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Cross Post: Women Writing Pilots – Nice Work if You Can Get It

by Neely Swanson
May 23, 2012 12:22 PM
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Last week the networks announced the pilots they are picking up to series from among the ninety or so that were produced this year for ABC, CBS, CW, FOX and NBC. Certainly the relative success that CBS had with its schedule and the more limited slots FOX has available influenced their rationale for picking up fewer pilots to production than ABC and NBC. This year, the CW ordered 8 pilots, up from 6 in years past, an increase of 33%.

But more to the point, or the point for the last few years, is how did women fare in the process this year after a banner 2011? It fit the good news/bad news scenario, or if you prefer a food metaphor, it was sweet and sour.

2011 was, indeed, an anomaly as compared to the horrendous example of 2010 (Women Can't Create and White Men Can't Jump). Overall in 2010 (comedy and drama combined), women, which the industry counts as women writing alone, with another woman or with a man, represented a mere 20% of the pilots picked up to production. That number soared to 35% in 2011, and the greatest gain overall, with the exception of CBS, was in comedy writing. Women, who had written a mere 16% of the 40 comedy pilots in 2010, were credited on 45% of the 40 comedy pilots written in 2011.

Television appeared to follow a similar situation that occurred in the theater world illustrating the perceived, unconscious discrimination against female playwrights by literary agents, ironically led by female literary agents. In the year of the theater study, 2009, only 14% of the plays presented on the New York stage were written by women. When that statistic and the presumed reasons behind it were presented to an influential group of literary managers, the percentage of plays written by women and produced for the New York stage in 2010 ballooned to 40% (see "Rethinking Gender Bias in Theater"). Although the number fell to 32% in 2011, this still represented a vast improvement over 2009.

Unlike the situation on the New York stage, the percentage of pilots written by women in 2012 only fell 3%, to 32% of the overall pilots produced, still well above 2010, the year the bottom fell out. The CW continues to remain the high watermark with 50% of their pilots written by women (a number that has not changed in the last three years).

For purposes of analysis (only) and as a concession to the so-called industry standard, women shall be considered as women writing singly, with another woman or with a man, although I have not made peace with a man and a woman equaling a woman, and I doubt that women and men agree with that assessment either.

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More: Television, Women Writers, Statistics

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  • InternJack | June 14, 2012 1:34 AMReply

    BES, What do women want to watch?
    For years, women were the driving force behind soap operas and then for years more the driving force behind Sex and the City. At least they were the ones turning on the telly and then watching the shows. Then they went out and bought the soap and the sparkly telephone cover.

    What do women want to watch?

    I know what they're told that they are supposed to want to watch. They're supposed to be enlightened beings who choose their life rather than having it chosen for them.

    And yet.

    As I am reading the comments for the up coming Pixar movie, Brave? The one that is supposed to be about the very empowerment of choice vs expectations? I am reading the word "bitch".

    And they are NOT using it as the "new black" or as the technical term to describe the family dog.


    So I'm wondering what female generated and female centric programming looks like?

    Is it Oxygen, Oprah, or Lifetime.

    At least Spike tv has a goal.


  • Bes | May 23, 2012 5:15 PMReply

    Interesting stats. The thing is the Corporate Media has conditioned their potential audience to expect "women's content" to be garbage punctuated every 5 minutes with tit and ass advertising. I don't know how you get around this. I look at women's programming as serving the function of consolidating a lot of really offensive content and advertising in one easily avoidable place. So I am glad more women writers are employed but if that means more women are writing scenes that string together a bunch of lingerie product placements I'm not excited. We also need more content that women audiences want to watch.

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