HBO's True Detective seems to have filled a Breaking Bad-sized hole in the hearts and minds of television fans. But while most of the coverage of the show has been obsessively fawning, it's still gotten some criticism because of the less than creative ways women and minorities are represented on it. Pegged to that conversation, Huffington Post television critic Maureen Ryan decided to dig into the exactly who is making dramas like True Detective. The answer – one that is likely not much of a surprise – is that it's mostly white men.
In her piece, Ryan specifically targets HBO's legacy, revealing that over the course of its 40 years as a network, HBO has put out only one hour-long drama created by a woman and one by a person of color. Expanding to include the category of miniseries doesn't make the numbers much better:
Of 38 narrative architects of one-hour HBO dramas and dramatic miniseries between 1975 and 2014, Cynthia Mort of "Tell Me You Love Me" (2007), Abi Morgan of "Tsunami: The Aftermath" (2006) and M.M. Kaye, co-writer of "The Far Pavilions" (1984), are the only women, and Mort was the only woman to create a one-hour drama series. According to HuffPost's research, Michael Henry Brown, who co-wrote "Laurel Avenue" (1993), is the only person of color on that roster.
Ryan also expanded her look past HBO, comparing the network to contemporaries like Showtime, FX, AMC and Netflix. Cumulatively, there have been 97 creators or "narrative architects" behind hour-long dramas or miniseries at these networks. Of those 97, 12 were women and 2 were people of color.
Though Ryan limited her analysis to dramas, including comedies or documentaries makes the landscape more diverse. But considering just dramas is important; these days, a good television drama is given almost the same amount of respect as a good movie.
But HBO wants you to pay attention to all of its content. In a statement, a network spokesperson said, "When you look beyond drama series and mini-series at the many other programming genres that we present, such as comedies, documentaries, late night fare, sports and original movies, I think you will find a lot of diversity."
"We can do better; we are doing better; we are striving to do better," they added, citing their new HBOAccess program. That's a month long program that provides support and encouragement to "diverse talent" – people who are just starting out. That program, however, is dedicated to creating short-form content for HBO, which the network has been exploring in fits and starts for a while.
In her piece, Ryan says that it's fair that, as has been the case with True Detective, individual show creators get called out for the way they write and structure their shows. But that doesn't mean that network executives get a free pass from addressing these issues also. After all, they have the money. "...as long as this debate is limited to individual dramas, and doesn't consider the entities that commission and distribute them, the conversation is likely to go around in circles indefinitely," she writes.
After all, look at how far a little mentoring can move someone. Take Sarah Treem, the writer behind Showtime's upcoming series The Affair, which stars Joshua Jackson, Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney. The four play two sets of married couples whose lives get complicated when Wilson and West's characters start sleeping together. Treem started out as a writer on HBO's In Treatment before moving to House of Cards. As profiled in The Writer recently, she's also an active playwright, putting out work that is decidedly "female-centric."
In that interview, Treem makes The Affair sound like it's going to be pretty interesting, especially with regards to her female characters:
...the idea of the show is to tell the same story from two sides or two perspectives. And each perspective has valid weight. I think that's radical in a love story because so often the woman is written as the object and the man as the subject. But in this show, they are both the subjects of their own story and the objects of each other's. And the story changes depending on whose perspective we are in.
As a woman, I'm very cognizant that I experience the world differently from men. And because I'm a woman who has worked in a male-dominated field for so long, I've spent an inordinate amount of time training myself to "think like a man" in order to survive. When telling this story, I actively thought about how men and women experience the same scene differently. Which was a lot of fun and very liberating for me personally.
So even though the past doesn't look great, there's definitely something to look forward to.
Image via HBO