Female Showrunners Dispel The Myth That Only Male Writers’ Rooms Are Raunchy

Zooey Deschanel and New Girl showrunner and creator Liz Meriwether

According to the female showrunners for a number of today’s most popular shows including New Girl, Up All Night and Suburgatory, writing rooms that have more women are just as raunchy if not raunchier than shows with mostly men on the writing staff. The raunchy, fraternity-like male writing room may be more of an urban comedy legend than we thought.

DeAnn Heline, the showrunner for The Middle, told New York Magazine, “We’ve had a lot of male writers come in and say, “Oh, because women were writing the show, I didn’t think the writers’ room would be as raunchy.” And it’s more so.” Emily Kapnek, the showrunner for Suburgatory, said, “You want to create an environment where people feel like they can say anything. It needs to have a safety: You can let your mind go to a really weird, scary, not acceptable place in that room, and then carve a story out of that weird, dark hole in your mind.”

Winnie Holzman, the Emmy-nominated creator of My So-Called Life, said a few months back at a panel, “Everything is changing [in the television industry.] Showrunning is a leadership role where you’re the head writer but you are also leading this entire enterprise,” she said. Holzman feels that younger women are more comfortable stepping into the showrunner role. “My generation is still asking, can I lead? It’s different than just being a writer. Many writers are very introverted and shy,” she said.

The atmosphere of a comedy writers room also resembles a more (dorky) male fraternity that may make men more comfortable than women. “If you’re not comfortable with sexual humor or with crudeness or with all sorts of people being really honest about certain emotions, then yeah, this job is not for you,” said Daley Haggar, a woman who has written for comedies including  The Big Bang Theory and South Park. “People say all sorts of things that, in a normal corporate environment, would be beyond the pale but in a comedy room are part of the process.” Basically there is no room to play the “I’m a lady and I find that offensive card”.

Raunchy female writers’ rooms are great to hear about considering that last year Jezebel wrote an article that addressed the issue of the lack of female writers in the world of late-night comedy shows. Chelsea Handler had the most with five female writers (and five male writers) followed by Saturday Night Live with four female writers out of a staff of 16. Then the numbers get really sad: Jon Stewart has two out of 13, Jimmy Fallon has two out of 15, Jimmy Kimmel has one out of  10 (and she is also his girlfriend),  Craig Feguson has one out of 10 (and she is his sister), Conan O’Brien has one out of 15, Stephen Colbert has one out of 16, Jay Leno has one out of 20 and Bill Maher has no women on his staff of  nine writers.

Of course, that is late night television which is still dominated by men (last July was the first time Letterman had more than one woman on the writing staff.) The world of sitcoms, however, is now started to be ruled by women. With the slew of hits this year like New Girl, Suburgatory and the new and much talked about Girls, there is a clear shift in what people are watching and who is writing it for them.

But then again some female writers feel that they don’t have to be as crass as male writers traditionally are to prove themselves. Community writer Megan Ganz told The Daily Beast: “There was a time when women in male writers’ rooms had to be twice as crass as they were because they had to prove they could hang with the guys. Then things have shifted. Now it’s like you’re respected for your own particular voice.”

And women certainly do have on television right now. So much so that Two And A Half Men co-creator Lee Aronsohn said, “Enough ladies. I get it. You have periods … we’re approaching peak vagina on television, the point of labia saturation.” Women are ruling Hollywood now, especially women in comedy, so there was bound to be some backlash. But the fact that it is coming from the creator of a show that was a huge hit but is now probably heading for its demise is a little sad. It is unfortunate because women were always funny, they just hadn’t gotten the credit for it at this level. The success of Bridesmaids helped get more comedies, created by and starring women, on the air. But I don’t see how we can be anywhere near “saturation.” There have been comedies about men doing stupid things and talking about their men problems for decades. Some were hits (The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, The Big Bang Theory, Happy Days, Beavis & Butthead, Seinfeld, Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm), some were misses (The Single Guy, According to Jim. Gary Unmarried, Cavemen, Men Behaving Badly, How to be A Gentleman.) But no where have we ever said we have reached the saturation point with comedies about men.

Emily Spivey, the showrunner for Up all Night, said of his comments, “It actually made me tired. You know, shows are for humans and movies are for humans. They’re not for men or women, and whether it’s created by a man or woman—hopefully it’s created by a human! And other humans will enjoy it, be they male or female.”

 

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    • Lastango

      “Enough ladies. I get it. You have periods … we’re approaching peak vagina on television, the point of labia saturation.”

      You are interpreting this as Aronshon saying there are too many women on television.

      That doesn’t seem to be what he is saying at all. Instead, it appears he is tired of repeated references to anatomy and biology. If so, it’s not a backlash against the number of women, it’s an objection to crude, unimaginative storytelling — the current female version of potty humor. So, he didn’t say “Enough ladies”, he said “Enough, Ladies!”.

      Here’s another indication he was talking about content, not the number of women:

      “…Aronsohn admitted that his (own) show isn’t the height of comedy. ‘We do far too many fart jokes on Two and a Half Men,’ he said. ‘I’m the last person to judge.’”

      Having seen, against my will, two episodes of Two and a Half Men, I’ll call it lowbrow comedy, and very much in its own, pedestrian ruts. I can’t see how Aronsohn can complain that anyone else’s work is lowest-common-denominator.

      That said, I can’t see any way to construe that he was complaining about the number of shows featuring women.

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