Why So Few Women Are Writing For Television

Illustration for article titled Why So Few Women Are Writing For Television

There was a dramatic drop in the number of female writers in the last television season, and AOLtv's Maureen Ryan asked a few people high in the ranks — men too — why that happened. The answers will depress you!

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According to a San Diego State University study, only 15 percent of the writers in that season were women. In 2006-2007, 35 percent of the writers were women. Maureen Ryan talked to a bunch of writers and producers, some of whom gave their names:

"The situation is getting worse," said one veteran woman writer. "In the '90s, the networks cared more. They don't anymore." For others, it made them re-evaluate gains they thought women had made. "I had certainly perceived the situation as getting better and better for women — I am rarely the only woman in the writers' room anymore, and I encounter more women at the higher levels," said Jane Espenson ('Once Upon a Time,' 'Torchwood,' 'Buffy,' 'Battlestar Galactica'). "I remember what it was like 20 years ago, and this is not that."

All it takes is to think that all the gains have been made and things start slipping back. Other writers talk about how in tough economic times and with their business model up in the air, networks go for the familiar, which means more dudes. And some showrunners think having one woman writer is enough, though that's not easy on the sole woman in the room. One writer said she had worked on a show that fired the only woman on staff every few months, and compared her own experience to "walking around with a target on your back."

Illustration for article titled Why So Few Women Are Writing For Television

A male writer on one of the shows mentioned, Terra Nova, has already bristled. "Despite mostly anecdotal evidence and faux-conspiratorial conjecture, I was ready to hold my peace" on the story, Jose Molina wrote in a Twitter exchange you can see here, taking issue with how Ryan crunched the numbers on his show. Huh. Can you get less anecdotal than the overall numbers for the entire industry?

The 2010-2011 numbers might look better, since women are asked to write women and women are starring in a bunch of fall TV shows. But the result so far is nothing to get excited about, according to Slate's Jessica Grose:

The slew of new lady comedies rehash old stereotypes about long-term relationships between men and women, the elaborateness of female grooming rituals, and using feminine wiles to get what you want. As Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker puts it in his preview of The New Girl and Two Broke Girls, "These two shows aren't so much about girl power as girl strategy."

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Ugh. That's enough of that. Instead of this crap, everyone should watch The Hour on BBC America (it's on demand!) which includes as a major part of its ensemble a smart, driven woman (played by the gorgeous and feminist Romola Garai), who's a top producer on a 1950s television show and has to fight to be taken seriously by sexist men. And yeah, all of these stories makes it sound like The Hour could just as easily be set today.

Why Is Television Losing Women Writers? Veteran Producers Weigh In [AOLTV]
The New Girls [Slate]

DISCUSSION

sarahhawthorne
sarahhawthorne

Dan Harmon, the showrunner for Community, talked to the AV Club about (among other things) why it was harder to hire a half-female writing room, and why it was worth it in the end. The whole thing is here [www.avclub.com]

It's an epically long interview, so I'll cut and paste a few quotes, though the whole section is worth checking out:

"AVC: You’ve employed a lot of female writers, in both seasons... Was that a conscious decision?

"DH: It was conscious on the part of [former NBC programming head] Angela Bromstad, before she left NBC. Angela said, "Get more women on your staff. Make it half women." ...

"They’re harder to find. It’s definitely not because women ain’t funny, because I’m finding the opposite. It’s because there’s fewer of them. The statistical probability of picking up a shitty script, it’s compounded for women. There’s the same percentage of genius happening in both genders, but there’s less women writing scripts and out there looking for the job. So you dig a little extra-hard, and you end up with a staff that took a few extra meetings and a few extra shitty scripts to read. Now you have a staff that is just as good as the staff you would have had, but happens to be half women. And it seems like the greatest thing in the world, because the world is half women. And the male writers across the board, from top to bottom, in their most private moments drinking with me, when they’re fully licensed to be as misogynist, reactive, old-boy-network as they want, all they can say is, 'This turned out to be a great thing.'

"...There’s a literal, actual difference between men and women, and it’s in their blood, and it’s in their brains, and it’s in their fingertips, and it’s in our conversations. I think women are different, and I think having them in the room is crucial to a family comedy, ensemble comedy, television comedy, where half the eyeballs on your show are women. As it turns out, I think Megan’s the only female writer who’s staying this year, so now, even though Bromstad’s gone, now I’m carrying this legacy, going, "Eh, guys, we really need a half-female writing staff." I would teach it. I think we have to stop thinking of it as a quota thing and think of it as a common-sense thing."