What happens when a television show has informally mandated diversity but the people in charge are reluctant to actually listen to the new writers? Not much, apparently, as this interview with television writer Jacqueline McKinley indicates.
McKinley, who has worked on shows like The Bernie Mac Show and All Of Us, spoke to Pink Raygun about her career, shedding a light on what's behind the stultifying sameness in so many television writers' rooms.
"When I first got into the business there were more opportunities for comedies, especially black comedies. There were two networks that programmed a lot of sitcoms," she says. (The merging of UPN and WB has been linked to the death of the "black sitcom.") She herself got her start there, but in the absence of those shows, she recommends an alternate path:
Unfortunately, a black comedy writer more often than not gets work on a black show. I know a few black writers that work on "white" comedies but I can count them on one hand. Most black comedy writers get their experience and credits on black shows. The advice I would give new female African-American writers is to go into dramas. Drama still has roadblocks but you are not relegated to working only on black shows. I would make the switch to dramas myself but it's hard to go over when all of your credits are in sitcoms. But if your heart is in comedy, I would try writing pilots and try shooting a web series.
As for being the only woman in the room, McKinley says,
It is a challenge being a woman in the room, but a lot of times other writers defer to you when the subject matter is woman inspired. I have to say, I've gotten most of my jobs because they have a slot for a woman, and as a result I end up writing for the women characters more often than the men. Being accepted as a woman writer is almost entirely built on how you got the job. For example, with the show Smart Guy, they were told to hire a woman. In fact they actually had no intention of hiring a woman that year but were forced to by the studio in order to balance out the room. In that room, my opinion was never valued and actually more of a nuisance. Where in another room, The Bernie Mac Show, the showrunners wanted women and hired many of them. On a staff of eleven, five were women. They would listen and reach out to women and their thoughts.
In other words, a less homogeneous pool of entertainment writers is just the beginning of getting other voices out there. You also have to listen to them and care about what they have to say. Baby steps.
Breaking In [Pink Raygun]
Photo via WGAW