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Female TV Writers in Britain Demand Better Shot at Top Series

A group of 76 female TV writers has sent an open letter to drama commissioners in Britain, asking that women be given greater opportunities to write, and write for, the biggest shows.

The letter, published on British TV news site Broadcast, said a tradition had emerged in recent years whereby female writers issue a collective “howl of pain and frustration” when British broadcasters unveil scripted slates dominated by male-written dramas. “A list of projects full of promise: some will become new favorites, some will be flops and some will mysteriously never quite make it to the screen. But, without fail, they will overwhelmingly be written by men,” the letter said.

On the same day that the new female CEO of ITV, Carolyn McCall, talked about plans for a “strategic refresh” at Britain’s largest commercial broadcaster, the writers took aim at her company, noting that less than 10% of its 2018 drama slate is expec come from women writers. “Perhaps you can now understand our rage? Less than 10%,” the letter said.

Female-led project such as “Call the Midwife,” from Heidi Thomas; the recent “Little Women,” an adaptation from the same writer; and Amanda Coe’s “Apple Tree Yard” have come through, but remain thin on the ground in the U.K. The letter noted that there is a deep bench of female writing talent in Britain but that women struggle to break out of working on soap operas and to break into the big franchises.

“They do not seem to be ‘graduating’ onto next-level shows where they could develop their skills further and raise their profiles. Flagship shows like the BBC’s ‘Silent Witness,’ which has employed only five female writers during its 20-year run. Or ‘Doctor Who,’ which managed to go five series without an episode written by a woman,” the letter said.

“We know that there are plenty of female-led projects on your development slates. And yet very few of these shows are making it into production,” the letter added. “The gap between being commissioned and being produced seems disproportionately large when it comes to women’s work. And we’d really love to know why.”

The signatories cited Sally Wainwright’s “Happy Valley” as a female-written ratings hit. It also acknowledged that progress has been made in terms of putting female characters and stories on screen. “It is encouraging that many of the new ITV dramas have female characters front and center. It is great to see that women’s stories are now being told. It’s just that we feel we might be better qualified to tell our own stories,” said the letter, which was signed off with: “Yours in confusion and anger.”

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