HBO fixed its pay disparities and we have Reese Witherspoon and Time’s Up to thank for it

Pay disparities at HBO are a thing of the past – or so says network exec Casey Bloys. And we have Reese Witherspoon and Time’s Up to thank for it.  

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Bloys claimed that the movement, along with “some conversations with Reese,” had inspired the network to take a good hard look at its own payroll and make some changes.

“We’ve proactively gone through all of our shows — in fact, we just finished our process where we went through and made sure that there were no inappropriate disparities in pay; and where there were, if we found any, we corrected it going forward,” he said. “And that’s is a direct result of the Times Up movement.”

Bloys, unsurprisingly, declined to name which specific series required corrections, but acknowledged that the stars and their agents shouldn’t have had to fight for equality in the first place.

That’s not to say all men and women will make exactly the same pay going forward. Bloys explained that the situation is a little different in a show’s early stages, when certain stars are coming in with more cachet than others. 

But “it becomes more of an issue when you get into season two and season three,” Bloys continued. 

“When you get into season two or three of a show and the show is a success, it is much harder to justify paying people wildly disparate numbers, and that’s where you have to make sure that you’re looking at the numbers – that they don’t end up just on the path they were on from the pilot stage.”

Bloys’ comments offer a bit of insight into how wildly uneven salaries are justified to begin with – and how they can be corrected going forward.

It’s not unusual for an actor with more experience, fame, and/or prestige to command a higher salary than a relatively unknown co-star. This is reportedly why Matt Smith was paid more than Claire Foy for The Crown, despite the fact that she, not he, was the series lead.

But that means stars are entering new projects on an already-uneven playing field, since actors tend to have more opportunities to begin with. Smith, for instance, had largely built his profile off of Doctor Who, a show that up until last year had never cast a woman in the starring role.

So simply paying actors what their past experience says they’re worth tends to put women at a disadvantage. Scale up their salaries from there, and it’s easy to see how male stars might continue outearning their female colleagues over the course of the series.

What Bloys says he’s doing is taking into account what a star is worth once their show gets going. Once the series is underway, all the actors become an integral part of the project, and it becomes harder to argue that one lead is more valuable than another. (After all, it’s not like you can just recast the ones who ask for higher salaries.)

His story illustrates the very real impact of this current movement. Sure, there are and always will be people who pay lip service to Time’s Up without lifting a finger to help the movement achieve any of its goals.

But there will also be people who hear the call and decide to act. That makes a difference to everyone who works under Bloys – and, hopefully, sets an example for his peers to follow suit.

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Angie Han
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