The current narrative in the media zeitgeist is that TV is so much better for women than film. Well, it might seem so on the surface,
because you see more women on our TV screens, but when you drill down into the numbers, it’s not so good for women behind the scenes.
According to new research from the Center for Women in Television and Film, women are doing pretty well onscreen. Women made up 42% of the characters and speaking roles in the 2013-14 season. But even that number is down one percent from the previous year. ABC has the most female characters at 44% (thank you, Shonda), followed by CBS, FOX, CW, and NBC, which is last with 39%.
But it is the behind-the-scenes leadership positions where women continue to struggle. Women created just 20% of all the shows during the same period, which is down four percentage points from the previous season. That means only 2 out of 10 shows you watch are made from a woman’s perspective. There are plenty of shows about women that are made from a male perspective, but only 20% of the shows are made from a female perspective.
Additionally, women accounted for just 23% of executive producers, which is the most powerful position on a TV show. Most shows have multiple executive producers, and those are the most senior writers on the show. (Executive producers (EP) also often include non-writers, such as directors and creators who are there at the beginning but don’t do the day-to-day work. Also, if the show is generated at a production company, lots of times those executives are EPs, but they are not in the writers’ room on a daily basis.)
There are lots of women populating the writers’ room, but they have a harder time moving up the ladder. 43% of producers (which is a lower-level writing position on TV) are women, and 25% of people identified as staff writers are women.
More importantly, the research again reiterates the point that, when you have women behind the scenes, you get more women onscreen. Shows with at least one woman writer had 46% female characters, while shows without a woman writer (how is this even possible in 2014?) had significantly less with 39% female characters. And shows with a female creator had 47% female characters, while shows without a female creator had only 39%.
- Women make up only 13% of directors, 17% of editors, and a paltry 2% of directors of photography;
- Women are more likely to be on comedies than dramas;
- In general, women are younger than men on TV;
- There are no older people in general on TV
- 74% of the women on TV are white, 14% were African-American, 5% were Latina, 6%
were Asian, and 1% were of some other race or ethnicity
My conclusions: There is a sticky floor in the TV business and women get stuck down there. More women have to get opportunities to write pilots, and we need to see more of those pilots turned into TV shows. Now, with Netflix and Amazon and other places, we will be able to hopefully see women be given opportunities to create shows that wouldn’t fit into the network or even the cable systems.