Women Take Lead in U.S. Network Dramas (Exclusive)

Will Hart/NBC
'The Enemy Within'

A study by Ampere Analysis of recently commissioned and in-development dramas from the U.S. broadcast networks found strong female characters outnumber male leads more than two to one.

U.S. networks, it seems, have got the #MeToo memo.

Of the 251 dramas currently in development or production at the U.S. broadcast networks, strong female characters take center stage, according to a new study published Monday by London-based research group Ampere Analysis.

The study found 42 percent of network dramas feature a strong female lead, more than double the number of shows with a male lead character (20 percent). The remaining 38 percent of network shows were judged to have no single lead character, being ensemble dramas (16 percent), family dramas (10 percent) or featuring a couple, two friends or siblings as dual leads (12 percent).  

Of the five broadcast networks, Ampere found NBC and The CW had the strongest female representation in terms of the number of female-led series relative to their full slate.

Recently commissioned female-led dramas, including NBC's The Enemy Within starring Jennifer Carpenter, ABC’s Reef Break created by and starring Poppy Montgomery, and Fox's in-development 100 Days Without Fear, based on Michelle Poler’s blog of the same name, have helped boost the presence of female characters on the networks.

“If this data was from six months ago, the numbers would have surprised me,” Guy Bisson, director at Ampere Analysis, told The Hollywood Reporter, “but the drive behind #MeToo has put the focus on female characters and female storytelling. It's something we have also picked up in children's content.... I think it shows the networks reacting to the changing political outlook.”

More surprising, says Bisson, is the diversity of female characters represented in network shows. While male leads in network shows “are almost entirely cast as law enforcement officers,” says Bisson, “women lead characters represent a much broader range of professions, from legal and law enforcement, to medicine, entertainment, journalism or finance.”

The Ampere study focused on how to have success when pitching a TV project to a U.S. network. Aside from the gender of the lead character, the study noted that police dramas remained the most commissioned genre.