New report says 30 percent of TV shows have no minority writers, including Breaking Bad, Homeland and Two and Half Men
It’s a truism about the TV business that all the power resides in the writer’s chair.
Unlike in movies, the top executive on a TV show, known as a “Showrunner,” is usually also the top writer. Their vision controls the arc of the series, while directors come and go with each episode – the reverse of the power dynamic in film, where directors such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese are gods.
That’s why, for those of us who care about diversity in TV roles, Tuesday’s report by the Writer’s Guild of America on diversity in the ranks of television writers matters so much. Because these are the people who control the images we see on all manner of television programs. And their diversity levels look nothing like America.
Women were just 30 percent of TV writers while ethnic minorities were 15.6 percent of a total 1,722 writers on 190 broadcast and cable shows in the 2011-12 television season, according to the study. U.S. Census figures show women are 50.8 percent of the general population, while ethnic minorities are 36 percent.
The study notes 10 percent of TV shows had no female writers at all. Nearly 30 percent had no minority writers. And because Hollywood worships youth, the WGA includes over-50 writers in its diversity category; nearly 30 percent of shows had no writers over age 50.
The shows with no minority writers included: Breaking Bad, Anger Management, Homeland, Last Man Standing, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, One Tree Hill, Mike and Molly, Two and Half Men and Weeds.
Shows with no female writers included: Futurama, Psych, Big Time Rush, Teen Wolf and Magic City.
And a few shows managed the feat of having no minorities or female writers, including Julia Louis Dreyfus’ HBO comedy Veep, ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, HBO’s canceled Laura Dern comedy Enlightened and Showtime’s Californication. Enlightened and DWTS both each had just one writer.
Critics might note shows criticized for a lack of diversity or sensitivity to women’s issues might struggle in part because they lack minority or female staffers.
But I note that some shows which feature strong female and minority characters – Homeland, Veep, Breaking Bad, Enlightened – didn’t have writers from those groups on staff. So Hollywood has even fewer excuses for not getting these issues right onscreen, regardless of diversity numbers.
As I prepare to lead a discussion on these issues from the heart of Hollywood at a Los Angeles bookstore Thursday – click here for details – this report should provide more interesting fodder for discussion. Click here to read more.