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The Writers Guild of America East and Writers Guild of America West have crafted a pledge committing to improving diversity, equity and inclusion in late night and comedy/variety TV, signed by more than 50 supervisory scribes in the space.
The diverse group, which includes John Oliver, Amber Ruffin, Amy Schumer and Charlamagne tha God, acknowledges systemic barriers and a “sink or swim” culture that has historically excluded BIPOC writers and outlines some specific remedies for helping them enter, stay in and move up through the pipeline.
“Traditional pipelines into late night and comedy-variety television are historically overwhelmingly white, and it is, therefore, insufficient to rely solely upon them when making hiring decisions,” reads the joint statement, which also was signed by Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, whose shows or hosting stints recently concluded. “We will look for applicants in more diverse spaces than the traditional set of colleges, universities and comedy spaces, and we will expand our existing networks by seeking recommendations from a broader and more diverse group of writers, networks and lists.”
The pledge was developed through conversations with guild members to illuminate obstacles and propose solutions. Although the document is not a covenant agreement or an official policy that includes tracking plans or accountability measures, the WGAE tells The Hollywood Reporter that the pledge, which does not directly involve any employers or production companies, “is a tool that the Guild can use to monitor progress in these efforts,” and that the union “aims to enforce these standards to the ability that it can.”
In July, THR chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg wrote that late night television is currently at a representational crossroads, with hosts like Samantha Bee and Desus and Mero (and, now, Noah) stepping down from the white male-dominated landscape.
“Our members are aware and committed to the ideas and the actions in this important pledge,” WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson said in a statement. “The pledge is proof that people in positions of power, as well as those at the staff writer level, embrace the change needed to insure BIPOC voices are a vital part of the influential world of late night and comedy-variety television.”
More than 200 late night and comedy/variety staff writers signed an endorsement of the leaders’ pledge. “The more that our rooms are representative of and speak to the public, the more likely viewers will tune in to hear from us again,” their statement read. “We support the commitment signed by supervisory writers and firmly believe that it will benefit not only our workplaces but also the shows that we create together.”
Among the four primary declarations in the pledge are commitments to reform the writing packet process that has traditionally been the calling card for aspiring scribes — for example, providing sample formatting and allowing supplemental material from writers from non-traditional backgrounds, and putting “mechanisms” in place to account for reader bias and unfamiliarity with historically excluded cultural references and perspectives. The pledge also commits to creating and maintaining working environments where writers from marginalized backgrounds are free, safe and empowered to express themselves without fear of retribution.
“I have a lot of hope that this pledge can be a meaningful step towards creating fairer, more inclusive comedy/variety workplaces where writers from all backgrounds can flourish in supportive environments,” Josh Gondelman, who was head writer and executive producer of Showtime’s Desus & Mero, said in a statement. “I’m grateful for the hard work of numerous writers to create an actionable blueprint and get so many people in the industry to commit to actually taking those actions.”
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