What's a 'D-Girl,' Anyway?

by Joshua Alston

LOS ANGELES—Yesterday morning at the CBS portion of the Television Critics Association's press tour, Nina Tassler, the network's entertainment president, had a graceful barb prepared for NBC's former programming head Ben Silverman. When asked what she thought about Silverman's much-hubbubed departure from his network, Tassler flippantly replied "I'm really just a D-girl, so I wouldn't comment on that."

If that's not moving your "Oh, no, she didn't!" meter, it's probably because you, like most, are not hip to the public spectacle that was Ben Silverman, network head, or the most insidery Hollywood lingo. The Cliffs Notes version: Tassler was referring to an Esquire profile from 2007 in which the disastrously outspoken Silverman referred to the heads of the competing networks as "D-girls." Tassler was elegantly deflecting the request to comment on Silverman's fall, while shanking him back for good measure. But what is a D-girl (for "development girl") exactly, and what makes it such a slur?

To understand why Silverman's comments were so harsh, imagine a D-girl as the movie equivalent of an editorial assistant at a fashion magazine, which should be easy if you've seen The Devil Wears Prada. A D-girl is usually a young entry-level employee who works for a producer or an actor, reading scripts to separate the wheat from the chaff. They can make notes and suggest something they think is particularly good, but beyond that, they really don't have much influence. They aren't decision makers, they are the decision maker's assistants. As Anna McDonnell put it in a Los Angeles Times piece: "The standard line is that D-girls 'can't say yes, but won't say no.' Power in Hollywood is the ability to say yes. While unable to greenlight projects, D-girls are reluctant to reject them. No one wants to be remembered as the person who turned down the next Platoon or Terminator."

Some other assorted D-girl observations:

  • Many D-girls are men. In fact, while Silverman's comments in Esquire implied that he was talking about Tassler, he didn't actually mention her by name. The real targets of his derision were Steve McPherson of ABC and Kevin Reilly at Fox.
  • The term served as a title for episodes of Law & Order in its seventh season and The Sopranos in its second.
  • The term has staying power. (McDonnell's piece was printed in 1987.) The fact that it's still tossed around and hasn't even been gender-neutralized (D-person?) is indicative of the sexism that still permeates the entertainment industry.

Kudos to Tassler for throwing Silverman's disrespectful comments right back in his face. It wasn't as much of a smackdown as one would see on any given episode of The View, but as executive sessions at TCA go, it was pretty entertaining.