Wednesday, September 2, 2015

It's A Man's, Man's World (But It Would Be Nothing Without A Woman) - Part II

Last year, I wrote an article titled “It’s A Man’s, Man’s World” in which I examined some of my favorite television comedies and their writing staffs. What I discovered was rather eye-opening: even shows that had female showrunners and female leads often didn’t have many episodes written or co-written by women. You may disagree, but I believe that you can tell if there is a lack of female presences and voices in a writing staff. I don’t think that every episode of every show needs to necessarily be written or co-written by a woman because there are insanely talented male writers and showrunners out there, too. But I feel like shows that begin with an established female voice and then lose it along the way lose something fundamentally human and important about their series.

Exclusivity has no place in a writers’ room, really. Good voices should be heard – male or female. Good characters should be written – male and female. Good stories should be concocted – whether spearheaded by a male or a female. It’s when staffs strike a balance between their male and female writers that you get truly quality content and a well-rounded, comprehensive picture of what human beings look, act, and sound like.

So this year, I’ve constructed a redux of that first post, highlighting a lot of the same comedy series now that I have more information regarding their seasons. This year, I’ve also included some of my must-view drama series. Examining these has allowed me to better understand WHY I have loved or disliked certain seasons of the shows. It’s really intriguing to me and I hope you all find it useful too!

As a refresher in case you didn’t read the first post, here’s how I determined the data utilized: I researched the episodes in each season that have aired. If a single episode was written solely by a woman or by a pair of women, I counted it as 1 point. My reasoning, of course, is that I am mostly focusing on the number of episodes penned by women. It doesn't matter if one or two or a hundred women write an episode: it counts as one episode. If a single episode was written by a writing team consisting of a male and female, I counted it as 1/2 of a point. I gave women like Annie Mebane, Wendy Mericle, and Amy Poehler credit if they wrote with a partner because, duh, they still wrote something!

What it all means: This data is obviously a baseline, not an end-all-be-all set of numbers. A variety of factors played into the percentages – the number of episodes per season is, of course, a major factor. The larger number of episodes in a season, the less likely that there is a large percentage of episodes written by females (as sad as that is to type). Additionally, the size of the writing staff and the diversity among the staff plays a factor in the number of episodes written by women. Shows with a high turnover rate among the writing staff will also factor into this number. Again: it's not a conclusive set of data, but it's definitely interesting to watch the trend among certain shows rise and fall.

Let’s dive in, shall we?


# of total show runners: 2
# of female show runners: 0
male/female lead character: male
# of major female characters on show: 3

The data:
  • Season 1: 12 out of 25 episodes (48%)
  • Season 2: 12 out of 24 episodes (50%)
  • Season 3: 6 out of 22 episodes (27%)
  • Season 4: 4 out of 13 episodes (31%)
  • Season 5: 2 out of 13 episodes (15%)
  • Season 6: 2 out of 13 episodes (15%)
The discussion/hypothesis: So Community was the series that I based this entire post on last year. As I contemplated my disappointment with the series’ trajectory, I was curious and – like the good writer and researcher that I am – decided to see exactly what happened to the show’s writing department over the years. As you might be able to tell, the writing department changed drastically. When the show first began, almost half of the episodes written were penned or co-penned by women. That made such a difference in the show’s quality and its treatment of Annie, Shirley, and Britta. But from season three onward, the show dropped – plummeted, actually – and the quality did, too. Look at the final two seasons of the series? Sure, the episode count dropped significantly (from 23 to 13 episodes), but the female voice on the show also did, too. By the time Community ended, only 15% of the episodes in its final season were written by women. TWO episodes in total.

It’s disheartening to read, of course, but it also makes a bit of sense as to why I feel the quality dipped – the show lost a great chunk of female writers or writing teams who had amazing grasps on the individual characters on the series. When they departed, so did that insight. Men can write women and they can write them well. But sadly, the men left on staff didn’t seem to have a grasp on the themes (especially how to hand the romance between Jeff/Annie and Troy/Britta) and the female characters themselves. And unfortunately, when that great chunk of female writers departed… so did the quality level of writing they brought to the series.

