Because I’m Late In Discussing Everything

This article on female TV writers by Gayle MacDonald provoked some controversy, but others seemed to like it and I did too.

I think that while women screenwriters are nothing new or unusual, they’re still very much worth profiling precisely because there’s still a lot of confusion over the position of women in television writing: are they there to write “women’s shows,” or is good writing gender-neutral? The article goes back and forth between the two ideas, sometimes talking as if women are particularly good at shows for/about women, other times as if women and write men and men can write women and everybody can write everything — but that’s because the two ideas are still both very much in play.

Also, because writers’ rooms are not known for being the most enlightened places on earth (particularly on comedy shows, where everybody is supposed to be funny all the time and nobody filters out anything), there are particular challenges that women face in that environment. There used to be a piece online that isn’t up any more, by Lynne Farr, the wife and writing partner of comedy writer Gordon Farr, who talked about her experience being hired to write for The Bob Newhart Show by showrunner Jay Tarses. Among the first words he said to her were “great tits.” He was a great boss, she said, and taught her a lot about writing and was open to feminist viewpoints being expressed on the show, but he was, as the title of the piece put it, her “sexist role model.” It was his nature to be as off-putting and offensive as he could get away with to everybody, not just women, but a man acting like that to a woman is quite different — and more borderline abusive — than acting like that to another man.

As to whether there is a specific “women’s” perspective that female showrunners bring to a show, it’s obviously a case-by-case thing. There have always been some female writers who specialize in creating shows from a woman’s perspective, like Amy Sherman-Palladino, Susan Harris (The Golden Girls) and Shonda Rhimes. That’s not to say they can’t create shows about men, just that they have a specialty and women’s stories are what the networks call them in to pitch. Then there are female showrunners who aren’t considered specialists in writing for women, though they certainly can and do; Carol Mendelsohn is the showrunner of CSI and is thought of primarily as an action/crime writer because that’s what she’s been writing for most of her career. As she said in an interview, she couldn’t even get a job writing for shows about women:

It became very difficult in my career to even get a job on shows that were about women! Because for so long in my writing career, I wrote action/adventure/thriller kind of TV shows and back then, you got pegged as one thing. I would hear, “She can write action, but can she write for women?” And people would say no, but my agent would always say, “But she is a woman!” But that didn’t seem to convince anybody, which doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the way it is.

So I guess the conclusion is that writers are typecast more based on their résumé than their gender.

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