Tina Fey, left, and Oprah Winfrey on an episode of NBC's "30 Rock." (Nicole Rivelli / NBC )
The number of women working as writers and directors on prime-time broadcast programs took a big tumble in the 2010-11 season, a new study reports — part of an overall decline in women's employment as actresses and in key creative jobs behind the camera.
Women comprised 15% of writers on the prime-time dramas, comedies and reality shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW, down from 29% in the 2009-10 season, according to the report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. In the directing ranks, it found, 11% were women, compared with 16% the previous year.
Overall, the center said, women accounted for 41% of all on-air characters — down from the record-high 43% the year before — and comprised 25% of the people working as series creators, producers, executive producers, directors, writers, editors and directors of photography, a decrease of two percentage points.
The study, which the center has been doing since the 1995-96 season, is based on surveying one randomly selected episode from each network series during the season. "Statistically speaking, the randomization of the choice of episodes — across many series — should yield an accurate picture of the season of network shows because biases or idiosyncrasies are minimized," said Martha Lauzen, executive director of the center.
The number of female characters varied widely by network, with only the CW, at 52%, representing women "in accurate proportion to their representation in the U.S. population," the report said. ABC was next with a 43% showing, followed by CBS at 40%, Fox at 39% and NBC at 36%.
In addition to the drops registered among writers and directors, employment for women was also down among program creators (18%) and producers (37%). It was unchanged for executive producers (22%) and up slightly among editors (20%) and directors of photography (4%), the report said.
"Programs with at least one woman creator or writer featured more female characters than programs with no women creators or writers," it said.