While television’s forthcoming proliferation of Whitney Cummings projects and shows about lesbos would seem to suggest that this is a fun, sexy time for female-driven TV, the truth is that the percentage of women TV writers seems to be dropping—down to just 15 percent for the most recent season, a far cry from the 35 percent who were working in the industry back in 2006-2007. So why do there seem to be fewer females in the TV writers’ rooms, besides the fact that they are probably too busy shopping and menstruating?
Maureen Ryan offers a thorough examination of this disappointing trend that’s well worth reading, talking to various writers, producers, and executives, and proposing various familiar, though no less accurate theories. Among these: economic concerns have forced the networks to stick with veteran showrunners, most of whom are male; those males tend to hire other males; the females that are hired tend to be marginalized, and thus don’t feel comfortable pitching their ideas; the most popular series today are action and comedy shows, which are traditionally male-dominated genres; and there’s a “vicious circle” going on where the problems faced by current female writers are discouraging future female writers from getting into the business.
But perhaps the most cutting critique, not surprisingly, comes from Sons Of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter, who declares with typical candor, “By default, for the most part, we are creating television for white guys,” pointing out that the most attractive advertising demo remains males 18-49. “"Play out that reality—who better than to write those shows?” Sutter asks. “White guys. I'm guilty of it. I have women on staff, but the truth is, I've learned that men write shows about the struggles of men better than women. I'm not saying that women can't write male characters. Some do, very well. But men can write male characters more accurately.” That inherent, guilty sexism Sutter suggests is simply being forced upon him is actually borne out by comments from writer Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under, The United States Of Tara), who adds:
The only ad dollars that appeal solely to women only are diapers and cleaning products. The expensive ad dollars, like cars and air travel, must appeal to both genders.... Sometimes I watch Louie, which, for my money, is one of the best shows I have ever seen on television, and wonder if a network would air a show where a woman was talking about masturbating and farting (in an awesomely deep way, mind you). The answer is no—not because networks hate women, not because studios refuse to hire women creators—but because there is no brand that would be willing to be associated with the idea of such an anti-heroic woman.
So basically, until female writers learn to embrace their inner white guy more fully—or Trojan Vibrations and Activia become powerful enough to sponsor a show about masturbating, farting women all by themselves—this trend seems likely to continue.
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