DGA Nominee Beth McCarthy Miller Dismisses Gender Disparity in TV Comedy
NEW YORK — Beth McCarthy Miller is the perennial woman in a man’s category. Tonight, the veteran director will compete for a DGA Award in comedy for directing this season’s live episode of 30 Rock.
It’s her seventh DGA nomination. And her competition this year? All men: Steve Levitan and Michael Spiller (for separate episodes of Modern Family), Ryan Murphy (for the Madonna episode of Glee) and David Nutter (for Entourage).
“Beth is a Green Beret,” says Tina Fey, creator and star of NBC’s 30 Rock.
McCarthy Miller, 47, may call camera cues with the authority of a drill sergeant, but she brushes off the gender disparity — one that is particularly pronounced in the television comedy milieu.
“I was mentored by two men who were so supportive and so wanted me to do well,” she said. “So even though there is a huge gap in the amount of men versus women who direct, I have had the absolute good fortune that it’s just not thrown in my face. I know it’s there, but it’s just not thrown in my face every day.”
The New Jersey native, who has won two DGA awards but is 0 for 6 at the Primetime Emmys, began her career as an intern at MTV. She was eventually promoted to staff director, back in the days when MTV played videos.
“You came in and just directed whatever was in the studio,” she said. “You made no money. I waitressed on the weekends.”
Milton Lage and Scott Fishman, her directorial mentors at MTV, encouraged her to stick with it. She rose through the ranks, becoming a regular director on MTV Unplugged. Then in 1995, she jumped to NBC’s Saturday Night Live, the ultimate live show. She spent nearly 10 years there, working with Fey, who became the show’s first female head writer in 1999. When Fey launched 30 Rock in 2006, McCarthy Miller became one of her go-to directors.
“When I left SNL, it was kind of like jumping off a cliff,” McCarthy Miller said. “But 30 Rock is a pretty good calling card, too.”
When Fey and fellow 30 Rock showrunner Robert Carlock cooked up the live episode, they knew who they needed to make it work.
“I was actually scheduled to [direct] an episode of Modern Family that week,” McCarthy Miller noted. “Tina said, ‘We have to call your agent and tell them you can’t do Modern Family. But don’t tell them why.’”
The Oct. 14 live telecast of 30 Rock, which was performed twice for East and West coast feeds, was a hit; it pulled in nearly 8 million viewers with a 3.8 rating in the 18-49 demo, up more than 50 percent compared with the show’s season-to-date average. Both Fey and McCarthy Miller say that there were no major gaffs.
“That live episode would not have been possible with anyone other than Beth,” Fey said.
There were more than 100 camera cuts in the first act alone.
“To be able to call cues in a way that maintains the rhythm and tempo of a show is very rare,” Fey adds. “She’s so unflappable. And she never panics.”