Last year’s broadcast pilot season was dismal for female directors — out of the 41 drama pilots ordered, only one, ABC’s Las Reinas, was directed by woman. A total of four women were hired to direct 10 of 70 broadcast pilots in 2017. It was a low point, and a turning point.
This year, out of 41 broadcast drama pilots, 14 are directed by women. The haul sharply reverses the downward trend of the past three years (four drama pilots in 2015, two in 2016, one in 2017) and is believed to be the highest number ever.
The list of 2018 female drama pilot directors includes Larysa Kondracki (ABC’s The Fix), Liz Friedlander (ABC’s The Rookie), Uta Briesewitz (ABC’s Salvage), Regina King (ABC’s Untitled Holmes Sisters), Rosemary Rodriguez (CBS’ Cagney & Lacey), Zetna Fuentes (CBS’ Chiefs), Victoria Mahoney (CBS’ Red Line), Sanaa Hamri (Fox’s Untitled Ilene Chaiken/Melissa Scrivner Love), Patricia Riggen (Fox’s Untitled David Elliott/Danny Strong), Kate Dennis (NBC’s Untitled Schulner/Horton), Charlotte Sieling (NBC’s In Between Lives), Minkie Spiro (NBC’s The Village), Rachel Lee Goldenberg (the CW’s Playing Dead) and Julie Plec (the CW’s Roswell).
Broadcast networks have traditionally had tough requirements for drama pilot directors as hourlong pilots are considered a risky bet, costing $7 million-$8 million or more. The jobs had usually gone to big feature helmers or veteran TV pilot directors with proven track records. That created a Catch-22 paradigm for female directors who could not meet that criteria because they had not been given a chance to get pilot directing experience.
That is changing this year. Out of the 14 female drama directors, 10 are making their pilot-directing debut. Five of the 14 — King, Hamri, Fuentes, Mahoney and Riggen — are women of color, compared with none the past two years.
Somewhat surprisingly, the gains are not as big on the comedy side, where networks traditionally had been more welcoming to female directors, with seasoned helmers like Pam Fryman, Julie Anne Robinson, Beth McCarthy Miller and Gail Mancuso getting pilot assignments virtually every season.
Nine comedy pilots this season are directed by six women. Last year, six comedy pilots were directed by three women — Fryman and Miller (both with multiple pilots) as well as Robinson. Once again, there are no women of color directing a comedy pilot this year.
Pam Fryman again is the busiest pilot director, helming four multi-camera pilots. In addition to the usual suspects — Fryman (CBS’ History of Them, ABC’s Most Likely To, NBC’s Abby’s and Friends In Law), Julie Anne Robinson (NBC’s Aseem Batra) and Gail Mancuso (NBC’s So Close) — this year’s list includes Speechless pilot director Christine Gernon helming her second pilot, ABC’s The Greatest American Hero; and two first-time pilot directors, Kat Coiro (Fox’s Daddy Issues) and Lake Bell (Bless This Mess, which will film off-cycle).
It is important to note that the advances made by female directors this season are across the board, with multiple female helmers hired by each broadcast network this year.
Exemplifying the radical changes is NBC, which was in the back of the pack last year when none of its 13 drama and comedy pilots was directed by a woman. That served as a wake-up call, and NBC in August launched a Female Forward initiative designed to give female directors the opportunity to get training and helm episodes of NBC series. While not part of the initiative, boosting the number of female pilot directors was a next goal, and this year, out of NBC’s 15 pilots, almost half, seven — three dramas and four comedies — are directed by women. Half of NBC’s drama pilots (4 out of 8) are directed by female or minority directors (Sieling, Spiro, Dennis and Anton Cropper). On the comedy side, 5 out of 7 (71%) are helmed by women or men of color (Fryman with two, Mancuso, Robinson, Kevin Bray).
At ABC, the only broadcast network to hire a female drama director last year, six of the network’s 20 pilots (four drama, two comedy) are directed by women. Five of ABC’s 12 drama pilots (42%) are directed by a woman or a man of color (King, Kondracki, Friedlander, Briesewitz, Stephen Williams). On the comedy side, the ratio is 2 (Fryman, Gernon) out of 8 (25%).
At CBS, four out of 17 pilots (three dramas, one comedy) are directed by women. Overall, half of the network’s 10 drama pilots are directed by female/minority directors (Mahoney, Fuentes, a graduate of the CBS Directors Initiative, Rodriguez, Anthony Hemingway, Justin Lin). In comedy, one out of the seven pilots (14%) was directed by a woman, Fryman.
At Fox, four of 10 pilots (two drama, two comedy), 40%, are directed by women — Hamri and Riggen on the drama side and Coiro and Bell in comedy. Half of them are women of color (Hamri, Riggen).
Of the CW’s eight hourlong pilots, two are helmed by women, both first-timers in Goldenberg and Plec. Overall, 38% of the network’s pilots are directed by women/men of color (Goldberg, Plec, Rob Hardy).
While the gains for female directors have been big, fueled by the historic advances in drama pilots, the increases in racial diversity among pilot directors have been pretty modest.
This year, 11 people of color (six men, five women) are directing pilots. That is up from seven — all men — last year, and up by just one from the 2016 total (10) when also there were no women of color on pilot duty.
Strides were made in drama with 10 pilots helmed by minority directors — about half of them established names. The list includes Regina King, Zetna Fuentes, Sanaa Hamri, Vic Mahoney, Patricia Riggen, Stephen Williams (ABC’s Get Christie Love, Anthony Hemingway (CBS’ Murder), Justin Lin (Main Justice), Anton Cropper (NBC’s untitled Gabrielle Union) and Rob Hardy (the CW’s Spencer).
However, there was a retreat in comedy with only one pilot helmed by a person of color, Kevin Bray (NBC’s Bright Futures), down from three each of the last two years and believed to be a low.
Despite the small setback in comedy director diversity, it has been a strong pilot season for improving inclusion in the helmer chair. It is likely an indication that the numerous initiatives launched over the past few years to bolster numbers of female and minority episodic TV directors are starting to bare fruit.
The banner pilot season for female directors comes on the heels of the DGA report last fall that the employment of women and minority directors had set an all-time record in the 2016-2017 television season, with the percentage of women directing episodic TV shows increasing by 23.5% from the previous season to 21% of all hires and the number of minority directors rising 15.8% to 22% of all episodic helmers. Combined, women and people of color directed 38% of the episodic shows, up from 33%.
Those gains are now carrying over to broadcast pilots, giving women and minority directors enough episodic experience to land the top job in TV directing: helming a pilot and setting up a visual template for a series that could be on the air for a decade or more.
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