Yes We Can: Female Broadcast Drama Directors Excel With Better Pilot-To-Series Batting Average Than Male Helmers

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The tide is finally turning for female helmers vying to break into the male-dominated field of broadcast drama directing.

This pilot season marked a breakthrough with 14 of the 42 broadcast drama pilots going to female directors, reversing an alarming trend –four pilots directed by women in 2015, two in 2016 and just one last year.

Clockwise from top left: Sieling, Riggen, Spiro, Dennis REX/Shutterstock/IMDB/DGA/HFPA

Eight of the 14 drama pilots, or 57%, went to series. That includes ABC’s The Fix (Larysa Kondracki and The Rookie (Liz Friedlander), CBS’ Red Line (Victoria Mahoney), Fox’s Proven Innocent (Patricia Riggen), NBC’s New Amsterdam (Kate Dennis), The InBetween (Charlotte Sieling) and The Village (Minkie Spiro), and the CW’s Roswell, New Mexico (Julie Plec). Of the eight helmers, three were first pilot directors, and only one, Friedlander, had previously helmed a broadcast pilot.

Meanwhile, 46% of the drama pilots directed by men this year (13 out of 28) were picked up to series. (Overall, the ratio was 50% — 21 of the regular drama pilots went to series).

Drama pilots traditionally have been one of the toughest directing gigs to land, with the networks and studios imposing very high standards for level of accomplishments required for it. Drama pilots are a risky bet, costing $7 million-$8 million and sometimes as much as $15 million, and networks have been very conservative, handing jobs to either a big feature helmer or a veteran TV pilot director with a proven track record.

The problem with the dearth of broadcast drama pilots directed by women was trifold — there weren’t enough well-established female directors — in features or drama series — who would be getting straight pilot offers; there weren’t that many female episodic drama directors who have enough experience to land open pilot-directing assignments; and there wasn’t strong enough will on the part of the networks to give such helmers assignments.


All of that started to change over the past 1-2 years with Initiatives like NBC’s Female Forward, designed to give female directors the opportunity to get training and helm episodes of NBC series, and Ryan Murphy’s Half, aiming to hire 50% female directors to work on all his television shows, as well as series like Ava DuVernay’s OWN drama series Queen Sugar, which employs all female directors, almost all of whom are women of color.

Exemplifying the progress 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. This year, out of NBC’s 15 pilots, almost half, seven — three dramas and four comedies —  were directed by women. What’s more, all three NBC drama pilots directed by women went to series, a 100% success ratio.

There have been a string of milestones for female directors over the past year, including Patty Jenkins setting a new boxoffice record with Wonder Woman and Victoria Mahoney, who just got her Red Line pilot picked up to series by CBS, recently becoming the first African American woman to direct a Star Wars movie when she was tapped as JJ Abrams’ second unit director on Star Wars: Episode IX.

The strong showing for female drama directors this broadcast season is just the next step toward an even playing field.

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