complaint details at least five separate instances in which Blackman allegedly retaliated against his staffers, including his Season Four co-showrunner Jesse McKeown, who claims his role was diminished after he backed a writer in a payment dispute. In conversations with show sources, four additional staffers claimed they believe Blackman retaliated against them by icing them out and then eliminating their positions over perceived slights, such as voicing their opinion or vouching for a storyline.

McKeown claims he personally witnessed acts of retaliation by Blackman, telling Rolling Stone, “I always sort of carried that around thinking, ‘OK, that was clear retaliation, [but] he would never do that to me.’ It happened to me eventually, and a whole bunch of other people in between.”

“Part of gaining your trust [was] how much shit he talked about other people. And of course, if someone’s talking shit to you, they’re talking shit about you.”

Support staffer

Through a spokesperson, Blackman maintains he has never “retaliated against anyone” and “no writer was ever fired” over the show’s four seasons. “At the end of contracts, as is standard practice, a decision is made about whether to renew those contracts for an additional season,” a spokesperson says. “Those decisions are made solely based on performance and available budget, and any allegations to the contrary are false. Mr. Blackman worked with HR on all employment matters — from hiring to contract renewals to leaves.” UCP looked into the HR complaint and closed it in May 2023, effectively clearing Blackman from claims he retaliated against his employees. Based on the findings, UCP said it “could not conclude that there were improper decisions made regarding the employment” of staffers, according to its report.

But Blackman’s alleged abuses weren’t always obvious, sources say. “If it had been more clear-cut, like throwing staplers and screaming obscenities, I think it would have been a lot less traumatic and painful,” one former staffer explains. While show sources claim there seemed to be a clear through line of alleged retaliatory behavior, they say Blackman’s background as an attorney helped him deftly navigate removing people from the show. “He just makes it sound like it wasn’t a fit,” one support staffer explains of Blackman’s reasoning for people’s departures. “And that’s it. You don’t bring it up again.” 

Blackman would allegedly blame employee departures on studio decisions or budget issues. “We have a perfect opportunity to jettison her via studio cover and replace,” Blackman texted one staffer about a female writer he wanted to let go in the middle of production, according to materials included as part of the 2023 HR complaint. He ultimately kept the writer on, but texted his staffer, “She has no idea how close she got to being fired.”

Four show sources claim that Blackman retaliated against another staffer in Season Two following the exit of the female writing duo. Blackman allegedly became furious that two members of his writing team and an actress — all people of color — had a private conversation about the actress’ character’s storyline, partially set in the Civil Rights era. All three people involved in the conversation — which took place in a restroom during a season kickoff event in Toronto — were frustrated that Blackman hadn’t accepted suggestions the writers thought would strengthen elements around the narrative. 

Word got back to Blackman about their talk, the complaint claims, and Blackman called the two writing-team members directly, demanding to know what had been said. When one, a support staffer, declined to divulge further information, saying it was a private discussion that had taken place outside of work, Blackman allegedly said to another staffer, “She’s done,” according to the complaint. The staffer was not invited back the following season. The actress later made a complaint that involved Blackman, according to sources. (The actress did not reply to a request for comment. When contacted by Rolling Stone about the incident, the staffer declined to comment on the matter, but confirmed the incident and sequence of events.) 

Blackman also allegedly retaliated against a personal assistant in early 2022, letting her go after he became annoyed when she couldn’t book a company car for his brother and when Walgreens accidentally sent his prescription-pickup information to her. Through a spokesperson, Blackman claims the assistant was “made redundant” because the show was ending and an anticipated spinoff was no longer moving forward. “That is the only reason for her departure from the show,” the spokesperson says. 

But according to texts supplied to HR as part of the 2023 complaint, Blackman wrote he “fired” the assistant after she made “some monumental blunders.” “Working for him was a living nightmare,” the assistant wrote in an email to another staffer, according to documents given to HR. “In between feeling hurt and angry, I’m just so relieved to get away from him.” (The assistant did not reply to a request for comment.)

Blackman shooting an episode of The Umbrella Academy


Netflix’s bet on The Umbrella Academy paid off rapidly. Season Two beat the sophomore slump, pulling a 91 percent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, and garnering viewership numbers consistent with Season One — even after Mary J. Blige’s fan-favorite character Cha-Cha was killed off in the finale. And during Season Three, Blackman was lauded for delicately handling the onscreen transition of Elliot Page’s character to Viktor — a plot line that mirrored Page’s own transition.

Blackman is clearly proud of his work, with his Instagram page filled with behind-the-scenes shots, shout-outs to the production’s catering company, and teasers of the upcoming season. In interviews, he’s excitable and curious about the kooky theories fans will dream up about the time-travel show’s next twist. 

