There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of studies lately about the under-representation of women and minorities in behind-the-scenes TV jobs. But despite numerous industry diversity programs, the problem persists with no sign of abating. One idea that’s gaining traction is the “shaming” of the showrunners who create and produce the shows.
The idea of publicly embarrassing the worst offenders has come up during the ongoing WGA elections and was a topic of conversation at a recent meet-the-candidates night. Ballots will be counted Monday.
“I have been hearing that some writers, including even certain officer candidates, are in favor of ‘shaming’ showrunners to make them hire more diverse staffers,” WGA presidential candidate Joan Meyerson wrote on her website. “This may be an option – however, are we sure we have exhausted all other possibilities?”
“Shaming doesn’t necessarily have the results one wants,” she wrote, pointing to the $70 million settlement that the networks, studios and talent agencies agreed to pay in 2010 to thousands of TV writers to settle a class-action ageism suit. “Look at the multimillion-dollar settlement that agents and studios paid out when they lost their case against discrimination of writers over 40. Have they been ‘shamed’ enough to hire older writers? I think not. They paid out and went on doing what they always do.”
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Just last month, the DGA released the latest installment of its annual “Worst List,” which identified 32 shows — including Showtime’s Masters Of Sex and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and The Brink — that had hired zero female directors during the past season. The DGA’s list, however, does not target specific showrunners, only their shows, networks and production companies.
It’s unlikely that the WGA ever would try to shame showrunners either because virtually all of them are members of the guild. Along those same lines, the DGA’s annual diversity reports do not contain any statistics on the employment of female and minority assistant directors, who are hired – or recommended for hiring – by directors, nearly all of whom are DGA members.
More important than shaming, Meyerson wrote, “is learning the reasons behind the problem and then coming up with positive solutions – ones that will be mutually beneficial for all. For instance, many new tech companies are voluntarily committing to hiring more women and people of color. The percentage they commit to isn’t huge, but it’s a start, and it means that every year, the commitment increases. Especially as the showrunner finds out that their shows may actually be better – given diverse scripts that add drama and authenticity to their stories.”
Her opponent, Howard Rodman, declined comment on the issue of “shaming,” but like nearly all WGA candidates, he addressed the issue of diversity in his official candidate’s statement.
He wrote that at film and TV writing graduate program at USC, where he teaches, “We routinely admit a class that is significantly more than half female – not because we’re addressing questions of balance but because we’re selecting the best writers. Yet the industry into which those talented and ambitious women graduate isn’t anywhere near as equitable: In screen, male writers outnumber women by more than three-to-one; in television, by more than two-to-one. These statistics, and the systematic denial of opportunity they represent, are scandalous, and the figures for minorities are worse: 11% in television, 5% in film. This is injurious to the guild and ruinous to the culture. We need to turn this legacy around – and in areas where writers are hired by other writers, we need to do the tough and necessary work of turning around our own beliefs and practices.”
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