It has been a strong year for women in television, but only in some aspects. According to the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film the annual study, women make up 26% of all creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography, which is up one point from the previous year and five points from the 1997-98 season. But 68% of all shows don’t even have a female writer on staff.
The study, written by the center’s head Dr. Martha Lauzen, looks at individuals working on prime-time dramas, sitcoms and reality shows on ABC, CBS, CW, Fox and NBC. It compares those employment figures with figures from the 1997-98 season. In the last year we have seen a major shift in television to more female-driven shows, especially comedic ones. Comedies that have debuted in the last year include New Girl, Girls, Suburgatory. All of these shows were created by and focus on women. Plus, we are looking forward to new shows such as The Mindy Project, co-created by Mindy Kaling as well as Emily Owens MD and Nashville premiering in the next few weeks. Shonda Rhimes also added to her television empire with Scandal (which is the first major network show to have an African American woman in 38 years.) But clearly we are still behind with getting women in the writing rooms. For every Lena Dunham and Tina Fey, there are…I can’t do fancy math…but there are just a lot more male writers.
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. The Late Show With David Letterman made history in July 2011 when it hired Jena Friedman as its second female writer. It was the first time in the history of the show that two female writers were ever on the payroll.
“It’s harder; there are less women looking for work. It’s easier to have an all-white male writing staff,” said Dan Harmon, the creator and former showrunner of the NBC sitcom Community. He was challenged to hire women for half of the writing staff of the show when it started in 2009 by then-NBC Entertainment president Angela Bromstad and he succeeded.
AOLTV writer Maureen Ryan takes spoke with a wide variety of writers and creators, both male and female on this topic. Everyone seems to agree that gender diversity leads to better television. As one female writer told Ryan, “A balanced writers’ room is like a balanced world. Everyone thrives, good work gets done, people like each other and the show is better for it. Women keep the room moving. They’re great at multitasking and getting along with others. They don’t procrastinate and they open up with lots of personal anecdotes that make for great stories on the show and great character beats. They tend to smell good.”
Ryan also finds that some producers think that as long as they have one woman on staff, they’re good to go. But those women are often low on the totem pole. They’re often under enormous pressure as the “token female” in a very male culture, and they have a hard time advancing. As one writer puts it, “If women aren’t hired to write on staff they can’t be mentored. They can’t gain experience and they can’t move up and then ultimately create their own show. They can’t have overall deals. They are essentially shut out of the process. We are seeing the effects now of women being shut out of the process.”
- Reality shows employed 21% women, while sitcoms and dramas employed 28% women.
- Women achieved historical highs as creators of shows (26%) and executive producers (25%). These numbers mark an 8% and 3% increase from the previous year, respectively.
- The number of female producers jumped one percentage point to 38%
- The number of female writers rose 15 percentage points to 30%.
- The number of women working as directors in prime time stayed flat over the last year at 11%
- The number of female editors dropped seven percentage points to 13% over the last year.
- 90% of primetime programs employed no female directors