That same upbeat energy was also apparent to former staffers, who say Blackman initially came across as likable, receptive to ideas, and willing to develop a younger generation of writers. He could train a keen interest on someone to make them feel special, promising solo writing credits on an episode and seeming like a true mentor. “You’re looking at him in [an] awe type of way — he’s building you up,” one support staffer says. 

But cracks formed even during the first season. “From the get-go, it was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had in my life,” says a Season One source. Despite solid reviews and two Emmy nominations for special effects and production design, sources say that no one from the writing team or support staff returned for the show’s second season. Instead, Blackman started fresh with an entirely new team.

“Steve was my favorite person, genuinely,” adds a second support staffer. “I had a few months of good behavior from him, where he was very inquisitive about my career [and] took a genuine-seeming interest in my life. Only in hindsight do I realize everything was a sham.” With those who won Blackman’s favor and became confidants, Blackman would gossip and complain about other team members, three sources say, asking those closest to him to be his “eyes and ears.” He’d also groan about fellow producers and network and studio executives. “Part of gaining your trust [was] how much shit he talked about other people,” the support staffer adds. “And of course, if someone’s talking shit to you, they’re talking shit about you.” 

Gradually, the chaos started to seep out. Five staffers say Blackman had a habit of effusively praising someone’s work to their face, only to have that staffer hear from another team member that Blackman suddenly hated the work and wanted it redone. One source recalls Blackman being excited about something they wrote; but when he realized who’d written it, the source says, Blackman immediately belittled them and remarked he was surprised they knew a particular word. Blackman’s hot-and-cold approach left many staffers unsure if they were thriving or flailing. “It was a little bit of whiplash,” one explains. Another calls it his “chess game.” 

“I would easily describe it as sometimes a chaotic workplace,” says Aeryn Michelle Williams, a staff writer from Season Two to Season Four. “There are things that I have learned since being off the show that I would say, if that was what was going on, then yes, it was definitely toxic.”

As part of Blackman’s response, his team provided three sources who worked closely with Blackman — a writer-producer and two senior producers — who speak positively about their time on the show. They refute allegations that Blackman was retaliatory and that there was a toxic environment, and claim that Blackman went out of his way to promote from within. As to a chaotic working environment, one senior producer says this is “absolutely the nature of showrunning.” “Show business is definitely chaotic at times,” they add. “But toxic in this scenario? No, that was something I never saw.”

“We do have empathy for anyone who came away feeling unhappy with the show,” a second senior producer says. “Steve always says that ‘everyone’s the hero of their own story,’ and in this case I think everyone probably believes their own truth.”

Showrunning is a big and complex responsibility. Akin to a director on the set of a movie, showrunners are in charge of all creative decisions, juggling budgets and overseeing all scripts. The work of writing and producing a television show is fundamentally collaborative, a dance that blends the efforts of dozens or even hundreds of employees. As with any leader in command of a large operation, showrunners must be effective delegators, having more junior team members break episodes, sketch out scenes, and handle rewrites. That hierarchy keeps productions running smoothly and allows ambitious and talented staffers to work their way up the ladder. 

But multiple sources claim Blackman went further than just delegating tasks. Sources claim he was exploitative and used his team as a shield to hide his own alleged shortcomings. “Everyone’s writing a few scenes of his episode that he’s gonna slap his name on,” says one support staffer. “He’s getting pitches from the assistants so that he can go back in the room [to pitch their idea] while he sends them on an errand.”

 “If we have protections for being credited for the work we do or have somebody to go to, I think it can protect us from this type of toxic behavior.”

Support staffer

In addition to the 2023 HR complaint, five sources tell Rolling Stone Blackman used their work but failed to fulfill his promise of giving them credit or promoting them the following season. One female writer claims that Blackman would take credit for bits and characters she had conceptualized and created, or even attribute them to a male writer. At Blackman’s alleged request, entry-level staffers, such as personal assistants, writers’ assistants, production assistants, and script coordinators, say they wrote entire scenes for him — an anomaly for employees in such positions — with the dangled carrot of receiving credit on the episode or being promoted to staff writer for the next season. Those promises, they say, never materialized. “[We thought] maybe [Blackman] will look to us as a new crop of talent,” one offers. “He just abused that and made us do all the work for him.” 

A spokesperson for Blackman acknowledges he would sometimes ask senior writers to rewrite scripts or do so himself if he believed they “needed additional polish, as is standard.” The rep says Blackman would give writing assignments to support staffers as an opportunity to help them advance in their careers. “Mr. Blackman went above and beyond to support his hardworking team to help them grow and succeed during their time on the show and throughout their careers,” the spokesperson says. One senior producer provided by Blackman’s team added: “Steve aggressively rewrites all his scripts, but never puts his name on it, even though he would be entitled to,” they say. “Taking credit for other people’s work is something he is very passionately against.” 

