The first installment of Ryan Murphy’s newest anthology series, Feud, kicked off last night with an attempted bang: As Joan Crawford, Jessica Lange makes an ill-advised move on her director, Bob Aldrich (Alfred Molina). There’s also a lot of talk about banging with respect to Crawford and her Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? costar, Bette Davis, played here by Susan Sarandon. Studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) tries to gauge their remaining desirability, but only after he levels perhaps the most profane epithet at an absent Davis in a meeting with Aldrich: he calls her a “cunt,” because she dared to sue Warner Bros. for autonomy in selecting her roles.
That’s not a word you hear much on TV—not even premium cable, really—so naturally, Feud showrunner Tim Minear’s been asked just how necessary it was to include it in the script. He tells The Hollywood Reporter it was necessary to include the word, in part because it says something about the man who said it:
We felt that it wasn’t gratuitous. It was gratuitous coming from the mouth of the character but it wasn’t gratuitous in terms of the story that we’re telling. One well-placed epithet like that is like a bracing, toss of cold water in the audience’s face and it says something. Not if you’re dropping it every five seconds. So that’s why it’s there; it’s there because that’s the ugly soul that we’re exposing a little bit.
Even so, the decision to include the epithet in the pilot episode wasn’t arrived at easily; Minear says the producers “went back and forth” about it. But once they’d made up their minds, they still had to negotiate with the network.
FX isn’t the first network to use the word on a show, but the whole thing has the Parents Television Council up in arms about it. The group was informed of its inclusion before Feud premiere, so they already had a statement for THR ready to go Monday morning:
That FX would use such severe dialogue demonstrates that the network has no standards…. If one FX employee used the ‘c-word’ term to describe a female co-worker, that employee would be summarily fired. It is indeed ironic that one division of News Corp. would employ such vile dialogue about a woman as ‘entertainment’ while another division of News Corp. [Fox News] is mired in disgraceful controversy because of allegations of wanton sexual harassment. It could increase potential liability for News Corp. should female employees allege a hostile work environment.