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TV: The "Golden Age of Television" is Really White and Really Male

by Inkoo Kang
March 7, 2014 3:18 PM
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HBO's "True Detective"
HBO's "True Detective"

"'Crazy' mistresses, nameless strippers, randy hookups, disgruntled daughters, dismayed wives."

That's how TV critic Maureen Ryan sums up most of the female characters we see on True Detective and other "quality" shows comprising our so-called Golden Age of Television. 

Ryan's explanation for why we see so many white-male anti-heroes and, correspondingly, so few interesting female and/or nonwhite characters on HBO, FX, AMC, and their ilk is simple, straightforward, and incontrovertible: we're living in a Golden Age of Discrimination. 

Here's Ryan's breakdown of the creators behind the one-hour dramas and the miniseries on the most prestige-associated networks, from 2002 to April 2014: 

HBO: Women 6.5% (2 of 31); People of Color 0%

Showtime: Women 26% (6 of 23), People of Color 0%

FX: Women 4.5% (1 of 22), People of Color 0%

AMC (2006-2014): Women Women 9% (1 of 11), People of Color 9% (1 of 11)*

Netflix (curent): Women 33% (1 of 3), People of Color 0%*

Total: Women 12.3% (12 of 97); People of Color 2% (2 of 97)

* AMC did not pursue original programming until 2006; Netflix in 2012. 

Ryan explains that she focused on one-hour dramas and miniseries because "dramatic fare from these five entities represents the major pillars of popular culture: Their programs not only capture the public imagination, but often cement or increase the power of the people who make them."

She goes on to note: 

With one exception over the course of four decades, HBO has not aired an original one-hour drama series created by a woman. 

With one exception over the course of four decades, HBO has not aired an original one-hour drama or dramatic miniseries creatively led at its debut by a person of color. That exception is more than 21 years old....

Guess how many women or people of color have been a creator or narrative architect on a one-hour HBO drama or miniseries since 2008 (the year after The Sopranos ended)?

None. Not one.

That means that, as its reputation has grown (and presumably more profitable), HBO became more and more pernicious in its discrimination against female and nonwhite writers and in its myopic focus on white men. Overall, television writing as a field still has a lot of progress to make, with women making up 30.5% and people of color 15.6% of writers' rooms according to the WGA. But compared to those stats, the numbers at the prestige networks are truly embarrassing, like something you'd expect to find in the Eisenhower era. 

Meanwhile, viewers who care about about good storytelling about the 64% of Americans who aren't white men are then left with lot of questions: 

We wonder why women are too often depicted as nags, flunkies or side salads. We wonder why women often get less to do, have less to say and so often feel the impulse to take off their shirts. We wonder why people of color aren't often depicted with compelling emotional lives or as complicated characters. We wonder why non-white men and women are hardly ever the protagonists.

But, of course, there's nothing to wonder about at all. Writers tend to write what they know, just as execs tend to hire people who look like them. 

If HBO ever wants to take any real risks, it could try a lot harder than wantonly showing off unknown and/or struggling actress' breasts.

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More: Television, Diversity, HBO

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  • skiff | June 5, 2014 12:31 PMReply

    lol good. DWI, nerd. Whites win! Whites win again!

  • johnnyboy | March 17, 2014 6:19 PMReply

    Ever seen a little show called 'the wire'. You know, the one with the 70% black cast?

  • Wockerdaw | March 19, 2014 12:21 AM

    70% black cast, but the creators are white males. This is about the showrunners, not the cast.

  • Eves Apple | March 11, 2014 11:13 AMReply

    This reminds me of an exchange the TV writer Jane Espenson and I had a couple of years ago about the lack of women and people of color in writers rooms. For some reason, the comments won't let me paste in the link, but if you search for "A Response to Jane Espenson’s 'On Sex and Writing (Not That Kind of Sex),'" you should be able to find it.

  • ugh | March 10, 2014 12:36 PMReply

    Blacks are great at basketball so they dominate the NBA. Whites are great at filmmaking and acting, so they dominate television and film. What's the problem here, officer?

