British television network ITV will no longer greenlight comedy shows without female writers on staff, aiming to combat the boys’ club that pervades the world of comedy, where the storied “writers rooms” on sitcoms and late night shows often consist entirely or mostly of men.
“I won’t commission anything with an all-male writing team,” Saskia Schuster, ITV’s head of comedy, announced Monday, according to the BBC.
In addition, contracts for ITV shows will now contain a provision delineating that “writing teams must aim towards 50:50 gender representation.”
Schuster has also recently launched “Comedy 50:50,” an initiative aimed at connecting women to more opportunities in comedy and working toward gender parity.
She said that she began thinking about the issue last year, when she took a hard look at shows on her own network, and found that “an awful lot of my comedy entertainment shows are made up of all-male writing teams,” she wrote on Comedy 50:50′s website.
She similarly found dismal numbers for women among submissions for new shows.
“For every five scripts sent to me written by a man, I’d get one script written by a woman,” Schuster wrote. “Female writers aren’t being hired onto writing teams because they can’t compete with male writers who commonly have accumulated more writing credits. This reflects the long standing culture of comedy being male dominated.”
The problem is dramatized in the movie “Late Night,” currently in theaters, starring Emma Thompson as Katherine Newbury, a (rare) female late night host, and Mindy Kaling as Newbury’s lone female writer.
As part of the Comedy 50:50 initiative, Schuster has created a database of female comedy writers to counter excuses from male producers and executives who claim that “there aren’t any female writers [or] we don’t know where to find them,” she said Monday.
ITV, which produces the popular reality show “Love Island,” has recently shifted into drama shows, according to HuffPost UK, but airs a number of comedy shows on its sister network ITV2.
Schuster’s announcement will affect several of the network’s current shows with all-male writing staffs, including for the sitcom “Plebs,” where up-and-coming female writers will now shadow the two male writers on the show; and panel show “Celebability,” which recently hired writer and actress Brona C. Titley to join the staff.
Schuster stressed that the initiative is not simply aimed at hiring more women and “hitting quotas or targets as some form of box ticking exercise,” but also at changing the male-dominated culture of comedy.
“Female writers often don’t thrive as the lone female voice in the writing room. Too often the writing room is not sensitively run, it can be aggressive and slightly bullying,” she wrote. “There can all too often be a sense of tokenism towards the lone female. Or the dominant perception is that the female is there purely so the production can hit quotas. Many women don’t want to be or don’t enjoy being that lone female.”