UCLA/WGA Report: TV Writing Staffs Still Overwhelmingly White and Male

3:43 PM PST 03/26/2013 by Jonathan Handel
Michael Jones
WGA Diversity Report group photo

Networking may be part of the reason; meanwhile, the WGA announces 2013 diversity program winners.

Despite some slow progress over the last decade, women and minorities remain dramatically underrepresented on TV writing staffs, according to a UCLA/WGA West report released Tuesday. The document – the 2013 WGAW TV Staffing Report – was prepared for the WGAW by Darnell Hunt, a UCLA sociologist who is director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

The numbers are daunting: Minorities are underrepresented on TV staffs by a factor of 2 to 1 in comparison to their percentage of the population. Among executive producers, women are underrepresented by 2 to 1 and minorities by 5 to 1.

“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,” Hunt said. The report looked at 190 shows on 28 broadcast and cable networks, which employ 1,722 writers.

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“We can’t tell the whole story if only half of us write it,” said WGA West president Christopher Keyser at a morning event at which the report was presented.

There are signs of progress, albeit slow. Minority representation doubled over the last decade (2011-12 season compared with 1999-2000). But during that same period, female representation inched up a mere 5 percent -- a rate of increase so sluggish that parity to men won’t be achieved for another 42 years unless faster progress is made.

Hunt remarked that he had considered subtitling the report “Pockets of Promise, Minimal Progress.”

The report also looked at age-related issues and found that for the first time, writers over 40 have over 50 percent of all staff positions. On the other hand, nearly a third of shows had no writers over 50, suggesting a sharp drop-off occurs.

The report didn’t look at LGBT issues because of the difficulty of obtaining data, said Hunt.

Rutgers business school professor Nancy DiTomaso, author of the new book The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism, told The Hollywood Reporter that the project-based and who-knows-who nature of the entertainment industry accentuates the difficulty that diverse writers have in breaking into established networks.

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“It is not just a friendship network, but one that is often based on neighborhood, race/ethnic or religious groups, people who went to the same school, attend the same church, who are associated with the same institutions and so on,” she said. “The impact of networking in this field and others is the perpetuation of inequality and often the opportunity for some people to build skills that others are denied.”

As Hunt said, entertainment is “a very relationship-oriented business.”

DiTomaso was not involved in the UCLA/WGA research.

One attempt to change the dynamic is the WGAW Writer Access Project, which attempts to open doors by identifying diverse writers with television-staffing experience and making samples of their work available to showrunners, producers, executives, agents and managers.

Part of the project involves a contest in which writers submit work to be judged by showrunners and other writer-producers. WGAW head of diversity Kimberly Myers introduced the recipients of this year’s honors:

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2013 WAP COMEDY HONOREES

Michael DiGaetano:  In addition to co-writing the feature film comedy Houseguest, DiGaetano has written, produced, and/or co-created TV series including Ferris Bueller, Flesh ‘N Blood, and an updated take on Get Smart. His stage musical The ‘Gay No More’ Telethon (Let’s Get One Thing Straight…You!) was produced off-Broadway in 2010, while Miss Humanity begins in workshop this summer 2013.

Joey Manderino: Launching his career as one-half of the online comedy duo “Joey and David,” Manderino has produced viral videos and been featured at the HBO Comedy Festival. He has written multiple web series, including Viralcom, Community Pool, The Morning After and Settling.  He current serves as staff writer on Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally.

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Joseph Neustein: After launching his career writing sketches for Steve Allen, Neustein’s TV writing credits include What’s Happening and The Love Boat, as well as game shows such as Dream House, Wait Till You Have Kids and Show Me the Money.

Lena Waithe: Waithe’s TV writing credits include penning episodes of Nickelodeon’s How to Rock.

2013 WAP DRAMA HONOREES

Sherry Carnes: A former TV development executive turned writer, Carnes began her TV writing career as a staff writer on ABC’s Women’s Murder Club. Next, she sold her first feature project, Take the Money and Run, to Sony Pictures. She recently wrote a one-hour supernatural drama and is developing a feature script with Imagine Entertainment.

Dawn Comer Jefferson: Both a 2011 WGAW WAP honoree and a Walt Disney Writers Program Fellow, Jefferson received an Emmy nomination for the animated special Our Friend, Martin. Her TV writing credits include Judging Amy and South of Nowhere. Selected as a CBS Daytime Diversity Fellow, she has written episodes of The Young and the Restless and The Bold & the Beautiful.

Margaux Froley: A participant of the Warner Bros. Writing Workshop, Froley subsequently served as a staff writer on CW’s Privileged. After a stint as a development exec at MTV, she later landed a three-book deal with Soho Teen/Random House for a YA boarding-school murder mystery trilogy – the first book of which, Escape Trilogy, will be published in March 2013.

Geetika Lizardi: After optioning her first screenplay, a biopic on novelist Jane Austen entitled Jane, which was later adapted as a stage musical and showcased in England’s regional theater, Lizardi recently served as a staff writer on NBC’s Outsourced.

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Leslie Valdes: After serving as a staff writer on four seasons of Dora the Explorer, Valdes went on to co-develop and serve as head writer/producer for Disney Jr.’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. In addition to writing for many animated series, including Backyardigans and Handy Manny, Valdes has written 10 children’s books, including six Dora the Explorer titles. He also recently completed the ABC/Disney Writing Fellowship and worked as a staff writer on ABC’s Castle.

Thomas Wong: Following stints as a lawyer and a real estate agent in New York, Wong moved to L.A. to pursue a writing career, earning a slot in ABC/Disney’s Television Writing Fellowship. In 2012, he was selected as a Fellow for Fox’s Writers Intensive Program, later writing on staff for the ABC dramedy The Deep End. His pilot, Queen, is currently in development.

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