By Alexis Nedd
One British TV channel has taken a step towards eliminating the standing trend of all-male comedy writers’ rooms by outright requiring women writers on all submitted projects.
ITV Comedy Controller Saskia Schuster announced the policy change at the Channel 4 Diverse Festival, an event dedicated to improving representation in TV and film, as an extension of her recently founded Comedy 50:50 initiative.
Schuster created Comedy 50:50 in response to the lack of women writers on the shows she’s previously produced for ITV and in the industry overall. The tenets of her initiative, which extend to ITV’s new contract process, require creators to have or prove an earnest effort towards creating a 50/50 gender balance in their writers’ rooms. In addition to that contractual requirement, Comedy 50:50 hosts a database of women writers who have at least one writing credit or an agent, for producers to peruse and discover underrepresented talent.
ITV is the first network to require gender parity in any format, but comedy in particular is a difficult world for many women writers to break into. Many writing staffs have no or one woman in the room, which Schuster wrote “can be aggressive and slightly bullying.” Comedy 50:50 will also host networking events, encourage one-on-one conversations between producers and women writers, allow for shadowing for aspiring women writers, and host workshops to better the channel’s creative representation.
In a statement on the Comedy 50:50 website, Schuster mentions the case of BBC 4’s The News Quiz, a program that has an even gender split of panelists for every episode. When she realized that Miles Jupp, who hosted the show between 2015 and early 2019, only accepted the hosting job on the condition that half of the panelists would be women, she realized her own power as a producer to move that dial in the realm of comedy.
The Comedy 50:50 statement mentions that there is still a long way to go for women in comedy and admits that this initiative “[hasn’t] even mentioned female directors or crew,” but the new contract requirements should at least get the ball rolling for producers and creators, who no longer have an excuse to ignore the thousands of funny, talented women who haven’t yet had their chance to get their foot in the door and their scripts on TV.