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.”

More TV

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    What 'The Office' Shifting Platforms Means for Netflix (Column)

    The most important television show of this unusual moment may just be one whose last new episode aired in 2013. “The Office” was, in its first life in the U.S., a beloved workplace comedy (based on a British series) that ran for nine seasons on NBC. In its protracted afterlife, though, it was known to [...]

  • Adam Scott Calls Out Mitch McConnell's

    Adam Scott Calls Out Mitch McConnell's Social Media Team for Using His Image on Twitter

    Adam Scott took to social media on Wednesday to tell Mitch McConnell’s reps not to use his image after the politician’s social media team tweeted a “Parks and Recreation” gif featuring Scott. “Dear Mitch McConnell & all those representing him, please refrain from using my image in support of anything but your own stunning [and] [...]

  • Riz Ahmed

    'Lives Are Quite Literally at Stake': Riz Ahmed on Seeing More Muslims On Screen

    Art can provoke feeling, but its impact has limitations in the face of legal and systemic oppression, said Riz Ahmed, the activist and actor known for “The OA,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “The Night Of,” onstage at the CAA Amplify conference in Ojai on Tuesday, calling for the high-powered industry execs, talent, [...]

  • Discovery Corporate New Logo

    Discovery Faces Backlash From Unscripted Producers After Shift in Series Payment Process

    Discovery Inc. is facing a backlash from the unscripted production community following a shift in the cable giant’s protocol for paying for programming. During the past year, Discovery has implemented a new system that calls for the company to pay producers for shows after all episodes and related material for a given season have been [...]

  • "The Curse of Cleopatra - Parts

    'Blood & Treasure' Renewed for Season 2 at CBS

    The CBS summer adventure series “Blood & Treasure” has been renewed for a second season. In the series, Danny McNamara (Matt Barr) is a former FBI agent specializing in stolen arts and antiquities. Lexi Vaziri (Sofia Pernas) is a resourceful art thief who is haunted by the tragic loss of her father, which she blames [...]

  • Side-Games-1

    Spectrum Originals Picks up Soccer Drama ‘Side Games’ for U.S. Distribution

    Charter Communications’ OTT service Spectrum Originals has reached a deal with Spain’s The Mediapro Studio for the U.S. rights to its popular series “Todo por el Juego,” (“Side Games”). The series will debut in the States on July 15. The Mediapro Studio produced the series, which was developed by popular Argentine screenwriter Eduardo Sacheri, a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content