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WGA West Report Shows Diversity Still Lacking in TV Writing

Slight gains registered for women, minorities; scribes over 40 see increases

Diversity among Hollywood’s TV writers falls short of reflecting the actual demographics of the U.S. population, a study from the Writers Guild of America West shows.

The findings were unveiled Tuesday by UCLA professor Darnell Hunt in a news conference at the WGA West headquarters in Hollywood. It was fifth time that Hunt, director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, has been commissioned by the guild to write the report since 2005.

“It all begins with the writing,” Hunt said. “From concept to characters, from plot to narrative, writers play a fundamental role in the fashioning of stories a society circulates about itself. But in the Hollywood entertainment industry, unfortunately, there has all too often existed a disconnect between the writers hired to tell the stories and an America that’s increasingly diverse with each passing day.”

Hunt said that execs who make hiring decisions tend to opt for writers they already know and are comfortable working with.

“That tends to be white males,” he added.  “It’s a tough cycle to break.”

The report — analyzing a 1,722 writers working on 190 shows during the 2011-12 season — showed that women writers’ share of employment on TV staffs has increased from 25% in 1999-2000 to 30.5% in 2011-2012.

“At this rate of increase, it would be another 42 years before women reach proportionate representation in TV staff employment,” Hunt added.

The study also showed:

— Minority staffing increased from 7.5% in 1999-2000 to 15.6% in 2011-12.

— Women were under-represented by more than 2-to-1 in the executive producer ranks while minorities were under-represented by nearly 5 to 1.

— 10% of TV shows in the 2011-12 season had no female writers and nearly a third had no minority writers.

— Only 24% of pilots during the 2010-11 season had at least one women writer attached and only 9% had a minority writer attached.

The study showed a positive development for writers over 40 years old, who claimed a majority of TV staff posts in 2011-12 at 55.6%. That number was 39.9% in the 1999-2000 season.

The Simpsons” led the way with the highest number of writers over 40 — 16 of 21. Shows with a majority of women writers included “90210,” “The Big C,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Single Ladies” and “Unforgettable”; shows with a majority of minority scribes included “The Game,” “Reed Between the Line” and “Single Ladies.”

“Despite a few pockets of promise, much more work must be done on the television diversity front before the corps of writers telling our stories look significantly more like us as a nation,” Hunt said.

WGA West President Christpher Keyser introduced Hunt by saying, “We cannot tell the whole story if only half of us write it.’

The event also recognized 10 writers who submitted scripts as part of its four-year-old Writers Access Project. The guild will showcase the scripts,  judged by writers including Glen Mazzara (“The Walking Dead”), Alfredo Barrios Jr. (“Burn Notice”) and Elaine Ko (“Modern Family”), on the www.wga.org web site.

The honorees for comedy are Michael DiGaetano, Joey Manderino, Joseph Neustein and Lena Waithe. Drama honorees are Sherry Carnes, Dawn Comer Jefferson, Margaux Froley, Geetika Lizardi, Leslie Valdes and Thomas Wong.

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