IN THE FALL OF 2021, Netflix was in the thick of a public-relations crisis. Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special The Closer had premiered in early October, and the comedian’s jokes about the LGBTQ+ community — particularly trans people — were earning such harsh rebukes that Netflix’s own employees were staging a protest walkout. 

There was similar outrage inside The Umbrella Academy’s writers room and disappointment in Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos’ handling of the controversy. To be a part of a top Netflix show starring Page and stay quiet didn’t sit right with the room — especially as they were in the midst of figuring out how to best work the continued transition of Page’s character in Season Four. 

The writers turned to Blackman for guidance on what they could or should do to show support, four sources say. But Blackman was allegedly reluctant to get involved, according to texts and emails submitted with the complaint, because he was concerned about jeopardizing a spinoff series he was pitching to Netflix at the time. “We need to tread carefully,” he allegedly texted a staffer. Blackman said he supported Page, but he worried that any statement made against Netflix would be seen as a “stand against [the company],” and Blackman needed the streamer “on our good side for the spinoff.” 

“Steve refused to come into the room to talk about it,” says one writer. “People in the room really wanted to talk about what it meant for our show. [Blackman] owe[d] it to everyone to come in and show them that you’re not just paying lip service to this.” Blackman describes the events as “a complete mischaracterization” and says he has “always worked to uplift and support trans voices on the show.” In addition, he says, he “consulted with Mr. Page and trans advocates about how best to be supportive” at the time. (Through a representative, Page declined to comment for this article.)  

Blackman has always been publicly supportive of Page, and following Page’s transition announcement in December 2020 confirmed the show would transition Page’s character as well, telling TV Line he felt the storyline was “very important” to include. “We wanted to tell a story that was really pro-trans, authentic, sensitive, and show that families can accept trans people in their lives, and it does not have to be a negative thing, as it’s often portrayed in the media,” Blackman said. Page also spoke highly of Blackman — who was one of the first people he came out to — and the decision to showcase the transition, saying “one of the most special things about this is how it’s handled.”

“If anything, [Blackman] was the one who was very insistent on immediately having it be a part of the show and supported me to be able to access the care I was hoping to get at that time,” Page said at the TIME100 summit in April.

The Umbrella Academy cast


But according to documents provided as part of the January 2023 complaint, Blackman initially did not seem receptive to the idea of transitioning Page’s character on the show. In text messages provided to HR, he wrote, “Elliot wants to come out as trans on the show. As Ivan. Oh my fucking God. Kill me now.” (Ivan is short for Page’s character’s original name; the show ended up using the name Viktor instead.) 

In his statement to Rolling Stone, Blackman says the text was referring to the incoming workload, because the entire upcoming season had been written and the writers room had disbanded — not because of transitioning Page’s character. “Faced with a tremendous undertaking — a complete rewrite under a wildly compressed timeline and the responsibility to handle this with sensitivity and care — Mr. Blackman commented on his stress level related to this and other responsibilities of managing a show and a large team.”

Throughout the show’s four seasons, sources claim to Rolling Stone, Blackman would make what they viewed as homophobic and transphobic comments, including juvenile and perverse commentary on individuals’ sexualities and wondering aloud about people’s anatomies. “He found it very funny, like the butt of a joke,” one says. Again, sources claim, Blackman was clever in the art of the spin, attempting to pass off inappropriate comments as harmless jokes and innocent questions.

“He could be very good at dropping something that starts to be transphobic or homophobic, like, ‘They’re a he/she,’” a second staffer says. “But then [he’ll say], ‘It’s all good, I support it. It’s awesome, live your best life.’ … He toes the line of seeing who will join in and laugh with him, and then if nobody does, really skillfully backpedals.”

Blackman would also make sexist, lewd, and disparaging comments, such as remarks about female staffers’ breast sizes and wondering aloud about their sexual proclivities, sources and the HR complaint claim. “She’s relentless,” Blackman allegedly texted one staffer about another, according to texts that were provided to HR in the complaint and reviewed by Rolling Stone. “I’m sure that’s good for certain things… but in the room it’s exhausting. But … the rack.” 

“He’s like one of those dudes who wants their boys to like them,” says a male former staffer. “I remember him talking about one of the [other staffers], about how attractive he thought they were and how great their ass was — that kind of shit you hear old men say. It’s just gross [and] repugnant, like, ‘Man, you are fucking vile.’” 