# of total show runners: 3
# of female show runners: 1
male/female lead character: female
# of major female characters on show: 2

The data:
  • Season 1: 9.5 out of 24 episodes (40%)
  • Season 2: 11 out of 25 episodes (44%)
  • Season 3: 9.5 out of 23 episodes (41%)
  • Season 4: 10.5 out of 22 episodes (47%)
The discussion/hypothesis: I mentioned this last year but I’m really proud of New Girl for maintaining a consistent level of female writers or female-penned episodes. This is a show that does have a significant turnover rate among the staff. But even with that turnover, New Girl hasn’t lost the female presence behind-the-scenes that it so desperately needs. As you might notice, this is probably due to a few factors: 1) Elizabeth Meriwether is the showrunner and creator and she is, obviously, a woman. Dave Finkle and Brett Baer are her co-showrunners which I think is awesome; there’s a balance that the three of them manage to strike that really works. 2) This show’s lead is a woman. I think that makes all the difference in who Liz and her team choose to bring aboard and the kind of stories New Girl is able to tell. I mean, this is a series that wrote about “Menzies” and Jess contemplating whether or not she was ready to become a mother (“Eggs”), among other things. There’s a sort of freedom in their storytelling because of their female lead. But don’t forget – this show also has three other male leads who are all written fantastically across the board by both the men and women on staff. The men that Liz and Brett and Dave hired can write women well and honestly, and the women the showrunners hired can also write men honestly, too.

All around, this is a show I’m really proud of and it makes sense – looking at the data – as to why. There’s a balance that has been struck for four years that is rare to find on other comedies.

# of show runners: 1
# of female show runners: 0
male/female lead character: female
# of major female characters on show: 4

The data:
  • Season 1: 1 out of 6 episodes (17%)
  • Season 2: 8 out of 24 episodes (33%)
  • Season 3: 6 out of 16 episodes (38%)
  • Season 4: 7 out of 22 episodes (32%)
  • Season 5: 5.5 out of 22 episodes (25%)
  • Season 6: 6 out of 22 episodes (27%)
  • Season 7: 4.5 out of 13 episodes (35%)
The discussion/hypothesis: I found it really interesting upon examination of The Office and Parks and Recreation that both shows were decidedly feminist and contained a vast array of amazing female characters, yet the percentage of episodes written by women or co-written was so slim. I discovered that this was due to a variety of factors. First of all, both The Office and Parks and Recreation had rather large staffs with relatively decent turnover rates among both. The consistency of the women was usually there, though (Mindy Kaling on The Office and Aisha Muharrar on Parks and Recreation both were long-standing writers for their series), which is what allowed the percentages reflected above to remain consistent, albeit a bit low.

Still, Parks and Recreation was an absolutely amazing series that understood and portrayed an array of complex women well. Leslie Knope is one of the most iconic female characters in recent television history and Mike Schur was her creator. (Again: Mike Schur is amazing because he is one of those men who intimately understands what makes a good character and a complex character and a relatable, sympathetic character – male and female alike. Plus, he’s married to New Girl writer and fantastic woman, J.J. Philbin so they’re creativity and writing is stellar.) You’ll find that the comedy series that truly shine and have male showrunners or primarily male writers also thrive in the portrayal of women when the lead actresses on the series also have a hand in the series themselves. Amy Poehler co-penned episodes of Parks and Recreation; Zooey Deschanel is a producer on New Girl, and – as we’ll talk about shortly – Mindy Kaling is the showrunner, actress of, and writer for her own series The Mindy Project.

When shows lack female representation in staff for whatever reason – whether it be turnover or other circumstances – they desperately need to recapture the female voice and perspective elsewhere. That’s what those three comedies have done and it’s why they’re not only successful, but also extremely pro-women comedies.

# of show runners: 2
# of female show runners: 1
male/female lead character: female
# of major female characters on show: 2 (we don’t really count Bev)

The data:
  • Season 1: 8.5 out of 24 episodes (35%)
  • Season 2: 8 out of 22 episodes (36%)
  • Season 3: 8.5 out of 21 episodes (40%)
The discussion/hypothesis: This data surprised me, to be honest. For such a female and rom-com centric series, one might automatically assume there would be a New Girl level of female-penned episodes. But the men on staff actually have written a number of wonderful episodes. The women on the staff (Mindy Kaling and Tracey Wigfield, for example) have too, of course, but I think these percentages are evidence of the fact that a low number of female-penned episodes doesn’t necessarily mean a low quality of female representation… so long as the male writers on staff have a grasp on how to write women well. Community’s writers didn’t and the show suffered; The Mindy Project’s writers have done a pretty good job at writing Mindy and her life. This, too, of course is because Mindy is the showrunner of her own series, alongside Matt Warburton. Having a woman in a co-showrunner role truly does make a difference in how women are portrayed on that show. It’s what I believe, at least.

I’m pleased to see that the number of episodes penned or co-penned by women is on an upward trend in this show and I’m hopeful that this number will only increase in season four.


# of show runners: 3
# of female show runners: 0 (this will change in season four, however)
male/female lead character: male
# of major female characters on show: 3

The data:
  • Season 1: 9.5 out of 23 episodes (41%)
  • Season 2: 7.5 out of 23 episodes (33%)
  • Season 3: 8 out of 23 episodes (35%)
The discussion/hypothesis: And now we turn to the drama portion of our evening! This is the first time I’ve examined some of the popular drama series that I watch and I’m definitely intrigued upon examining the evidence. To be honest, I wouldn’t have expected Arrow’s percentage of female-penned episodes to be as high as it was. But as you’ll notice, a bit under half of the first season of the show was written from a female voice. That’s really cool, to me, honestly. So many misogynists out there would probably turn up their noses at the idea of women having a large hand in adapting a comic book series. But… well, joke’s on you, nerds. Women are running Arrow. (This will become even more true in season four with the inclusion of Wendy Mericle as an executive producer.)

