Mary Tyler Moore

Women are still going backwards and in high heels, but not in a good way. According to recent stats--women TV writers are losing ground. I just perused the Emmy website and counted only fourteen women’s names among the writing nominees.  Most were on comedy-variety shows where there are like eighteen guy staffers names versus one or two girl names.

Am I crazy for asking: Why aren’t half or more of all TV writers women?  We’ve been waiting forty years.

The year I won my Emmy in 1974 for writing the Lily Tomlin Special, more women won writing Emmys than in the history of the TV Academy.  Almost half the writers on Lily were women.  I was also a Mary Tyler Moore and a Maude writer, both were shows that hired many women writers. It was the height of the women’s movement.

There were around a dozen of us women writing sitcoms. Our unique status drew us together.  We bonded. We held consciousness-raising parties and got enlightened.  We founded the Women’s Committee of the Writers Guild.  We were the first members of Women in Film. Our mantra was “Sisterhood is Power!”

When scientists discovered women were 51% of the population, I assumed TV writing staffs would be half female within two years at the most. We were drunk with empowerment; that’s how almost-equal we felt. 

In the mid-seventies women writers were Hollywood’s newest novelty. Every show wanted one - but only one - as it turned out. After Mary and Lily, I was the only woman in the writers’ room AKA the Frat House for the next ten years of my comedy writing career. I was also a feminist in the frat house. Luckily, I had an older brother who threw a Lionel train at me and taught me everything there was to know about armpit farts, or I never would have survived.

Even though we were to quote Helen Reddy “Strong, Invincible, Wo-maaan,” gaining our rightful equality is taking longer than anticipated. I don’t know why. All women had to do was convince men to give us half of all their jobs, pay us equally, and wash their own goddamn socks.

One main reason women TV writers struggled for our equality after our auspicious beginning was that in 1978 TV shows went from being largely freelance written to staff written.  The (male) powers that be liked our writing, but sitting shoulder-to-shoulder for twelve hours a day apparently was just too much estrogen, even on shows starring women.