Diversity in television writers’ rooms is lacking, particularly when it comes to representation among women and minority writers.
When it comes to age, however, turning 40 is not a roadblock to employment. When one hits 50, though, it may be more problematic.
A 2011 report by the Writers Guild of America, West, found the share of television employment for WGA members between 2005 and 2009 was pretty similar for writers ages 31-40 and 41-50, the two largest demographic groups found in writers’ rooms.
Between 2007 and 2009, writers ages 41-50 saw a 2% gain in their share of employment while the proportion of writers ages 31-40 fell by 1%. Writers over 51 saw their share of employment drop from 19% in 2007 to 17% in 2009.
“Considered in tandem, these findings suggest that the employment prospects of most writers peak between the ages of 41 and 50 and then begin to wane rather dramatically thereafter,” the WGA report states.
What the report doesn’t address is why. Nor does it consider whether the drop-off in older writers pertains more to comedy or drama series.
Clearly Hollywood’s youth obsession is something writers think about.
Some writers declined to comment on the record with one scribe saying, “I don’t want you to make me sound old.”
Craig Sweeny, exec producer of USA Network’s newest dramedy “Common Law,” says he has had long-term writing jobs on two other primetime series (“The 4400,” “Medium”) and he has been both the oldest and youngest writer in the room. He acknowledged a general perception that comedies may draw younger writers than dramas, in part, perhaps, because of the working hours.
“On some comedies they work routinely until 5 or 6 a.m. — an insane lifestyle — so people tend to get burned out,” Sweeny says. “But I’ve never had a meeting with a writer and then had someone turn to me after they left and say, ‘That person is too old.’ It’s more of a filtering bias. The people who tend to get sent out to you for jobs tend to be younger because agencies will be more apt to try to break a younger client.”
The rise in reality shows and the decline in comedies on broadcast networks over the past decade has sent experienced writers to cable with some landing at Disney Channel.
“We’ve been fortunate to get to work with people who worked on classic TV shows, some of the older TGIF shows like ‘Full House’ and ‘Family Matters,'” says Adam Bonnett, senior VP of original series at Disney Channels Worldwide.
“Writers from those shows might not be as attractive to a broadcast network, who may want someone who worked on ’30 Rock.’ For us, though, working on ‘Full House’ is a great credit to have. We don’t look down on writers who came from the TGIF camp because clearly ABC had a lot of success at that time with that programming block and now we’ve taken that over.”
Salaries for writers reflect the general gender found throughout the working world, the gap between men and women has slightly widened from 2007-09, based on a WGA study. Median earnings for women in 2009 were $98,600, compared to $108,000 for white males. This $9,400 gap was greater than the $5,109 gap in 2007.
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