If we can see it, then we can be it. Representation is vitally important and we all deserve to see ourselves represented on screen. The impact representation can have on young people is huge and as such, television shows in general need to do better at exploring a more diverse array of characters says Saving Hope and Rookie Blue producer Sonia Hosko. That’s why, after a tumultuous year for queer characters in 2016, Hosko, along with Noelle Carbone, Michelle Mama and Gina Tass authored what is now known as The Lexa Pledge. The pledge outlines tenants and guidelines where the authors and those who have signed, vow to feature LGBT characters in stories and give them “significant” arcs.
While The Pledge is now nearing a year old, representation is still a hot topic in the TV industry and an area that still needs improvement. Hosko recently joined The TV Junkies as part of our Women Behind Canadian TVseries to discuss why she feels representation is so important and why she was compelled to create The Pledge. She also shares how she got started in the industry and the final moments from Saving Hope’s upcoming fifth and final season, premiering Sunday, March 12 on CTV.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The TV Junkies: Did you always want to work in television? How did you get into television production?
Sonia Hosko: I didn’t set out to work in television. For the longest time, and throughout my four years at University of Toronto, I wanted to be a social worker. Around the time that I graduated, preventative and social programs in Canada were being cut consistently and it didn’t feel like I would be able to do the kind of work that I wanted to do. I had secretly always wanted to be a writer, and so I ended up going to film school with aspirations of becoming a feature film writer or a documentary filmmaker. Since I was one of the older students in the program however, producing fell into my lap and I ended up loving it.
During our final year, we had to do an internship and I got the incredible opportunity to work as Sarah Polley’s assistant on Away From Her. I went on to work with Jennifer Weiss and Simone Urdl, two of the producers of the film, as their assistant on two of their films: Atom Egoyan’s Adoration and Brian De Palma’s Redacted. Those experiences were incredible, and I loved working with those women.
It was Ilana Frank though, who invited me to come along and work with her on her new show Rookie Blue. And that was my entrance into the TV world. I love television. I always have. I grew up in an age where no one dreamed about working in television. Everyone wanted to work on a movie–that was the dream. And now, the pendulum has swung the other way and I’m thrilled. To have the opportunity to work with writers and actors who get to create and play characters that are developed over years, and to watch audiences follow along with fervour, is incredibly satisfying.
TTVJ: Canadian television does have women in some very prominent positions behind the scenes and you’ve worked with a good number of them. What women have influenced your career and what are some of your peers doing that really impresses you?
SH: I certainly have worked with a lot of strong, brilliant and inspirational women–in fact all of my mentors, and the people who have taken a chance on me have all been women. My first job outside of film school was working as Sarah Polley’s assistant. Sarah is, and I don’t say this lightly, brilliant at pretty much everything she does–we even got annoyed when we figured out that she was good at drawing. But more importantly, she is also incredibly aware of creating a space where everyone is respected, where everyone feels safe, where everyone’s talent is nurtured and where everyone can do their best work. I learned a lot about the importance of creating that space on set from her.
Not only that, but she was extremely generous with me–she knew that I wanted to be a producer and so she made sure that I had the opportunity to shadow the producers on the set of Away From Her even though it took time away from me doing my actual job. So of course I am beyond excited that she has entered the world of TV with Alias Grace. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Other influences have been Jennifer Weiss and Simone Urdl from the Film Farm–they were the first producers that I worked with and they continue to be friends and mentors. And then there is Ilana Frank, who brought me into the TV world and gave me the opportunity to become a producer–to learn and grow with the two series that we have worked on together–Rookie Blue and Saving Hope. Ilana is a force. You don’t produce two of the most successful shows on Canadian television without incredible tenacity, fortitude and sheer will power.
Peers and friends that I’m impressed with and excited for: Tassie Cameron’s venture into producing with Cameron Pictures, Vanessa Piazza, executive producer on Lost Girl and Dark Matter who started her own production company, Alison Reid, our stunt coordinator extraordinaire, who directed an episode of Saving Hope this year, Jordan Canning, another female director who worked on our show and is killing it directing, Semi Chellas, who has had a stellar few years working on Mad Men and is now working on directing a feature. And I have worked with and am constantly surrounded by exceptional female writers, who make our jobs possible: Noelle Carbone, Ley Lukins, Morwyn Brebner, Adriana Maggs, Sherry White, Karen Moore, Katrina Saville and the list goes on.
TTVJ: Were you involved in casting on Saving Hope and Rookie Blue? If so, how did you factor diversity into your decisions?
SH: I was involved in casting in the later seasons of both Rookie Blue and Saving Hope. And yes, diversity was always discussed and factored into our decisions. Representation is so important. We need to create more opportunities for diverse actors–we need to write more diverse roles so that actors can continue to grow and nurture their craft. It’s the only way to ensure we are growing our community of actors here in this country.
TTVJ: In a year where there’s been so much talk about queer representation on TV you decided to do something about that and were one of the authors of “The Lexa Pledge.” Why was that so important for you and what positive impacts has the Pledge had thus far?
