You may have noticed that the film industry is dominated by male directors and crew. (This is not our opinion, it’s an unfortunate fact). We don’t have the space to examine why this is, and really, there’s no hard and fast reason explaining the disparity. But on a better note, television is refreshingly topped up with female show creators, runners and support teams.
There are a number of cutting-edge series spearheaded by women, including BBC America’s forthcoming program Thirteen, created by Marnie Dickens, that we want to find out more about.
Particularly, we want to learn more about the women behind the projects:
1. Marnie Dickens
Marnie Dickens, 30, graduated from Oxford University with a degree in history. She worked her way up in TV from floor runner, to third director, to finally becoming the writer. Dickens recently talked about the ups and downs of getting her work made, saying in 2015, “Last year I had five scripts and it looked like they would all go, and then I watched them all fall away.” Yet Dickens had a smashing success with the dramatic thriller Thirteen, a story about a girl (Jodie Comer) who was abducted at age 13 and escaped 13 years later. The five-part series will air on BBC America beginning June 23. Dickens is now working on the screenplay for Forty Elephants, revolving around a gang of girls in 1920s London.
2. Shonda Rhimes
You may already know of Shonda Rhimes from her long-running hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Her production company Shondaland is credited with How to Get Away with Murder, which Viola Davis won the 2015 Best Actress Emmy for her role as Annalise Keating. Prior to her larger-than-life presence in TV, Rhimes wrote the 2002 film Crossroads and the 2004 sequel to The Princess Diaries. In 2003 she wrote a pilot about women in combat, but the project was shelved. Even so, she was invited by Disney-owned ABC Studios to write another script. She talked to Variety about a career-changing question she asked executives at ABC about the proposed pilot, which was, “What does [Disney CEO] Bob Iger want, what is he looking for?” Once she got her answer, she didn’t sacrifice her creative license, nor her integrity, but she now had focus. She held onto the same elements she had written into the combat script, which revolved around strong, smart women, but instead put her female protagonist in a hospital. Right now Rhimes is the force behind the new cat-and-mouse series The Catch, acting as executive producer.
3. Amy Sherman-Palladino
We can thank Amy Sherman-Palladino for seven years of Gilmore Girls, which aired from 2000 through 2007. The show revolved around a young single mother (Lauren Graham) and her daughter (Alexis Bledel), the two growing up together. And of course, Gilmore Girls was many viewers’ introduction to funny lady Melissa McCarthy as the uplifting best friend Sookie St. James. Sherman-Palladino is returning to TV: she has four new episodes of Gilmore Girls, premiering this coming winter on Netflix. Sherman-Palladino has some pull, with most of the original cast returning, including Graham, Bledel, McCarthy, Scott Paterson (Luke Danes), Keiko Agena (Lane Kim), Sean Gunn (Kirk Gleason), Kelly Bishop (Emily Gilmore), and Milo Ventimiglia (Jess Mariano). Sherman-Palladino talked to MTV in 2015 about women advancing in Hollywood, saying, “When you get a pilot on the air, you get handed a list of approved directors that comes from the network and studio. You get approved directors, and any one of these directors can direct your show. If there are no women on that list, and there’s usually not more than one, at least that’s been my experience, it’s going to be up to you to say, ’I need some chicks!'”
4. Melissa Rosenberg
Marvel’s Jessica Jones is the superhero we’ve been waiting for, and we owe her arrival to creator Melissa Rosenberg. Before making Netflix her home, Rosenberg had written for a number of shows, including programs like Party of Five, Ally McBeal and The O.C., all featuring strong heroines. More recently Rosenberg was a writer for Dexter, working on 11 episodes. When the second season of Jessica Jones was confirmed, Rosenberg talked to Variety about the impact the series is having on the bigger picture, saying, “There are just these wildly articulate insightful pieces being done about a feminist perspective, a political perspective, at a time where these subjects are getting some attention about women in Hollywood and women in the world, and how we’re portrayed in the media.”
5. Michelle Ashford
Masters of Sex is based in the 1950s and ’60s when women had a “place” and it was not in the workforce, for the most part. Michelle Ashford flipped that concept upside down, telling the story of real-life researcher Virginia Johnson and her work with Dr. William Masters in figuring out the human sex drive. She talked about writing about historical figures with the A.V. Club, saying, “Some of it is just instinct, but I did want it to be as accurate as humanly possible. I didn’t ever want to deviate from facts on the research.” Ashford has been working as a TV writer since the 1980s, with credits including Cagney and Lacey and 21 Jump Street. She’s now working on the miniseries Lewis and Clark, set for 2018. In 2015 Ashford talked to Fortune magazine about being one of the few women running a show, with only 14 women being included in this list of 50 showrunners, saying, “This whole idea of being a ‘woman showrunner’ is a weird thing to me, it’s so not how I approach it. I just see this un-doable job that somehow I have to do, and every day I just paddle as fast as I can to get through it. Thinking of the added pressure of doing it as a woman, I can’t even think of it that way.”
6. Courtney Kemp Agboh
Courtney Kemp Agboh was already a power player in the world of TV before creating the series Power. She wrote for high-profile series like The Bernie Mac Show and The Good Wife. Power, revolving around a club owner who doubles as a drug kingpin, is now heading into its third season. Agboh talked to The Source about creating and running her own show, saying, “I’ve never worked this hard in my whole life. It is an intense, 24-hour-a-day job. I’m very grateful, very humbled for the opportunity that not a lot of people have to create a television show that goes on the air. I didn’t have a pilot process with this show, it went straight to series. I learned a lot on the fly and still learning.”
7. Jenji Kohan
Jenji Kohan wrote for Mad About You, Sex and the City, and Tracey Takes On … in the 1990s. She continued writing for other series through the 2000s, but took the reigns of her own show in 2012, creating Weeds. She’s now about to launch the fourth season of the hugely popular Orange is the New Black, based on Piper Kerman‘s memoir about being imprisoned for money laundering and drug trafficking. Kohan talked to Collider about writing female leads, and she set the record straight, saying, “I don’t set out to write female lead shows, necessarily. I like deeply flawed characters. When they come to me, or when I’m introduced to them, I follow the stories and the people, rather than setting out to do a female lead thing.”
8. Jill Soloway
Jill Soloway has written for Six Feet Under, The United States of Tara and How to Make it America. She honed her skills in the writing room but pulled from her personal experiences when creating her own show. She talked to NPR’s Terry Gross about her father coming out as transgender and what a relief it finally was, saying writing about an older trans parent would be her “creative destiny.” And she did, bringing us Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor as a 70-year-old transgender woman coming out as to three grown children. