Whether you’re a casual or passive Law & Order SVU watcher, you know that “in New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit.” This unit’s pursuit of justice is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that it feels especially heinous that the new showrunner of the longstanding NBC series reportedly has a record of leading toxic and misogynistic workplaces.
In June, ahead of the 24th season, David Graziano was hired as the series’ new showrunner. On Thursday, The Los Angeles Times published an extensive story in which they spoke to over a dozen of Graziano’s former coworkers and employees, who all detailed his perpetual bad behavior.
“The new showrunner, David Graziano, is a very unprofessional, ego-centric, and immature man,” Haley Cameron, SVU’s former script coordinator, wrote on an industry forum after Graziano’s hiring was announced. “I have been in this industry a long time, and I have never experienced such pure, white-male misogyny.” She also called him “an absolute unorganized nightmare” and urged women “to think twice before putting yourself in a position that could end as badly as mine did.” Cameron overlapped on SVU with Graziano for about a month before she quit her job before supposedly almost being fired, according to Graziano’s spokesperson. She declined to speak to the Times.
And before Graziano made his way to SVU, he created and worked on the Paramount+ drama, Coyote, where he made Amy Hartman, the show’s script coordinator, wildly uncomfortable. Hartman commented on Cameron’s post saying Graziano was “super toxic” and that she’d “never run from a job so fast in my life.”
“Every day I was in fight or flight,” she told the Times. “I was completely floored that he was working again and working on that show.” Hartman quit soon after an incident in which Graziano fired his assistant at the time, after freaking out over his lunch arriving late. David James, another script coordinator on the show, told the Times it was “easily the worst job I’ve had in Hollywood. I thought after this show no one would give [Graziano] another show to run.” (Graziano has since admitted that, during Coyote, he might have been “a difficult person to work” with because he had three collapsed discs in his neck.)
A different, former assistant also detailed the grotesque and inappropriate comments he made about and to women, including herself. “‘Our relationship could’ve been very different. We would have had a passionate night of sex with our clothes on the floor, but we would instantly have regretted it because we are like brother and sister,’” the assistant recalled Graziano telling her. A male writer who worked on the show Lie to Me with Graziano remembered him constantly bringing up “how he might hit on women and how he would do it.”
Along with this behavior, Graziano also reportedly once brought in a stun ring and began “zapping it around the writers’ room.” His spokesperson was quick to clarify that he did this without “administering a shock to anyone in the room.”
As is often and frustratingly the case, his alleged behavior of sexualizing women, making racial microaggressions against minorities, and having an explosive temper, toed the line just beneath being anything that could officially be considered harassment. Only one person interviewed by the LA Times said they reported his behavior to upper-level executives. But even then, no disciplinary actions were taken.
In response to the allegations, Graziano issued the following statement to the Times:
“Though it would be easy and convenient, I refuse to blame some past behavior on the abuse I suffered and learned as a child at the hands of a Catholic priest as well as my own mother. For anyone who has worked as a showrunner or in a writers’ room, you must draw on and use your own experience,” Graziano said. “Particularly for a show like ‘Law & Order: SUV,’ I regrettably have a lot to draw from and with it brings a great deal of emotion. All any of us can do is evolve and grow. Real change is hard, and I continue to work on myself.”
He also admitted that, during Coyote, he might have been “a difficult person to work” with because, at the time, he had three collapsed discs in his neck.
It’s worth noting that, for the last three months, Graziano’s Instagram bio says: “duking it out with lifelong #cptsd,” “#cptsdrecovery,” and “#cptsawareness.” CPTSD stands for “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” and is the same condition Joss Whedon, another showrunner accused of workplace misconduct, claims he suffers from. While it’s certainly possible he does suffer from CPTSD, especially if he was abused by a priest, we’ve long witnessed abusers deflect their own culpability by conveniently highlighting their own traumas when the attention is on their wrongdoings.
It feels irresponsible on NBC’s part to have someone with Graziano’s track record leading a show like SVU. With these allegations made against him, I can’t imagine he’s going to do a great job threading the needle on making entertaining television out of these sensitive topics.