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TV writing dominated by white males, but minorities, women gain

March 26, 2013|By Richard Verrier
  • "Criminal Minds" is among the TV shows with the highest percentage of minority writers, according to a report by the Writers Guild of America, West.
"Criminal Minds" is among the TV shows with the highest percentage… (Matt Kennedy / ABC Studios )

Minority and women writers have made modest job gains in the television industry but have a long way to go before the playing field is level.

So concludes the latest analysis from the Writers Guild of America, West, which reviewed employment patterns for 1,722 writers working on 190 broadcast and cable television shows during the 2011-2012 season. 

The study focuses on three groups that have traditionally been underemployed in the TV industry: women, minority and older writers.

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Minority writers nearly doubled their share of staffing positions in the last decade. Between the 1999-2000 and 2011-2012 TV seasons, minority writers' share of TV employment increased from 7.5% to 15.6%, with much of the gains occurring among Asian and Latino writers. The report attributes part of the shift to the growth in multicultural dramas.

TV shows employing the highest percentage of minority writers include "Criminal Minds," "Grey's Anatomy," "Single Ladies," "Raising Hope", "Reed Between the Lines" and "The Game."

Despite the increase, minorities remained proportionately underrepresented by a factor of more than 2 to 1 in television staff employment in the 2011-2012 season.  In addition, in the 2010-2011 television season, only 9% of pilots had at least one minority writer attached and just 24% of pilots had at least one woman attached, according to the report.

Women, who represent roughly half of the U.S. population, saw their share of staff employment on television shows increase from 25% to 30.5% in the last 12 years.

"Despite 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 the nation," said sociology professor Darnell Hunt, author of the report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

Television shows employed relatively more women and minorities as executives over the last two seasons, but white males continued to dominant executive ranks, representing 76% of the executive producer jobs.

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At a news conference at the guild's headquarters in the Fairfax district, WGA, West President Chris Keyser summed up the relevance of the findings. "We can't tell the whole story if only half of us write it,'' Keyser said.

In an effort to improve opportunities for minorities, the guild honored a diverse slate of 10 television writers who were recognize for scripts they had submitted. The scripts, in drama and comedy categories, were read and scored by a panel of guild members, including writers Glen Mazzara ("The Walking Dead"), Alfredo Barrios Jr. ("Burn Notice"), Wendy West ("Dexter") and Elaine Ko ("Modern Family").

The comedy honorees are Michael DiGaetano, Joey Manderino, Joseph Neustein and Lena Waithe. The drama honorees are Sherry Carnes, Dawn Comer Jefferson, Margaux Froley, Geetika Lizardi, Leslie Valdes and Thomas Wong.

"The Writer Access Project is such a unique and a valuable program aimed at getting talented, experienced writers back where they belong: in the writers' room,'' Ko said in a statement.

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