Rutherford Falls: meet the sitcom creators decolonizing Hollywood

Navajo writer and showrunner Sierra Teller Ornelas has teamed up with her former Brooklyn 99 colleague Mike Schur and actor Ed Helms to create Rutherford Falls, an NBC Peacock sitcom set in a small town that borders a reserve. Helms plays a “local legend and town namesake” who fights plans to move a statue of the town’s founder. The cast will include Toronto-based Plains Cree actor Michael Greyeyes, Lakota Sioux writer and actor Jana Schmieding, and Schitt’s Creek alumnus Dustin Milligan. Five of the twelve writers are Native American, making it one of the highest proportions of Indigenous writers on an American sitcom. CBC’s Rosanna Deerchild interviews the Indigneous writers decolonizing the Hollywood sitcom.

In addition to Ornelas and Schmieding, the other Indigenous writers are story editor Tazbah Chavez, Tai LeClaire, and Bobby Wilson.

On the first day of working together, explained Chavez, she “really had a moment.”

“This is the first time that I’ve had Native colleagues in any workplace. And it’s so cool to come to work, especially in TV, and be around other Native writers,” said Chavez.

“It influences the vibe and the culture of the [writers] room,” added Schmieding. “It also is, I think, influencing the storytelling quite a bit. It’s pretty magical.”

Rutherford Falls is currently in production and will air on NBCUniversal’s streaming site, Peacock.

“It’s a really exciting time,” said Ornelas. “We’re all getting to do something that is genuinely funny, genuinely interesting, but also very much from a Native perspective.”

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