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Sleepy Hollow: Book Allegations Paint Toxic Series Production Picture

Maureen Ryan's Burn It Down examines toxic production allegations against FOX's Sleepy Hollow, including the treatment of star Nicole Beharie.

Premiering in September 2013 and going on to run for four seasons, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Phillip Iscove, Len Wiseman & FOX's Sleepy Hollow was one of those shows whose concept was a head-scratcher on paper but a growing fan-favorite when brought to the small screen. The supernatural drama series saw a resurrected Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) serving as a consultant for law enforcement, teamed with Sheriff's Lieutenant/FBI Agent Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). But over the course of the series' run, rumblings of dissension behind-the-scenes and questionable creative decision-making in front of the camera left fans wondering what happened to the series that had such an impact on them after a well-received first season. Now, we're getting some extensive insight & perspectives on the series from a number of sources involved with the production who spoke with author & journalist Maureen Ryan for their new book, Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood.

Sleepy Hollow

If you've been following our coverage of Ryan's reporting over the past week, then you know that the author has pulled off some amazing access to individuals who were directly involved on shows such as LOST, American Gods, Saturday Night Live, and more. Over the course of the book, Ryan pulls back the curtain and throws open the pages of the entertainment industry's sordid history books to expose the patterns of harassment, bias, and disrespect that have existed for decades. In addition, Ryan addresses the efforts that individuals and groups are taking to force reform on an industry that isn't known for embracing reform – and how recent headlines have inspired these movements. But when it comes to Sleepy Hollow, we might have the most shocking example of a toxic production in the book. In fact, serious kudos to Ryan for their reporting because it reads like the author was air-dropped in the middle of some seriously unresolved issues that folks wanted to see reach the light of day.

For the sake of this update, we're going to take a look at the difficulties that Beharie reportedly faced during the production and what some of our key takeaways were from the reporting. Just to be clear, what we're highlighting is far from the extensive reporting that Ryan published, so make sure to check out the chapter in its entirety:

Sleepy Hollow

Though reports were that both Mison and Beharie had their respective difficulties adjusting to leading a network show, one source added that they saw a red flag involving with the way "problems were handled and the way blame was assigned – or reassigned." That reportedly led to "the well being poisoned" for Beharie – while Mison's behavior was handled much more discreetly, the source alleged that Beharie's behavior was weaponized against her.

"When a bunch of white guys say a person of color is difficult, I tend to assume that there's a lot more to the story. I found her to be pleasant, extremely talented, and an actor who was adjusting to being the lead. There are growing pains with that. In the time I was there, where the discrepancy came in was how their growing pains were viewed and handled.

Another source claimed that problems on the set were "exacerbated by a situation where the two leads did not want to have a whole lot to do with each other," adding that the bows between Crane and Abbie were added because the actors did want to hug one another. Showrunner Clifton Campbell shared with the author that the leads "believed that the relationship between the characters should not evolve into a romantic relationship," a matter further complicated by the fans wanting the relationship to head in that very direction.

Along with tensions between the two leads, a number of sources shared that Beharie was being painted early on as the source of the production's woes. The creative team began focusing on the show's supporting characters, with Lyndie Greenwood's Jenny Mills reportedly brought aboard at the start of the series as a potential replacement for Beharie's Abbie. "You're basically turning the writers against one of the leads. I think it's unethical to label the person a problem before the majority of people have had a chance to have an experience with the person. And especially if that person is a woman and a woman of color – those are two groups that already have challenges, to begin with," one source shared with Ryan.

Writer Shernold Edwards describes the experience working on the show with then-showrunner Campbell as having turned "hellish," describing the vibe on set as "miserable. Edwards claimed that she went to Campbell with her idea to get together with Beharie to talk, but allegedly the showrunner "went off," killing the idea while allegedly calling the actress "crazy." Campbell denied the claim to Ryan, calling the allegation "patently false" while describing Beharie as "professional" as wellas "cordial and fun." In addition, Campbell countered that he was against the meeting "to protect evolving conversations as the studio began to look past season three and the ramifications for any subsequent seasons, I told the entire room not to share these ongoing discussions with any cast or crew."

And that's not even close to all of the claims and allegations made in the chapter. Ryan's reporting also addresses the reports that Beharie had a physical altercation with a hairstylist and that Beharie reportedly received pushback "on the studio level" to her going with her natural hair on-screen (before being given the go-ahead and donning "her own personal wigs, which she asked that we use" during her final season, according to Campbell).

But the reporting extends beyond just focusing on Beharie, with sources addressing how the show's changing creative team and bigger issues among the show's creators contributed to the production's growing instability. In addition, claims that Campbell had become "unproductively" emotional and defensive towards Black writers over suggestions regarding sensitive matters in the scripts are also examined, as is the reaction from the show as fans' criticisms of the series began to grow. In fact, Ryan shared that it was their reporting on Sleepy Hollow that inspired them to move forward with the book – with Beharie stepping away from the spotlight after her experiences on the series clearly in mind when they shared this during a recent interview for the book:

"If there's a thing that causes me to want to burn things down, it's when people leave the industry or are essentially forced out of the industry or forced into, essentially, career hiatuses. Not due to a pattern of serious misconduct or serious unprofessionalism or serious transgressions of any kind, but because they feared for their mental health, their physical well-being, their safety, and their overall quality of life was terrible."

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Ray FlookAbout Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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