This past pilot season was a wake-up call for NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke. Out of 13 pilots the network ordered, none were directed by a woman. It was a dismal broadcast pilot season for female directors all around, with only four women total tapped to helm pilots this year and only one getting to direct a drama pilot, an all-time low.

Like FX’s John Landgraf, who swung into action following a DGA report which ranked the network among those with worst track record in hiring female and minority directors, Salke yesterday unveiled a new NBC initiative, Female Forward, which, starting with the 2018-2019 season, will provide 10 female directors with the opportunity to shadow up to three episodes of an NBC series, followed by an in-season commitment to direct at least one episode of the series she shadows.

“There’s a huge drought of female directors and females across the board in our business. And we were really determined, after this pilot season and after staffing directors for the first season, to finally do something really actionable about that,” Salke said in announcing the initiative.

And while Female Forward applies to episodic directing only and does not extend to pilots, “I would be really disappointed if I didn’t have more than one woman directing a pilot this season,” Salke said in an interview with Deadline. “I feel like we have to at least have a good percentage of the pilot directors being female. I’ll get out early to make that happen, I’ll attach someone early, I’ll give somebody a shot, there is no way I’m going to find myself in the same position where no females were directing our pilots.”

Female Forward is expected to have impact on pilot-season hiring, boosting female directors’ chances of landing a pilot gig by providing them with episodic directing credits. One of the reasons for the dismal numbers of female directors hired for broadcast pilots — particularly on the drama side — is the fact there are not that many women episodic directors who have enough experience to land open pilot-directing assignments. There also are not enough well-established female directors — in features or drama series — who would be getting straight pilot offers.

“As we are always looking for female directors for pilots, we run into this problem – where there just aren’t enough female directors who are available and put up for the positions, and the whole town is going through the same people,” Salke said. “What we want to do with Female Forward is, we can start building a foundation so the first year we will have 10 directors coming out of that who will have directed episodes under their belt — and hopefully they do more than episode — the next year there will be 20 on the program, and if we grow the program there can be even more every year. There will be a pipeline of more directors coming in every year, and we’ll give people their first pilot directing opportunity, there is no question.”

Verve

NBC did that during the 2016 pilot season. The network hired the only woman to land an open drama pilot directing assignment that year, Jennifer Getzinger for Miranda’s Rights. She previously had directed two episodes of the network’s Law & Order: SVU.

Female Forward is a step toward Salke’s ultimate target — “Half of the directors should be women and that’s my goal, parity, 50%, and we have to work toward that. I’m really going to be aggressive on it, so is (head of drama) Lisa Katz, so is (head of current) Vernon Sanders, so is (head of talent development & inclusion) Karen Horne. So it’s this collective of people who have this burning inside of them, and I finally thought we have to do something that is really actionable.”

Lesli Linka Glatter
NBC

The first NBC series since the initiative was established to achieve the parity goal will be the eight-episode Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, whose first four episodes are being directed by women. Top TV drama director Lesli Linka Glatter, who is partnering with Salke for the first year of the Female Forward initiative, helmed the first two episodes, with Holly Dale set to direct the following two.

Salke also is reviewing NBC’s existing emerging directors program, which also offers women and diverse men paid shadowing opportunity; it’s more limited, with only a few directors coming through it every season, and they don’t get guaranteed episodes. “It’s some experience but it’s not really what you need to get the next job,” Salke said. “I’m going to look into that program too. I’m not turning away from diverse men — we will be sure to offer the same opportunity to diverse men that we give to women.”