Female directors broke new ground this pilot season. Jude Weng has been tapped to direct ABC’s untitled single-camera comedy pilot from writer Jessica Gao. The Taiwanese-born is believed to be the first Asian-American woman ever and the first woman of color in nearly 30 years to direct a half-hour broadcast network pilot, since Debbie Allen helmed the pilot for NBC’s The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air in 1990.
Meanwhile, Jessica Yu is set to direct NBC’s drama pilot Bluff City Law. She is believed to be the first Asian-American woman directing a broadcast drama pilot.
Weng, an alumna of the AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, the ABC-Disney Directing Fellowship and the Warner Bros. Directing Program, and Yu are among 21 female pilot directors this year, 13 on the drama side and eight in comedy, up from 20 last year. A significant portion of them are first-time pilot helmers, like Weng and Yu.
“It’s been a year of firsts and I’m honored to add my name to that list,” Weng said. “Jessica Gao is a unique voice, and it’s a privilege to direct her pilot, and be on her team. There’s so many talented voices in our communities, I hope this is the beginning of a strong trend towards more inclusion.”
While the number of female drama pilot directors has slipped by a notch from last year’s record 14, the number of drama pilots dropped from 41 in 2018 to 35 in 2019, so the percentage of hourlong pilots directed by women inched up from 34% in 2018 to 37% this year.
The list of 2019 female drama/dramedy pilot directors includes Anne Fletcher (ABC’s Heart Of Life), Francesca Gregorini (ABC’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story), Susannah Grant (ABC’s Until the Wedding), Uta Briesewitz (CBS’ Frankenstein), Kate Dennis (CBS’ Tommy), Victoria Mahoney (CBS’ Under the Bridge), coming off her history-making Star Wars second-unit directing gib, Patricia Riggen (CBS’ Surveillance), Jessica Yu (NBC’s Bluff City Law), Leslye Headland (Fox’s Unt. Weisman/Katims), Sanaa Hamri (Unt. Tom Kapinos), Eva Longoria (the CW’s Glamorous), Catherine Hardwicke (the CW’s The Lost Boys), Maggie Kiley (the CW’s Katy Keene).
Ten comedy pilots this season are directed by eight women, up a notch from last year’s tally of nine half-hour pilots helmed by six women, despite the overall number of broadcast comedy pilots being off, from 27 in 3018 to 25 in 2019. The list includes a woman of color, Weng, for the first time in decades.
Here is the the eight women: Kat Coiro (ABC’s Happy Accident), Zoe Lister-Jones (ABC’s Woman Up), Jude Weng (ABC’s Jessica Gao), Pam Fryman (CBS’ Carol’s Second Act, The Us Project, NBC’s Friends In Law), Beth McCarthy Miller (CBS’ Bob Hearts Abishola), Julie Anne Robinson (NBC’s Life Magic), Claire Scanlon (Fox’s Adam & Eve), Betsy Thomas (Fox’s Patty’s Auto).
Weng and Yu’s hires are also part of strong showing for people of color behind the camera this pilot season.
In 2019, 13 directors of color (seven men, six women) are doing pilots, up from last year’s 11 (six men, five women) despite the overall number of pilots going down from 68 to 60. The total was split a little more balanced between drama and comedy this season (9-4 vs. 10-1 toward drama last year).
The list of people of color directing broadcast pilots this season includes George Tillman, Jr.(ABC’s Hank Steinberg), Anthony Hemingway (ABC’s NY Undercover), Jude Weng (ABC’s Jessica Gao), Victoria Mahoney (CBS’ Under the Bridge), Patricia Riggen (CBS’ Surveillance), Jessica Yu (NBC’s Bluff City Law), Sanaa Hamri (Unt. Tom Kapinos), Eva Longoria (the CW’s Glamorous), Victor Gonzalez (CBS’ Urman/Herschlag), Chris Rock (NBC’s Saving Kenan), Oz Rodriguez (NBC’s Unt Penn/Murray), Larry Teng (the CW’s Nancy Drew) and Marcos Siega (the CW’s Batwoman).
Here is how the different networks fared in hiring women and people of color to direct pilots this year.
At ABC, eight of the network’s 16 pilots, 50%, (five drama, three comedy) are directed by female/diverse directors. That is up from 35% last year.
At CBS, also eight of 16 pilots, 50%, (four dramas, four comedy) are directed by female/diverse directors. That is also up from 35% last year.
After making the biggest strides last year with 60% of its pilot directing jobs going to women/people of color, NBC retreated this year with 5 out of 12 pilots, 42% (one drama, four comedies) helmed by female/diverse directors.
At Fox, four of 10 pilots, 40%, (two drama, two comedy), are directed by women/people of color. That is even with last year.
The CW has made the biggest gains this year. Of the network’s six hourlong pilots, all but one, 83%, are directed by women or people of color. That is almost double the 36% that went to directors who are not white males last year.
Written by Gao, who is of Chinese descent, ABC’s untitled Jsiica Gao comedy, from Imagine Television Studios, ABC Studios and CBS TV Studios, is about Janet Zhao, a first generation Chinese-American woman who struggles to set healthy boundaries with her crazy, exhausting family. When her wealthy grandmother dies and names Janet the sole inheritor, she suddenly finds herself the unwilling new matriarch of the family she’s spent her life trying to keep at arm’s length.
Weng has directed episodes of such series as The Good Place, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Black-ish, Crashing, Fresh Off the Boat, 2 Broke Girls, among others. She is repped by CAA.
Co-created by Dean Georgaris and Michael Aguilar and written by Georgaris, Bluff City Law is a character-driven legal drama that follows the lawyers of an elite Memphis firm that specializes in the most controversial landmark civil rights cases. Led by legendary lawyer Elijah Strait (Jimmy Smits) and his brilliant daughter, Sydney Keller (Caitlin McGee), they take on the toughest David-and-Goliath cases while navigating their complicated relationship.
Georgaris executive produces with David Janollari and Aguilar for Universal TV and David Janollari Entertainment.
Yu’s episodic credits include American Crime, Billions, Parenthood, Castle and The Rookie.