Gains for Women in TV Come Slowly

Sep 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The percentage of women writing for television hit an all-time high last year, while the number of female editors hit a low point, according to the most recent results of an annual survey that randomly examines one episode of every prime-time drama and situation comedy on the six major broadcast networks.

The percentage of women credited as writers on the shows survey jumped to 31 percent from 27 percent last year and 19 percent in the 2001-02 season. At the same time, the number of women editing fell to 10 percent, which is half what it was in a survey done two seasons ago.

Even with these highs and lows, the overall number of women working behind the scenes on TV shows-including prime-time broadcast creators, executive producers, producers, directors, editors and directors of photography-was 23 percent. That has remained virtually the same for the six years the study has been done by Dr. Martha Lauzen, a professor in the School of Communications at San Diego State University.

“What is surprising to me is how remarkably stable the numbers have remained,” Dr. Lauzen said of her analysis-“Boxed In: Women on Screen and Behind the Scenes in the 2003-2004 Prime-Time Season.”

Despite the continued gender imbalance, Dr. Lauzen was not completely pessimistic, “It’s comforting to see that when women are behind the scenes they do make a difference.”

Dr. Lauzen began studying women in film and TV a decade ago, saying she has “always been a media junkie” and “heard that things were getting better for women on-screen.” She said, “I started watching the credits and I just didn’t see it.”

On-screen, while male characters outnumber females 60 percent to 40 percent, males make up 74 percent of all characters in their 50s and 78 percent of those in their 60s. “Once women hit the age of 40 they drop off the prime-time planet,” Dr. Lauzen said, “and if they do get roles, they’re mothers.”

Male characters on screen were also more likely to hold roles as leaders. For example, 100 percent of characters holding political office in the episodes reviewed were male.

“Women were more likely to be identified by their marital status, and males were more likely to be identified by their occupational status,” Dr. Lauzen said.