  • amy | May 28, 2014 10:03 PM

    Yeah... you're right, Danny. Scorsese, Ford, PTA, Kubrick, Truffaut, Godard, Bergman, Hitchcock, Altman and the Coen Brothers are all white privilege hacks that magically fell into money. Give me good 'ol Tyler Perry. BLAME WHITEY BLAME WHITEY BLAME WHITEY!!

  • Wockerdaw | March 19, 2014 12:24 AM

    What? Are youfu cking kidding me.

  • Danny | March 17, 2014 3:30 AM

    What turnip truck did you fall off of and hit your head?? Really? Whites aren't great at filmmaking, they happen to have the capital to make great films. European painting, sculpture and architecture is without question great. That is something white people did so well. We all can agree that European art is well done but not filmmaking. It's a medium that requires funding and support of studios etc....White filmmakers happen to dominate that..that's what it is, not that they are great.

  • laury | March 10, 2014 6:56 AMReply

    That is just plain sexist and clearly shows how ignorant u are. Claiming guys are just more interesting than girls in general is just DUM. An educated person, who has travelled alot, or had all kinds of different life alterning experiences will be more interesting than someone who has never left their hometown or cracked open a book for example, regardless of the sex (DUH! LOGIC)
    And how can u expect a series to have more compelling, intricate female characters than male characters when they are only created and led by men?
    Oh and fyi, Girls and Weeds are 30 mins comedies, they re not 1-hour dramas so u can't really compare them with GOT or BBAD. Not relevant to mention them here.

  • jamal | March 10, 2014 12:38 PM

    lol why u mad tho

  • B Zyke G | March 10, 2014 2:49 AMReply

    Daily reminder that liberals will never be happy, their sole purpose in life is to make up for the fact that they weren't born in the 60's and don't have any real issue to fight for anymore. Oh how they wish that they could be edgy, but how can one be edgy when there's nothing left to be edgy about?

  • Lord Byron | March 10, 2014 2:31 AMReply

    Author: INKOO KANG


  • jj | March 10, 2014 12:41 PM

    Wait, wasn't that the name of the alien from those Halloween episodes of the Simpsons?

  • Laury | March 10, 2014 6:43 AM

    Irelevant and racist comment

  • inkoo | March 10, 2014 2:33 AM

    "Hey Inkoo, we need you to write a controversial article blaming white men for something."

  • George Stephanopoulos | March 10, 2014 2:31 AMReply

    "If HBO ever wants to take any real risks, it could try a lot harder than wantonly showing off unknown and/or struggling actress' breasts."

    Oh indiewire, where do you find these people

  • Marlo Stanfield | March 10, 2014 2:29 AMReply

    The author want it to be one way, but it the other way

  • Shlomo Shekelstein | March 10, 2014 2:19 AMReply

    Truly this is a second shoah!

    You see, the USA has not yet learned how to be diverse and multicultural. And I think we Jews are going to be part of the throes of that transformation, which must take place. The goyim are not going to have the monolithic societies they had last century. Jews are going to be at the centre of that. It’s a huge transformation for the goyim to make. We are now going into a multicultural mode and Jews will be resented because of our leading role. But without that leading role and without that transformation, the USA and its goyim will not survive.

  • TheHappening | March 10, 2014 1:08 AMReply


  • Clarence | March 10, 2014 12:16 AMReply

    The last paragraph gives away the game. What we have here is another example of Blurred Lines Syndrome. To wit, the level of manufactured quasi-feminist outrage over female nudity in a work of art is positively correlated to the stupendous-ness of the nude females. Safe to say Alexandra Daddario is enough fuel to run the feminist envy engine for a decade.

  • Vlad | March 10, 2014 12:10 AMReply

    Congratulations--you're just one reference to "the Other" from hitting every point on the freshman-level grievance studies course checklist! (You missed "privilege" but a comrade picked up the slack for you in the comments.)

  • Caleb McTushie | March 9, 2014 11:58 PMReply


  • Mizz SJW | March 9, 2014 11:32 PMReply

    U go gurl! Down with the patriarchy. lol white people are boring!!!!11!!

