As women’s roles continue to expand in society, so too are their roles growing on television. More than ever, capturing the female audience is vital to a show’s success, and that was the subject of Sunday’s smart and funny “Courting the Female Audience” panel at the Producers Guild‘s Produced By conference.

Mara Brock-Akil“Women are looking for nuance,” said Mara Brock-Akil, creator and executive producer of Being Mary Jane and The Game. “We’re not all beautiful and gorgeous.”

Women are also, it would appear, looking for zombies, or at least one particular set of them. “The Walking Dead is the No. 1  show for women,” said Marc Juris, WE TV president and general manager. Either way, “Female viewers are much more demanding and discerning,” said Matt Warburton, executive producer of Fox’s The Mindy Project. “They care about the quality of a show. For men, fart jokes and an explosion are enough.”

Jose
4 months
The Walking Dead does have strong female characters.
kay
4 months
Um, a male panelist said that.
Scarlett
4 months
@Paul: Matt Warburton is a man. So a man said that about men.

So-called “procedurals” – those ubiquitous, based-on-a-real-story crime dramas – remain popular with older women in particular, the panelists agreed, although moderator Debra Birnbaum, a contributing editor at Variety, said she finds it “hard to deal with” all the genre’s “rape and torture.” Notwithstanding The Real Housewives of Pretty Much Everywhere, reality shows offer some of the best opportunities for female viewers to see real women like themselves dealing with everyday issues that affect their lives. “Reality does a much better job,” Juris said.

Produced by Conference 2014 logoThe panelists agreed that social media gives every viewer the chance to connect with their favorite shows, and sometimes, to keep them on the air.

“Social media saved my career,” Brock-Akil said. When the CW cancelled The Game in 2008, the social-media outcry led BET to pick the series up. It’s now in its seventh season. Netflix and Hulu offer viewers the opportunity to catch up on an entire season of shows they may have missed, and that’s good for the networks because these “catch-up” viewers can then join the existing loyal fan base.

Masters of sex“Any show on Netflix has a huge advantage because it’s easier for viewers to catch up,” Warburton said. But these services also have a downside – they make viewing a show the night of its broadcast less urgent, and ‘urgency,’ the buzzword of the conference, is what all producers want to instill in their viewers. “I don’t watch anything on live TV anymore,” confessed Amy Lippman, writer and executive producer of Showtime’s Masters of Sex.

For all their strides, some of the same old cosmetic issues continue to beleaguer show producers with even the strongest female characters. “The first note that you’re going to get from the network is always about hair,” laughed Lippman. “‘We’re calling about her hair,’ they’ll say. It’s always about women’s hair. It’s a huge preoccupation. I could have another year of my life back if I didn’t have to have all these conversations about hair.”

Juris, meanwhile, noted that women viewers can be found everywhere, and need to be courted accordingly. “Forty percent of ESPN’s viewership is women,” he said. And, after all, he joked, “I watch it for the hair.”