Holly Marie Combs is shedding light on the drama that unfolded behind the scenes during her time on Charmed. This week, she appeared on former castmate Shannen Doherty’s podcast, Let’s Be Clear, for the second part of a discussion about their experience doing the show.
During the episode, Holly revealed that she learned during a meeting she had with Jonathan Levin, the show’s producer, that Alyssa Milano was behind Shannen being fired from the series.
“We were told by Alyssa it’s her or Shannen and Alyssa has threatened to sue us for a hostile workplace environment,'” Holly recalled Jonathan saying in the meeting she initiated.
She said Jonathan felt like he and his colleagues were being “backed into this corner” and were facing a difficult ultimatum, before suggesting that Alyssa had built some sort of case against Holly and Shannen in which she made note of all the times she felt uncomfortable during filming. Though Holly and Shannen admit there may have been tension at some points, they didn’t feel it was that serious or noticeable to anyone outside the three of them.
“I lived a year after that sort of replaying everything in my brain and really trying to find those moments — and I couldn’t find them,” Shannen recalled. “I don’t ever remember being mean to her on set. I remember an episode I directed where she did something on the Christmas break and they asked me to work around some things with her and I had no problem with it. I couldn’t have been more kind and understanding.”
Shannen and Holly were super close, so when Shannen was ousted, with her character being killed off in season three, Holly told Jonathan she would walk. At the time, Shannen had told the public she quit the show. And despite telling Jonathan she wouldn’t be moving forward without her counterpart, he retaliated with what she said “felt like blackmail” and threatened a lawsuit if she didn’t fulfill her contractual obligations.
Last week on the podcast, during the first part of their conversation, Shannen also alleged Alyssa and her mom made it difficult for her to visit Holly in the hospital following a surgery she had in the late 90s to remove a tumour that could have become cancerous.
“Hospitals scared me to death. I waited 24 hours after your surgery to go, and then it wasn’t even easy for me to get in. I was like, being told I couldn’t even get in,” she said.
Hearing all of this, it’s not hard to conclude that Alyssa was…kind of an asshole. It’s not something that she herself has denied, either, previously speaking out about the allegations against her behaviour on set, saying that she has regrets and has felt “guilt” about that time in her career.
“You know, I could take responsibility for a lot of our tension that we had,” she said back in 2017. “I think a lot of our struggle came from feeling that I was in competition rather than it being that sisterhood that the show was so much about. And I have some guilt about my part in that.”
That revelation right there, about feeling like she was in competition, suggests maybe not all of the blame belongs to Alyssa, but should also be shared with the producers and showrunners who are responsible for managing and preventing unhealthy dynamics. I mean, the word showrunner means you run the show – and if you’re doing your job right, it should be done smoothly.
Having worked in TV, I’ve learned that chaos or toxicity at any level is typically a direct reflection of what’s happening up top. Whether it’s poor management, lack of proper compensation, miscommunication or in many cases, deliberately pitting your talent against each other, all of that trickles down and can be felt. Even outside of TV, this is true in any industry or work environment. What happens at the lower levels reflects what’s happening up top.
It’s well-known that women in Hollywood have historically been pitted against each other. Take Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, for example, who were constantly fighting to be the number one pop sensation back in the day, fighting the current of non-stop paparazzi and tabloid headlines that did nothing but feed and fuel the competition. It was same for Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
Other TV sets dominated by women actors dealt with a lot of what Holly and Shannen are describing. Back in August, I wrote about how awful Teri Hatcher was on the set of Desperate Housewives and how staffers were instructed not to make eye contact with her. And as for Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell’s famous beef? There’s a reason Tyra’s line on America’s Next Top Model was:
“There can only be one.”
That exact sentiment about there only being room for one is what has led to so many situations like this in show business. And while I really do believe that movements like #MeToo brought women together and served as proof that we really do have to look out for each other, and what’s possible when we band together, it doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot of unlearning to do.
So yes, it might be easy to label Alyssa as the culprit, the bitch, the woman that was “hard to work with”. But perhaps that’s the objective, the distractor, the thing that keeps us from talking about the real issues, the real changes that need to be made in the entertainment industry. Because, again, in the same way what’s happening at the bottom is a reflection of what’s happening at the top, when women feel like they’re in competition with one another, it’s all too common that there’s someone up top benefitting from them feeling that way.