  • sa | March 9, 2014 11:22 PMReply

    Black cop is as believable as a flying pig ;f

  • Rust | March 9, 2014 10:51 PMReply

    This is the gayest shit i've ever read

  • Seriously | March 9, 2014 10:16 PMReply

    More whining from feminists. GIRLS the show that comes on right after this one is very much a woman focused show and a woman protagonist. Why should writers be forced to make shows for other races of people?

  • Danny | March 17, 2014 3:35 AM

    Probably because other races of people represent America and have T'Vs and go to the movies to support and watch these said shows and movies. Really was that a real question?

  • squeesh | March 10, 2014 12:09 AM


    Nobody said one damn thing about anybody being "forced" to make show for people of color---you obviously have nothing to add to this subject besides complaining, so just shut up,please. The real question is why there are such a small amount of writers of color on TV. And I'm tired of men like you whining every time someone points out that fact. If more writers of color were running their own shows (like Shondra Rimes, the creator of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal) we'd see a hell of a lot more diversity,for one thing. If that was the case, we wouldn't even still be having this conversation. White writers/producers/showrunners on TV aren't interested in making shows about anybody that dosen't look or act like them (particularly white males) and act as if they can't relate to anybody who isn't white, which is pretty sad and pathetic, considering it's the 21st century. And people of color deserve to see themselves reflected on the small screen too. This racist notion that only white people are worth making TV shows and movies about is getting past old and tired.

  • John | March 9, 2014 10:14 PMReply

    Why is it white guys only one who get shit on? If you go into any asian country all you see is asians on television. You don't see latinos whites blacks or anyone else.

  • squeesh | March 10, 2014 12:12 AM

    What are you even talking about? We're talking about discrimination here in America, not in other countries. It kills me how people always want to deflect from this topic by saying the same BS you just said. Stick to the subject, and quit trying to play the "white victim" card.

  • s | March 9, 2014 9:07 PMReply

    As a white female who mainly went to school with, and still lives around minorities, and whose relatives grew up near New York City, I've found T.V. shows based in NYC that feature mostly wealthy, white characters ridiculous and appalling, when there are a lot more minorities and ethnic people.

    It was refreshing to me to see that "Spooks" cast actors of different ethnicities (which is more representative of London), and had intelligent, educated female characters.

  • dylan | March 17, 2014 10:31 AM


    Actually she made two points, didn't you spot them?
    1. TV doesn't reflect the ethnic diversity of the locations they present.
    2. mainstream genre shows could do this, e.g. spooks.

    You're welcome.

  • nope | March 10, 2014 12:30 PM

    Try making a point next time. All those words, yet you said nothing

  • Senior Citizen | March 8, 2014 5:07 PMReply

    The numbers of women and people of color, compared to the numbers for men is rather depressing but the author is wrong when she says writers write about what they know. I am a writer and I submit that

  • jazz | March 8, 2014 12:00 AMReply

    I can't wait until they cast females in True Detective season 2, just to have Indiewire quit complaining about it. I would like to see women play bigger roles in television as much as the next person, but for christs sake. It's not going to get there by having you guys just sit and bitch about it every hour of the day. You think they made these shows simply to discriminate? I'm glad I don't live a paranoid life like you do.

  • Ben | March 9, 2014 9:20 PM

    How about, "If you want something done, doing yourself is more reasonable than forcing others to do it for you"?

  • MI | March 9, 2014 4:10 PM

    male privilege at work here. shut up and sing, right?

  • j | March 7, 2014 6:13 PMReply

    well it is easy enough to just focus on dramas and ignore the comedy landscape where women have made more impressive strides. being being 'myopic', the critic has simply chosen to exclude cases that hurt her argument. GIRLS, for one, is one of the most talked about shows in the industry. Thats HBO, no?

  • Nnvee | March 8, 2014 3:33 AM

    Congratulations, you've named exactly one show. The conspiracy has been revealed there actually has been absolutely no discrimination whatsoever. Wait, we forgot about the part where Girls had zero people of color until they were shamed into adding some.

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