SH: The Pledge is something that I’m very proud of. I was aware of the bury your gays trope, but I didn’t realize how out of hand it had gotten until I spoke with Gina Tass [Leskru Fundraiser creator] and my friend Michelle Mama. If you take a look at the statistics, at the number of queer women killed off, mostly in tragic ways, and often after having sex with another woman for the first time, it’s incredibly alarming. Even more alarming was the response we were seeing from queer youth. They were beside themselves with grief and fear and concern and anger and felt a huge sense of hopelessness. And so along with Noelle Carbone (writer/producer on Rookie Blue and Saving Hope), we came up with The Lexa Pledge.
On a purely personal note, I didn’t grow up seeing many queer women on television–I didn’t see myself reflected on screen. And now that there are queer characters on television, although still a minute amount in comparison to straight characters, and we’re living in a world where there have been huge advancements in LGBTQ rights, an alarming number of queer characters on camera are being given tragic endings. It has been queer youth who have been the most vocal on this subject, and as important as it is for them to see themselves represented as widely as possible on television, it is equally important to continue to normalize queer culture.
I want people to be able to tune in and consistently see queer characters represented in a million different ways–queer characters in long term relationships, having children, messing up their lives, finding a way through, inspiring audiences, making them laugh, making them cry, making them angry–not just turning up dead to further the plot of a straight character or to play out a tired morality tale; so that society can continue to shed outdated belief systems and stereotypes.
It’s important for every queer person who still faces the long road of acceptance, be it from their family or the community in which they live. We need to continue to make our stories universal, but it’s also important to populate our shows with as many queer characters as possible, so that that one character doesn’t have to represent the entire community. There are so many different ways of being queer in the world, and that to me is exciting to explore.
TTVJ: I’ve seen a lot of writers react negatively to The Pledge and there seems to be a misconception that it’s saying you can’t kill queer characters. Have you guys received any negativity about The Pledge and can you explain the tenet pertaining to killing queer characters?
SH: I understand why some writers and producers have felt nervous about The Pledge. But I think that whenever we’re dealing with minorities being underrepresented, misrepresented or worse, subjected to a harmful trope, we need to flex our creative muscles and come up with better solutions. And at the very least, make writers and producers aware of what’s happening.
And I do think that The Pledge has been misunderstood. We’re not saying that by signing it you can never kill a queer character, we’re asking people to really think about queer representation on television–asking them to include more queer characters, give them real arcs and more significant storylines and not to kill them to further a straight character’s storyline. And a huge part of this is a question of under representation: If you kill a queer character on a show mostly populated by straight characters, which is done mainly to inform the arcs of straight characters, it’s very different than killing off a character in a show mostly populated by queer characters.
One of the shows that came up when we were creating The Pledge was The L Word. When Dana got sick and died in the show it was sad and had a huge effect on viewers, but it doesn’t play into the “bury your gays” trope because of the very fact that there were more queer characters than straight characters on the show. And it certainly didn’t play into any sort of morality tale.
TTVJ: Speaking of Saving Hope, you guys recently wrapped production on the final season. What was that like and how do you feel about it ending?
SH: I remember the last week of shooting, and up until that point, it hadn’t really set in. And then I walked by Julia Taylor Ross’s (Maggie) scrubs in the wardrobe department and suddenly got teary. We have been so fortunate to have worked on two shows back to back for long periods of time, and people say it all the time, but it’s true–everyone becomes like family. You spend more time with the cast and crew of a show than you do your own family. And I certainly have made some incredible friends, and will miss the work, the people and the show.
I watched the last take of the last shot of the last scene of the last episode of the show sharing headphones with co-EP and writer Noelle Carbone, who also happens to have gone to film school with me and is my best friend and mother of my godchild, so we were both in tears. Let me just say that Adam Pettle [Saving Hope showrunner] has written an incredible finale, one that will leave fans feeling a whole lot of feelings. It’s beautiful and brings the show full circle.
TTVJ: What do you see as some of the challenges and obstacles for young women looking to enter TV in behind the scenes positions, and do you have any advice for them?
SH: I have worked with mostly female showrunners, writers and producers and I continue to see those positions populated by women. We need to make some serious headway in terms of nurturing and hiring female directors. Thankfully the networks, studios, production companies and funders are now beginning to really put their effort and money towards this goal. My advice to young women, and young female directors specifically, would be to keep creating content: apply for funding for web series, for shorts, for features, keep honing your skills, and get out there–meet as many people as you can. And generally, people will take meetings with you. I love to meet as many young female writers and directors as possible. If you have an agent, make them set up meetings for you–and if you don’t have an agent yet, everyone in this country is pretty accessible–put yourselves out there.
TTVJ: What’s next for you and your career?
SH: Well, there is something coming up that I can’t talk about yet, but suffice it to say that we will be busy this spring with a new project. I’m also keeping busy with several shows in development as well as two feature films, one of which I am hoping to co-direct with the writer of the film, the talented playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman.
Thoughts? Share them in the comments below.
Saving Hope Season 5 will air on CTV in Canada beginning Sunday, March 12, 2017. Read more from our Women Behind Canadian TV series here.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.