Diversity on TV Writing Staffs: Writers Guild Releases Latest Research Findings
LOS ANGELES -- In its latest analysis of the state of diversity in writing for TV, the Writers Guild of America, West finds that while there have been some recent job gains for minority and women writers, the employment playing field in Hollywood is far from level. The 2013 TV Staffing Brief analyzes employment patterns for 1,722 writers working on 190 broadcast and cable TV shows during the 2011-2012 season, highlighting three specific groups who have traditionally been underemployed in the TV industry: women, minority, and older writers.
“It all begins with the writing,” said Dr. Darnell Hunt, author of the report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and professor of sociology. “From concept to characters, from plot to narrative, writers play a fundamental role in the fashioning of stories a society circulates about itself. But 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’s research shows minority and women writers have made incremental gains in employment over the past decade-plus period, but current TV staffing levels still continue to be widely disproportionate to actual minority demographics of the U.S. population, and diverse writers remain substantially underrepresented on TV writing staffs.
Key findings in the 2013 TV Staffing Brief include:
- Between the 1999-00 and 2011-12 TV seasons, women writers’ share of TV staff employment increased approximately 5 percentage points, from 25% to 30.5%. At this rate of increase it would be another 42 years before women reach proportionate representation in television staff employment.
- Minority writers nearly doubled their share of staffing positions since the millennium, but remain severely underrepresented. Between 1999-00 and 2011-12 seasons, minority writers’ share of TV employment increased from 7.5% to 15.6%. Despite this increase, minorities as a combined group remain underrepresented by a factor of more than 2 to 1 in television staff employment in the 2011-12 season.
- Women and minorities continue to be underrepresented among the ranks of Executive Producers in television. In the 2011-12 season, women were underrepresented by a factor of more than 2 to 1 among the writers who run television shows; minorities were underrepresented by a factor of nearly 5 to 1.
- 10% of shows of TV shows in the 2011-12 season had no female writers on staff; nearly a third had no minority writers on staff.
- In the 2010-2011 television season, only 9% of pilots had at least one minority writer attached, while just 24% of pilots had at least one woman writer attached.
“Despite a few pockets of promise, much more work must be done on the television diversity front before the corps of writers telling our stories look significantly more like us as a nation,” said Hunt.
- For the first time in 2011-12, writers over 40 claimed a majority share of TV staff positions: between 1999-00 and 2010-11 seasons, the over-40 share of TV staff employment increased nearly 16 percentage points, from 39.9% to 55.6%. However, nearly a third of the shows in the 2011-12 season had no writers over 50 on staff.
To read the complete report, click here.
In order to increase employment opportunities for diverse writers in television, the Guild developed the Writer Access Project (WAP), a peer-judging program designed to identify excellent, diverse writers with television experience, and to provide a resource for accessing their work to showrunners, industry executives, agents, and managers.
Each year, qualified WGAW members in one of five diversity categories – minority writers; writers with disabilities; women writers; 55-and-over writers; and LGBT writers – are invited to submit samples of their work to the program. Entries are read and scored on a blind submission basis by panels of WGAW members with extensive television writing experience, including current and former showrunners, as well as writer-producers. Entrants receiving the highest scores are named as WAP honorees, and their original pilots or spec episodes are showcased on the WGAW website.
“As a member of the WGAW Diversity Advisory Group, I fully support their mission in connecting qualified writers with showrunners through the Writer Access Project. Programs like this one are important because they ensure that all of the hard-working and talented voices out there are recognized and given a fair and equal opportunity for employment. No doubt about it, this is a win-win situation and an impactful program,” said WAP judge and Grey’s Anatomy Creator Shonda Rhimes.
“This industry is all about access, and the WAP helps get you read by top writers and showrunners. By participating, I definitely came away with new fans of my work,” said former WAP Honoree Sal Calleros, who recently served as Story Editor on TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles.
“The Writer Access Project is such a unique and valuable program aimed at getting talented, experienced writers back where they belong: in the writers’ room,” commented WAP judge and recent Writers Guild Award-winning writer Elaine Ko (Modern Family).
For more information about the Writer Access Project and a full listing of the 2013 WAP Honorees, click here.
To access press photos of the 2013 WAP Honorees, please click here.
Photo credit: Michael Jones
The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) is a labor union representing writers of motion pictures, television, radio and Internet programming, including news and documentaries. Founded in 1933, the Guild negotiates and administers contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members. It is involved in a wide range of programs that advance the interests of writers, and is active in public policy and legislative matters on the local, national and international levels. For more information on the WGAW, please visit: www.wga.org.