ITV commission controller and executive producer Saskia Schuster — who has been responsible for shows like Psychobitches, Give Out Girls, and The Armstrong and Miller Show — told Channel 4 that all-male writing teams are now prohibited when commission for a show on the network. Schuster has started up the Comedy 50/50 representation committee as a way to force gender equality into the television network industry.
According to the BBC, Schuster told Channel 4 during the Diverse Festival that…
“Too often the writing room is not sensitively run. It can be aggressive and slightly bullying. [There have been] a significant lack of shows written by women or with women on the writing teams”
“The first thing I did was I changed my terms of commissioning. I won’t commission anything with an all-male writing team.”
So basically, sexism.
The article goes on to explain that to help with forcing gender equality into the ITV programming block, Schuster started Comedy 50/50.
Over on the website it explains that…
“ERA 50:50 wants to see women represented on screen, in television and theatre in equal numbers to men. Currently women are systemically under represented. This does not accurately represent our society. It distorts our view of the real world. Equal representation for Actresses, for Audiences, for All. Equal means 50:50.’
The site goes on to list the number of ways in which they’re attempting to achieve this goal, including preventing shows from being commissioned with an all-male writing team.
If a team does contain all males, the production staff are required to find some females in order to fill out the quota. Schuster writes…
“I changed the terms of the Social Partnership Agreement. When a show is commissioned or recommissioned, the Social Partnership form is issued with the production contract. From today, this is an additional term of the commission:
“Writing teams must aim towards 50:50 gender representation. The production will require commissioner sign off on the make up of the writing teams.
“In returning scripted commissions the production must demonstrate best endeavours to include female writers in the writing room.”
But it gets worse.
Not only are production staff required to aim for a 50/50 gender representation in the writing room, but producers are forced to network with female writers whether they want to or not, and – more importantly – whether the female writers are qualified or not.
The passage further down the page explains…
“We have created an independent database of female writers for producers to access. This consists of female writers with a minimum of one professional writing credit, whether from radio, television, theatre, film, short film or podcast. This database is free for producers to access, it is not ITV endorsed and it is for use no matter which broadcaster has commissioned the show that the producers might be hiring writers for.
“Regular, focussed networking events. We hold regular events where there is enforced networking. Producers have three ten minute introductory meetings with writers. This is the first step to broadening contacts. For more natural networking at our events, everyone wears a colour coded name badge (one colour for writers, one for producers, one for agents) so that at a glance it is possible to have meaningful conversations.”
The most obvious question is why women aren’t organically part of the writing teams? Well, the BBC did a quick bullet point on Schuster’s beliefs about what keeps women out of the television production business and it’s almost laughably disheartening how puerile the reasons are.
So basically men write more and therefore have more writing credits, so women feel they should be given opportunities with fewer credits to their name. There are also aren’t many producers who feel their content is worth putting on air, and they don’t seem to perform as well sociably in the writers’ room with mostly male counterparts.
All of this completely ignores the most obvious thing about producing comedy shows: if an audience doesn’t like the end product then it doesn’t matter how many penises you eviscerate in the writing room to achieve gender equality.
At the end of the day forcing more women into writers’ roles won’t instantly make the quality of the show go up. The main focus should be on seeking out quality writers who can bring a show to life with catchy jokes and storylines that resonates strongly with the audience and is capable of maintaining retention. But I suppose that’s asking for way too much these days, eh?
(Thanks for the news tip KrumpyOldGamer)