As you can see, however, the percentage of female-penned episodes dropped in season two and then rose again slightly in the third season. I don’t know quite what to make of the data itself, but I will say that Arrow has a difficult job that is unique to its genre – it has to adapt a comic book story of a male hero while also not making it only about him. Arrow isn’t really an ensemble-centric series like Parenthood was. This is a show that is very clearly about Oliver Queen. So the question then before the writers is how to tell a meaningful story that is about Oliver while also growing every other character he encounters in some way. The show struggled this past season to strike the balance between Oliver Queen, The Arrow, and Team Arrow. And my hope is that in the fourth season, we will see the writers reclaim that balance.

The importance in striking balance is in inclusion, as I noted earlier in this article. Arrow will succeed as a series when it provides diversity in terms of the stories it tells and WHOSE stories it tells. I’m hopeful that we will see the number of female-written episodes increase in season four. It’s even more important that it does, personally, because of the depth that we’ve now experienced among the women. Thea Queen has suffered more than pretty much everyone except Oliver at this point and deserves to have a story of redemption and hope written – I feel like a woman could do that (or a man who really, deeply understands the well of Thea Queen’s emotions). Felicity Smoak has become a well-rounded, complex, engaging character and she will need stories in season four that allow her to fully navigate the new intricacies of her life. She’ll need writers who understand the dichotomy between love and sacrifice and friendship and partnership. Laurel Lance is often considered to be a divisive character which is why it is so important that the writers explore her own emotional nuances, the constant struggle between wanting to be a fighter and wanting to be loved; the question of understanding purpose, etc.

Each woman (including Lyla, too, but who isn’t as frequently featured in this show) is strong in her own way and could be even stronger with writing that is exploratory and compelling. I feel like female writers could shape these characters, could offer them so much, and my hope is that we’ll continue to see women on Arrow not only write the female-centric stuff for Felicity and Thea and Laurel, but really be able to examine the role of these women in the lives of men and what makes them each heroes.

THE 100
# of show runners: 1
# of female show runners: 0
male/female lead character: female
# of major female characters on show: 4

The data:
  • Season 1: 6 out of 13 episodes (46%)
  • Season 2: 5 out of 16 episodes (31%)
The discussion/hypothesis: Holy crap, The 100’s first season was almost half penned by women! That makes a lot of sense, really, when you think about the array of personalities and the depiction of humanity and love and loyalty and darkness that is portrayed. It’s kind of surprising, actually, to see the number dip significantly in the second season. Weirdly though, the quality of the stories being told of these women didn’t. If anything, they improved (Octavia’s arc has been one of the most amazing to see in the show, honestly). What The 100 does well with male writers and female writers is that it focuses on telling real, raw, gritty stories. It doesn’t shy away from telling painful stories and the arcs that Clarke, Abby, Octavia, and Raven have had exemplify this. This show knows how to write all kinds of women – women who are nurturers and women who are warriors; women who know where they belong and women who feel lost; women who love and women who harden themselves to it.

The 100 is a prime example of the benefit of women being on staff but – more than that – this is a show that is an example of how, even with only 31% of its episodes having a woman’s name on the credits, you can tell stories of women honestly. This show doesn’t treat women differently than men. It places them on equal footing, giving power to both Bellamy and Clarke; to Lincoln and Octavia; to Wick and Raven. It’s a series that presents to us leaders in both Kane and Jaha but also in Lexa and Abby and depicts the strengths and weaknesses of both sexes not BECAUSE of their sex, but because of their character – their hearts, souls, and moral compasses.

What other show on television has a teenage female protagonist who is in charge of an army? Moreover, what show has TWO of those?

# of show runners: 3
# of female show runners: 0
male/female lead character: male
# of major female characters on show: 2

The data:
  • Season 1: 11 out of 23 episodes (48%)
The discussion/hypothesis: The Flash is the one of only two shows on this list that has one season, so yes, the graphs aren't actually graphs but dots. Still, I thought it noteworthy, especially in examining the trajectory of Arrow, to point this show out. Considering the fact that we are once again discussing a comic book adapted to a television series, perhaps some might find it odd that so much of the first season had a female presence. But I think that’s actually what allowed The Flash to shine, among other things (most notably the acting because Grant Gustin is a STAR). This is a show that was allowed to be all things in the first season – it was funny and quirky and silly and action-packed, but it was also heartwarming and deeply moving at parts. I honestly think that the women who were writing these episodes helped contribute to that. Again: men can write emotion. Men can write extremely, tragically, deeply and profoundly emotional material.

