The major networks have revealed their 2012-13 primetime television schedules at this year's upfronts, so we now know that only a handful of the 96 pilots that were produced this year will debut as new series in the fall. Even though this is certainly bad news for many hopeful actors, directors, and writers, there is reason to believe that 2012 looks more promising for women in television.
Neely Swanson, an adjunct professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and former SVP of Development for David E. Kelly Productions, has analyzed each of the half-hour and hour-long comedy and drama pilots that were created for the networks this year, to determine whether female writers are finding more success than in past years. While gender inequality obviously remains, is it at least time for people to stop referring to the writers' room as a "boys' club?"
Overall, women were responsible for 32 percent of the pilots produced in 2012. According to Swanson, this is a decrease of three percent from the highs of 2011, but represents solid growth after 2010's low point of 20 percent.
Swanson points out that, conforming to an industry standard, these numbers include pilots from women writing alone, a woman writing with another woman, or a woman writing with a man. The data also includes pilots that have not been picked up to series, such as projects from Roseanne Barr, Sarah Silverman, and Rebel Wilson.
The CW, the smallest of the major networks, has consistently been a leader in its employment of female writers. For the last three years, about 50 percent of the CW's pilots have been written by women. NBC is also close to reaching gender equality, with females responsible for writing 42 percent of the peacock's 24 pilots. The ratio of women working on drama pilots increased 16 percent from 2011 to a total of 36 percent, while their participation in comedies dropped 12 percent since 2011 but remains close to 50 percent.
Meanwhile, 36 percent of ABC's 25 pilots were written by women, who were responsible for 42 percent of the network's comedy pilots and 31 percent of its dramas.
In a significant decrease from last year, female writers worked on only 24 percent of the 17 pilots produced for CBS, including 11 percent of the comedies and 38 percent of the dramas. FOX fared even worse in this analysis. Only 19 percent of FOX's 16 comedy and drama pilots were written by women, a decrease of 17 percent from last year. Yet at the same time, almost 50 percent of the pilots that 20th Television produced for all the networks were written by women.
Daniel Lehman is a staff writer at Back Stage. Follow him on Twitter: @byDanLehman