Progress can be frustratingly slow, and that’s been the case when it comes to the Primetime Emmy writing and directing categories. While there are more female writers and directors nominated for Emmys this year than 10 years ago, they are still underrepresented on the final ballot. And what’s more, their representation is not keeping pace with the overall growth of women writers and directors in the TV industry.
IndieWire tallied the number of male and female writers and directors nominated this year and in 2008, for comparison. Here’s what we found:
Combined, when all comedy, drama, limited series/TV movie, variety series, variety special, and documentary/nonfiction categories are included, there are 149 writers nominated for an Emmy in 2018. Of that group, 35 are women. That makes for 23.5 percent of the nominees.
That’s a nice lift from 2008, when 11 out of 112 nominees — or 9.8 percent — were women.
According to the Writers’ Guild of America, in 2014 — the most recent year available for this data — women represented 29 percent of all employed TV writers. That was virtually unchanged from 2007, when approximately 28 percent of TV writers were women.
In other words, the TV Academy is getting closer — but not quite there — toward matching the industry.
The improvement is particularly pronounced in the comedy category, where three out of seven nominees this year are female: Stefani Robinson (“Atlanta”), Liz Sarnoff (“Barry”), and Amy Sherman-Palladino (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). Compare that to 2008, when “30 Rock’s” Tina Fey was the only nominee in an otherwise male-dominated category. (Fey ultimately won.)
Unfortunately, drama remains unchanged: Just one nominee (“Killing Eve’s” Phoebe Waller-Bridge) out of eight. Similarly, the limited series and TV movie category features only male nominees, which is actually a step back from 2008, when there was one (Heidi Thomas, for “Cranford (Masterpiece)”).
The other real improvement comes in the Writing for a Variety Series category, where every series nominated features multiple women on staff. In 2008, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “Late Show with David Letterman” were nominated without a single female on the writing staff, and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” only had one.
Although the number of female nominees have increased over the past decade, so has the number of nominees overall as more categories are added — blunting that growth.
Meanwhile, while writers have seen real growth at Emmy nomination time when it comes to gender representation, the directors are still way behind.
In 2018, just four out of 45 directors nominated in the comedy, drama, limited series/TV movie, reality, variety series, variety special, and documentary/nonfiction categories are women. That’s 8.9 percent of nominees.
In comedy, one out of seven nominees is female: Amy Sherman-Palladino (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). In drama, “The Handmaids Tale” director Kari Skogland is the only nominee out of seven. And “Portlandia” star Carrie Brownstein is the only variety series director nominee out of six. Limited series/TV movie and variety special does not have a female nominee. In nonfiction, Ken Burns’ collaborator Lynn Novick (“The Vietnam War”) is the other nominee.
Compare that to 2008, when three out of 22 nominees (in drama, comedy, miniseries/TV movie, variety, and nonfiction programs) were women: Arlene Sanford, for “Boston Legal,” Novick (“The War”) and Tricia Regan (“Autism: The Musical”).
In 2008, that was 10.3 percent of all nominees — which means the percentage of female directing nominees actually dropped in 2018.
That lags far behind the actual growth seen in the industry: According to the Directors Guild of America’s report for the 2016-2017 TV season, 21 percent of TV episodes were directed by women — up from 14 percent in the 2012-2013 season.
Of course, there is progress to celebrate at the Emmys: Last year, Reed Morano won the outstanding drama directing award for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” making her the first woman since Mimi Leder in 1995 (for “ER”) to win the category. In comedy, Gail Mancuso won in 2013 and 2014 for “Modern Family,” followed by Jill Soloway in 2015 and 2016 for “Transparent.”
“The trick is realizing progress is not inevitable,” Brownstein recently told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson. “We need to restructure our thinking. These injustices and inequities are institutional, endemic, systemic. We can’t dabble in social progress. There has to be major changes in action. It’s so easy to default to the things we’ve been indoctrinated into: If you look at a room and see a certain makeup in terms of gender, it seems normal, but it’s not representative of the world. We have only four director Emmy nominees. It’s not going to get utopian and better unless everyone is consciously moving forward.”
At the recent TV Critics Association press tour, several network executives made promises to continue to effect change. FX Networks CEO John Landgraf noted that his company has made an effort to change the makeup of who’s behind the camera. Over the past year, 27 percent of episodes were directed by women at the network. Among writers on FX original series, 31 percent of writers are women.
“We’re moving in the right direction. But since only 36 percent of the total U.S. population is compromised of white men, we still have a lot of work to do if we’re someday hoping to show you numbers that represent true fairness and equal opportunity across the board,” he said.