When CBS gave Meredith Stiehm the okay to produce Cold Case, the series creator joined just four other women running hit shows for the network back in 2004.
Out of all of them, Stiehm was the youngest, and in an interview with the Writers Guild of America, she recalled how she was often confused for her series star Kathryn Morris. At the time Stiehm was in her mid-30s, and with her blonde hair and striking smile, she suggested it was easier for a stranger on set to consider her the talent than the person running the whole show. She was born the same year as Morris. "The first day on the pilot, the cameraman mistook me for Kathryn [Morris, the actress who plays Lilly]." On another day, an extra asked, "When is the executive producer going to get here?"
The executive producer was there, of course, but Stiehm took it all in stride. She quickly learned that, "It's easier for some men to take direction from a man than from a woman. A woman runs the risk of being labeled bossy, opinionated, or controlling."
But she also pointed out where she – as well as other female series creators like her, including her CBS colleagues at the time Carol Mendelsohn (CSI), Ann Donahue (CSI: Miami), Carol Barbee (Judging Amy) and Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia) – excelled: "Women are more interested in consensus than hierarchy, but consensus isn't always reachable. You can't please everyone."
After Cold Case, Stiehm went on to co-create The Bridge and served as executive producer on Homeland, so clearly her leadership tactics worked. She's also written an episode of a new series called The Banker's Wife, debuting later this year and starring Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl). Now older and wiser, Stiehm has come a long way since her first Emmy nomination in 1998 for an episode of NYPD Blue. Today she's an Emmy winner for her work on Homeland.
Looking back, she's a perfect example of how she told the WGA that TV worked for women back in 2004, "There is a category for a wunderkind man. The women I know have worked at every level and climbed the ladder. I've never seen a 25-year-old woman showrunner," Stiehm said at the time.
Contrast that with one of the most popular shows to debut the same year as Cold Case: The O.C.'s showrunner and series creator was Josh Schwartz, who at the time was 26. Good thing Cold Case was worth the wait!
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