But women also have an ability to tap into things that men cannot. And I think that because of the balance that was struck between the number of men and women writing, the show became much stronger than it would have been at the hands of men only. I think Barry Allen became the kind of hero we all connected to because of those little nuggets that women instilled in him. And though I have qualms with how Iris was developed (or not developed in this case), I think that the men and women on staff did a good job working through her character and molding her, as well as Caitlin during the first season (Caitlin is the scientist in the show, which is role that would have traditionally been assigned to a man). The balance in this staff truly is one contributing factor to the series’ huge success.

# of show runners: 1
# of female show runners: 1
male/female lead character: female
# of major female characters on show: 4 (if you count Luisa and Rose, then 6, but they’re not present enough throughout the series to count in my opinion)

The data:
  • Season 1: 12 out of 22 episodes (54%)
The discussion/hypothesis: Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be! On a show run by a woman with a lead female character and six primary characters who are all extremely diverse women, it makes sense that over half of Jane the Virgin’s first season was co-penned or penned entirely by a woman. I love Jane the Virgin and it may seem like one of those stereotypically female shows, but what made the series such a success and stand-out in my mind wasn’t just the writing of the women, but of the men too. Rafael and Michael and Rogelio are all outstanding characters. The show itself is funny and legitimately laugh-out-loud hilarious at its most humorous points, and it is tear-inducing and thought-provoking at its most somber.

How can you tell that this is a series that has heavy female influence? Well, for starters, it treats its diverse women with equality and respect. It doesn’t villainize Petra just for the sake of villainizing her. It allows her to be vulnerable, funny, moving, and manipulative. The series itself is about love, but it’s about all kinds of love – familial love, romantic love, platonic love – in spite of differences. And the characters themselves are all well-rounded: Rafael isn’t portrayed as a macho-man who never has emotions; Jane isn’t portrayed as the heroine who falls at his feet or a damsel in distress. She’s vulnerable, emotionally, sometimes but sometimes she’s the rock; Rafael is allowed to be in charge of a hotel, but also break down in tears. The women who write and run this show understand that humanity isn’t limited into boxes by gender and they break stereotypes left and right (the murderer in this show is a woman, not a man), proving that women and female characters don’t exist to fill trope-y boxes.

# of show runners: 1-2
# of female show runners: 0-1
male/female lead character: male
# of major female characters on show: 1-2, depending on the season

The data:
  • Season 1: 0 out of 13 episodes (0%)
  • Season 2: 0 out of 14 episodes (0%)
  • Season 3: 2 out of 14 episodes (14%)
  • Season 4: 2 out of 14 episodes (14%)
  • Season 5: 0 out of 13 episodes (0%)
  • Season 6: 0 out of 14 episodes (0%)
  • Season 7: 0 out of 14 episodes (0%)
  • Season 8: 0 out of 12 episodes (0%)
  • Season 9: 2 out of 13 episodes (15%)
The discussion/hypothesis: Doctor Who is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to staffing. The show is primarily run – depending on the season – by one man or two, though in the Russell T. Davies era there was a female co-showrunner (Julie Gardner) who was beside Davies the entire time. In the Steven Moffat era of Who, we see that a few female EPs flit in and out (Beth Willis, Caroline Skinner, and Faith Penhale) for stretches of time, but none last the duration of Moffat’s run. So if you’ll notice in the graph, only a few seasons of the British sci-fi hit show have actually contained episodes written by women (3, 4, and 9) which I think – and this is just my personal opinion – has contributed to my frustrations with the show over the years, especially the last season. There are so many women who flit in and out of the series as characters that you would think there would be more women on staff. After all, the companions are nearly all female.

But with the lack of women on staff over the years, I feel the show has missed the mark a few times in terms of character portrayal. Clara Oswald’s character was a mess last season because of a sloppily interjected “love story” and erratic relationship with Twelve. The show, in spite of having women at the helm for two episodes, didn’t really know how to handle Martha Jones – they knew she wasn’t a replacement for Rose and they repeatedly made reference to the fact. It’s hard to believe that more women – more CONSISTENT women – in Doctor Who would make the show any worse, writing-wise, than it can be in its darkest moments.

I feel like Stephen Moffat not having that voice that Russell had beside him (even if Julie didn’t actually WRITE any of the episodes, she was still a constant female presence) and only having women flit in and out of the group of EPs has been problematic. Hopefully the women who wrote two of the episodes this season will be an encouragement for Moffat to have even more female voices on this show, especially if the series ever attempts to handle romance or love in any way, shape, or form again.

What do you all think of this data? Does any of it surprise you? Intrigue you? Hit up the comments and let me know your thoughts, or tweet us your reactions! Until then. :)


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