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TV Writing Remains a White Man’s World, WGA Study Finds

Women and minorites have gained chairs at the TV writing table over the past decade, but remain severely underrepresented

Women and minorities have made some gains over the past decade, but the overall picture on the TV writing front remains bleak, according to a study released Tuesday by the Writers Guild of America West.

The WGAW’s latest analysis of the state of diversity, the 2013 TV Staffing Brief, finds that while there have been some recent job gains for minority and women writers, the employment playing field in Hollywood is far from level.

The research shows minority and women writers have made incremental gains in employment over the past decade-plus period, but current TV staffing levels still continue to be widely disproportionate to actual minority demographics of the U.S. population.

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Diverse writers remain substantially underrepresented on TV writing staffs, the study found.

The study analyzes employment patterns for 1,722 writers working on 190 broadcast and cable TV shows during the 2011-2012 season, highlighting three specific groups who have traditionally been underemployed in the TV industry: women, minority, and older writers.

Between the 1999-2000 and 2011-12 TV seasons, women writers’ share of TV staff employment increased approximately 5 percentage points, from 25 percent to 30.5 percent.

To put that in perspective, at that rate of increase it will be another 42 years before women reach proportionate representation.

Minority writers nearly doubled their share of staffing positions since the millennium but remain severely underrepresented. Between the 1999-2000 and 2011-12 seasons, minority writers’ share of TV employment increased from 7.5 percent to 15.6 percent. Despite this increase, minorities as a combined group remain underrepresented by a factor of more than two-to-one in television staff employment in the 2011-12 season.

Also read: Sexist Hollywood?: Women Still Struggle to Find Film Jobs, Study Finds

A number of writing staff remain dominated by white males. Roughly 10 percent of TV shows in the 2011-12 season had no female writers on staff; and nearly a third had no minority writers on staff. In the 2010-2011 television season, only 9 percent of pilots had at least one minority writer attached, while just 24 percent of pilots had at least one woman writer attached. 

“It all begins with the writing,” said Dr. Darnell Hunt, author of the report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and professor of sociology. “From concept to characters, from plot to narrative, writers play a fundamental role in the fashioning of stories a society circulates about itself. But in the Hollywood entertainment industry, unfortunately, there has all too often existed a disconnect between the writers hired to tell the stories and an America that’s increasingly diverse with each passing day.”

There was some good news in terms of older writers. For the first time in 2011-12, writers over 40 claimed a majority share of TV staff positions: between 1999-00 and 2010-11 seasons, the over-40 share of TV staff employment increased nearly 16 percentage points, from 39.9 percent to 55.6 percent

The bad news was that nearly a third of the shows in the 2011-12 season had no writers over 50 on staff.

 Women and minorities continue to be underrepresented among the ranks of executive producers in television. In the 2011-12 season, women were underrepresented by a factor of more than 2 to 1 among the writers who run television shows; minorities were underrepresented by a factor of nearly 5 to 1.

“Despite a few pockets of promise, much more work must be done on the television diversity front before the corps of writers telling our stories look significantly more like us as a nation,” said Hunt.

The report breaks down in detail the number of women, minorites and writers over 40 employed by each show. ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" had 45.5 percent minority writers and 63.6 percent female writers on its 11-member writing staff.