If you’re a 50-something black female writing on a TV show right now, consider yourself extremely lucky: there aren’t a heckuva lot of you around town these days.
According to a study commissioned by the Writers Guild of America, three groups remain sorely underrepresented on broadcast and cable series: women, minorities, and older writers. Some gains have been made but hey, Shonda Rhimes can’t write every show in prime time. Consider this statistic from the report released Tuesday: Between 1999 and 2012, the share of female writers rose only 5 percentage points, from 25 percent to 30.5 percent. At that rate, the study said, it would take another 42 years before women reach proportionate representation to men in the writers rooms.
During that same period, the hiring of minority writers increased from 7.5 percent to 15.6 percent – not bad, though minorities as a combined group remain underrepresented by more than 2 to 1. And though 40-something writers (see: white males) can still get plenty of gigs around town, nearly a third of the shows in the 2011-12 season had no scribes over 50.
“It all begins with the writing,” said Dr. Darnell Hunt, author of the report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA and professor of sociology, in a statement. “From concept to characters, from plot to narrative, writers play a fundamental role in the fashioning of stories a society circulates about itself. But in the Hollywood entertainment industry, unfortunately, there has all too often existed a disconnect between the writers hired to tell the stories and an America that’s increasingly diverse with each passing day.
“Despite a few pockets of promise, much more work must be done on the television diversity front before the corps of writers telling our stories look significantly more like us as a nation,” Hunt continued.
The report analyzed employment patterns for 1,722 writers working on 190 broadcast and cable TV shows during the 2011-2012 season.