Wednesday, March 27, 2013

WGA Study Finds TV Writing Remains A White Man's World

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.
* 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.
* “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.

To read the complete report, click here.


  1. As a Dramatic Writer myself and a Woman of Color all I have to say is DUH! Many of us have known this for years because we've experienced it. It seems that across all media, there seems to be limited space for a limited amount of stories. Everyone in their boxes! Particularly for a writer of color, if your writing doesn't subscribe to the stereotypical status quo, you will invariably be told 'You're very talented but...' fill in any number of responses. My favorite is 'that story is poignant, creative and I like the characters but it will never sell'. I tell you television is narrow but commercial theater is not much better. I'm part of an ongoing discussion of theater artists/professionals and we have the same conversations almost every time and one of the topics that comes up almost every single time is the lack of diversity, not just in representation but in content.

  2. The "42 years" stat is pretty mind-boggling.

    One nice thing about the indie soap/web series community is that is totally a writer's medium still, the way daytime soaps felt when I was a kid and got so attached to them.

  3. Hopefully the Web will not fall prey to the same trappings of the traditional TV, becoming trapped in a cycle of measures that are destined to become outmoded (*coughs* Nielsens). I hope the freedom that many writers on the web experience now remains a mainstay, so that ratings and ad dollars do not drive what goes and what stays as it does on much of Broadcast TV.

  4. Having appointed an Argentinian Pope, the Catholic Chirch is more "modern" than entertainment. Migdia Chinea UCLA MFA School of Theater, Film, Television and Digital Media -Screenwriting/Directing 2012 --