Several studies released by a number of television unions and advocacy groups the last three weeks all share a disturbing conclusion. As diversity in these United States rises (more than half of the population women; nearly 40 percent of the population people of color), far too few women and people of color produce, write and direct episodic television.
Possibly the most disturbing of the bunch: last Wednesday’s outburst from the Directors Guild of America over hiring practices on last season’s broadcast and cable scripted series. Out of analyzing 2,600-plus series episodes from 170-plus series, just 12 percent of this programming output were directed by women, 12 percent by people of color and one percent by women of color.
Fringe, Leverage, Weeds, Curb Your Enthusiasm are among the programs hiring no women or people of color last season for episodic directing duty. Another group of series, including House, The Office, CSI, Army Wives, Desperate Housewives and True Blood, had women or minority directors doing 10 percent of their episodes or less this past season. By contrast, half or more of the episodes for The Middle, Hung and In Treatment were directed by women and people of color, while CSI: NY, Treme, 90210, Private Practice and Nurse Jackie joined other series in having a third or more of their episodes in the hands of women and people of color.
What especially caught my eye was DGA’s breakout of rookie series and how they handled directing diversity their first year on the air. Among the standouts: Pair Of Kings (50 percent), The Walking Dead (50 percent) and The Killing (46 percent). In the doghouse: Franklin & Bash, Hot In Cleveland, Nikita and Teen Wolf, all with gooseeggs.
Fox’s Raising Hope also made the rookie doghouse, with five percent of its episodes under women or minority directors. Greg Garcia, Hope’s creator and executive producer, says he reached out to hire other women directors and at least one other director of color, and they were unavailable at the time. On a conference call with reporters and Hope co-star Martha Plimpton last week for his second season premiere, Garcia offered this mindset tidbit behind some of DGA’s results. “In the first year of a show,” he suggests, “you’re protective about it and (for the best shot at success), you want to work with people you know.”
Meantime, DGA argues, other rookie programs found ways to launch with a solid footing of diverse directors. “The question each producer needs to ask is: Am I the type of person who makes excuses or takes action?,” responds Paris Barclay, Sons of Anarchy executive producer and DGA first vice-president.
Instead of taking this column down the easy path of trash and blame, let’s get constructive here. Every link of the chain associated with producing TV–networks, production studios and companies, individual show creators/executive producers, distributors, production unions–must elevate any and all diversity-producing actions on their part. If they don’t have any actions to elevate, create some.
Whether we see it or not, diversity, or lack of, will be more of a factor in shaping what TV viewers see. You can’t hammer this point home enough. Any TV network or program that doesn’t showcase diversity in front of the camera, behind the camera and in the executive suite, is at risk of not being embraced by a multicultural public that sooner than we all believe, will be the majority public of this nation. The more diversity on every level of TV, the greater all TV will be, and we’ll all be beneficiaries. Follow Arsenio Hall’s golden words: let’s get busy.
My recent Google TV and Telemundo Olympics picked up some reader reaction. On Google TV, someone suggests their bid for set-top maker Motorola Mobility will ignite an antitrust inquiry. Don’t think so–while there are two big set-top providers for cable and satellite distributors (Motorola and Cisco Systems), there’s a fair number of distributors using set-tops from Pace, Pioneer and other places.
As for Telemundo’s reluctance to offer Olympics coverage in prime-time, one reader comments: “Do you think the exclusion is deliberate, at least as not to dilute ad dollars? Then there’s the case of the losses in networks which broadcast the Olympics, which has nothing to do with the telenovela complaints.” For the first point, semi-contrary. Telemundo would gain more ad dollars with primetime Olympics. Yet my guess, only my guess, is that NBC stations fear a primetime presence on Telemundo would dilute both their Olympics audience and ad dollars. If that’s the fear (a fear NBC should go public about if it exists), it can be eliminated through win-win revenue initiatives between NBC and Telemundo affiliates. And that extra ad revenue would help NBC cut its Olympics operating losses in the bargain.
Thanks again for the responses–keep them coming.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!