Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
While incremental job gains for minority and women TV writers have been made in the last decade-plus, staffing levels remain “widely disproportionate” to the demographics of the U.S. population, says WGA West. The not-too-surprising results of the guild’s most recent TV staffing report were revealed during a press conference this morning at WGAW headquarters. The 2013 TV Staffing Brief (read the full report here) highlights three traditionally underemployed groups in the TV industry: women, minority and older writers.
Sociology professor Darnell Hunt, author of the report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, said that while women have seen a 5% increase in writing staff jobs between 1999-2000 and 2011-2012, at the current rate of growth it would take women “42 years to catch up with men” in terms of TV writing staff jobs.
Other stats from the report: Minority writers nearly doubled their share of staff writing positions during that same period, from 7.5% to 15.6%, but still remain severely underrepresented compared to the population at large. Among the ranks of TV executive producer in the 2011-2012 season, women were underrepresented by factor of more than 2 to 1 “among writers who run TV shows” and minorities were underrepresented by a factor of nearly 5 to 1.
In the 2010-2011 season, just 9% of pilots had “at least one minority writer attached” and 24% of pilots had at least one woman writer attached.
For the first time in 2011-12, writers over 40 claimed a majority share of TV staff positions.
Speakers at the event, including Hunt, WGAW president Chris Keyser and WGAW director of diversity Kimberly Myers, stressed the complexity of the nurturing a diverse writer pool, involving networks, agents and studios as well as producers and showrunners. They added that the pilot process further complicates the process. During a Q&A period, Hunt acknowledged that movement is being made in the right direction. Why? “Clearly the population is diversifying. This is a business after all, and we’re talking about audiences,” Hunt said. “People in those executive suites do believe that audiences are changing.” He added that pressure from advocacy groups, including the Writers Guild, has paid off. Still Hunt said, TV is “a very relationship oriented business” where producers tend to hire “people they feel comfortable with.” He added that those people “tend to be white males. It’s a tough cycle to break.”
Hunt acknowledged the youth-obsessed nature of the TV industry and said the current talent pool is more diverse than in earlier years. Still, he added: “The problem is, the younger generations don’t control the industry.” He called TV a “very high risk industry” in which those at the top still tend to hire people of their own generation in leadership roles.
After the session, Myers said that it is easier to see changes in casting than in the writing staffs of shows. Bringing a writer up the ranks is “a very long push,” she said. She added that the goal is to see some of those writers move up to becoming producers and showrunners: “You don’t want everyone to stay at the staff level,” she said.