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Women Reach Historic Highs in On-Screen, Behind the Scenes TV Roles

The number of women in speaking roles on television hit a new high in 2018-2019, as did the number of women working behind the camera.

According to the 22nd annual Boxed In report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, female characters comprised 45% of all speaking characters across comedies, dramas, and reality shows on broadcast, cable, and streaming. That is up from 40% in 2017-2018. In addition, the percentage of major female characters increased by the same amount year.

Off-screen, 31% of all creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and directors of photography in television were women, beating the previous high of 28% set in 2016-2017.

“It is heartening to see moderate but widespread gains for female characters and women working behind the scenes this year, but we need to consider the numbers within the larger context of women’s employment in television,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center. “In 2018-19, women comprised 26% of directors. This is a historic high, up from 17% in 2017-18. However, men continue to direct the vast majority of programs. In this context, ‘historic high’ still means that men outnumber women 3 to 1 in this role.”

The report also found that 96% of the programs considered had no women directors of photography, 79% had no women directors, 77% had no women editors, and 77% had no women creators. But the number of female creators and executive producers ticked up from the previous year. The number of female creators increased to 25%, up from 22% in 2017-2018. The number of female executive producers rose from 26% to 30% in the same time frame.

In 2018-19, the study tracked over 5,100 characters and more than 5,000 behind-the-scenes credits. The study
considers one randomly selected episode of series appearing on the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW),
basic cable channels (A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, Bravo, Discovery, Disney, E, Freeform, FX, HGTV, History, Nickelodeon, TBS, TLC, TNT, USA), premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime), and streaming services (Amazon, Hulu, Netflix).

Over the last 22 years, the study has monitored over 43,000 characters and more than 55,000 behind-the-scenes credits.

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