News / TV

ITV takes the lead in balancing TV writers rooms with Comedy 50:50 initiative

The Brits may be grappling with Brexit, still.

But give ’em this much credit. They’re showing U.S. up with respect to improving the working conditions for women in TV comedy.

Saskia Schuster, the head of comedy programming for Britain’s ITV network, told a festival audience Monday that: “I won’t commission anything with an all-male writing team.”

In fact, Schuster already has led efforts to increase the female workforce in TV writers room with an initiative called Comedy 50:50. As she explains on that site, “The seeds of Comedy 50:50 started in February 2018 when I attended ERA 50:50 at BAFTA,” a similar effort to achieve equal representation among actors in British productions onscreen and onstage.

When she looked at ITV, she found:

  • “Female writers aren’t being hired onto writing teams because they can’t compete with male writers who commonly have accumulated more writing credits. This reflects the long standing culture of comedy being male dominated.”
  • “Female writers find it hard to find producers to work with who ‘get’ their voice and can thereby develop a script to its full potential. This reflects the difficulty of broadening personal networks and producer/writer relationships – partly relating back to the problem of not gaining enough writing credits to even get that first meeting.”
  • “Female writers often don’t thrive as the lone female voice in the writing room. Too often the writing room is not sensitively run, it can be aggressive and slightly bullying. There can all too often be a sense of tokenism towards the lone female. Or the dominant perception is that the female is there purely so the production can hit quotas. Many women don’t want to be or don’t enjoy being that lone female.”
  • “Producers often don’t know how to expand their circle of female writers with whom they work and many feel frustrated that they know only a small pool of talent upon which to draw.”

So Comedy 50:50 aims to help not only by putting language into production contracts to hire balanced writing staffs, but also by organizing databases of available writers and hosting networking events so the producers cannot say they don’t know of any writers to hire.

Here’s the mission statement:

Comedy 50:50 is an initiative to address gender imbalance in comedy. Our aim is to change a culture. This is not about hitting quotas or targets as some form of box ticking exercise, it is about implementing practical measures as a way to achieve equal representation. We are working towards changing the mindset and inherent systems that currently skew the genre away from enabling female writing talent, performers, directors and crew to have equal presence. It is our belief that we will be creating better television, film, theatre and radio if our output in the entertainment industry reflects the diverse range of voices that make up society. Our intention is one of inclusivity and to push forward changes in a manner that is respectful to all talent. We are starting by directing our focus towards writers, but our aim is to extend the initiative to all aspects of comedy performance and production. We won’t achieve 50:50 overnight, but by creating practical measures that result in incremental change, we will see a difference.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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