Showrunner Gender Has Major Effect on Key Employment Off Screen, Study Says

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Prime-time television shows with at least one woman executive producer or creator featured more female characters, and employed substantially greater percentages of women as directors, writers, and editors, than programs with exclusively male executive producers or creators, according to the latest Boxed In report released Tuesday by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Now in its 18th year, the report’s latest edition examined the 2014-15 television season and showed, for instance, that on broadcast programs with at least one female creator, women comprised 50 percent of writers. On programs with no female creators, women comprised 15 percent of writers. Strong relations were found as well between the presence of a female executive producer and the gender of writers, directors and editors.

“The findings suggest that creators and executive producers play an instrumental role in shifting the gender dynamics for both on-screen characters and other individuals working in powerful behind-the-scenes roles,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the center and author of the study.

In 2014-15, females accounted for 42 percent of all speaking characters and 27 percent of creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography working on prime-time broadcast programs. Lauzen said that when compared with figures from recent years, these percentages reveal that women’s forward progress in television has stalled. “There is a perception gap between how people think women are faring in television, both on screen and behind the scenes, and their actual employment. We are no longer experiencing the incremental growth we saw in the late 1990s and 2000s.”

That’s consistent with a recent DGA study, which found little improvement in gender or racial diversity among scripted television directors. Similarly, the DGA found little diversity among first-time TV directors, indicating that on-ramps to the profession were blocked.

In addition to reporting figures for dramas, situation comedies, and reality programs airing on the broadcast networks, the SDSU study also includes figures for an expanded sample including programs appearing on basic and pay cable (A&E, AMC, FX, History, TNT, USA, HBO, Showtime), and Netflix. The study examined a random sample of one episode per series, in contrast to the DGA studies, which tabulated thousands of episodes.

Earlier this year, the ACLU called on several government agencies to investigate gender bias in motion picture and television directing. There’s been no apparent response as yet to the ACLU’s requests.

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