The writer-producer and two senior producers who Blackman’s team provided to Rolling Stone for interviews — all women — say they never heard Blackman use sexist, homophobic, or transphobic language, adding they would have spoken up if they had witnessed it. 

Still, one female writer, echoing several others, says, “I found it to be an incredibly sexist environment. If you were female, you were treated with hostility, or like you were stupid.”

In UCP’s May 2023 report, obtained by Rolling Stone, on the internal investigation into the HR complaint, a rep said “it was more likely than not that Steve made inappropriate and unprofessional remarks” about staffers and “used foul or derogatory language.” It also noted that the production company had “taken appropriate steps to address these findings with Steve,” but didn’t elaborate on the specific actions taken. A spokesperson for Blackman says that following the investigation, Blackman was “reminded not to treat staffers as friends.”

IN TOTAL, ROLLING STONE learned of three complaints to HR in which Blackman was named: two during Season Two, and the January 2023 complaint. A representative for Blackman claims he “has never been made aware of any complaints against him prior to the one made, investigated, and concluded earlier this year,” and that Blackman “could not possibly have mistreated anyone because of a complaint against him in Season Two because … he did not then nor does he now have any knowledge of any other complaints about him.” (When contacted by Rolling Stone about Blackman, a UCP representative refused to confirm the number of human-resources complaints in which he’d been named.)

Blackman only acknowledges the most recent complaint in his response to this article, and notes that out of its major claims — alleged retaliation against certain staffers, making sexist remarks, and improper crediting — UCP substantiated only one: that Blackman had made “inappropriate and unprofessional remarks” and used “foul and derogatory language.” 

With regard to crediting, the WGA decided against Blackman and amended his sole writing credit for the Season Four finale episode, according to a January 2024 special-committee report reviewed by Rolling Stone. Blackman had presented pitch documents that he said were from February 2021 as evidence to support his solo “teleplay by” credit, according to the union’s report, but other writers questioned the veracity of the material. Some writers provided statements “attesting to the fact that they had never seen” such documents, and supplied their own notes to back up their claim that the ideas had been introduced in the writers room months later. While the WGA committee did not investigate the authenticity of Blackman’s documents, it did change the series finale credit to give another writer the sole “story by” credit, and added three additional writers to the “teleplay by” credit.

(A representative for Blackman describes the challenge to the episode’s credit as “retribution” against him, but did not dispute the WGA’s ruling, adding that “Mr. Blackman is a proud member of the Guild, and he stands by their determination.”)

Additionally, Rolling Stone spoke with multiple staffers named in the January 2023 HR complaint who say that no one from Netflix or UCP ever contacted them about their exits, despite the complaint encouraging the companies to do so. Out of the 17 key people mentioned in the complaint and supporting documents, only two people confirmed they had been contacted by HR. One was the writer who filed the complaint. (Seven people named in the complaint did not reply to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)

“I want to assure you that we have taken proper corrective measures to prevent any similar situations from happening in the future,” the HR representative wrote in the May 2023 conclusion letter. “We also reminded Mr. Blackman of our policy prohibiting retaliation against any individual who cooperated with this investigation.”

Amid the complaints of Season Two, Blackman emerged with his $50 million deal with Netflix in 2020. (While Blackman’s two upcoming projects were announced in 2022, there has been no update on their development since.) The timing raised eyebrows among some staffers, according to sources, who question how seriously Netflix took the employee complaints and how UCP was handling investigations.

“I do think the management part of [being a showrunner] is often overlooked,” Williams says. “They’re the creator. They’re the boss. It’s their vision and they are going to run their room however they want to. I think for the studios, they just care if the work is being done.” As a result, Williams adds, there doesn’t seem to be a reliable outlet to turn to for help. “Most people probably only go to HR once the issue has gotten really bad, you’ve suffered a lot of things. I think before the MeToo, Time’s Up movement, people were not going to HR because it was seen as ‘you’re going to get blackballed, don’t be the squeaky wheel.’”

“I’ve never known anything to come of these investigations,” another writer says, referring to their experiences with similar complaints on other shows. “All those showrunners were still in place and went on to run other shows and get bigger deals. I don’t even know why they do them.” 

For former staffers, their primary concern was that Blackman was allowed to operate without consequences and then amass even more power — despite writers risking their own career safety to try to foster a better working environment. While there may be more avenues to report workplace abuses in Hollywood today, sources claim these safeguards aren’t nearly as effective as they need to be. “You see why these things go away,” says McKeown. “The executives at UCP didn’t want to deal with it. It felt like the people at Netflix didn’t want to deal with it.… Nobody wants to deal with this.”

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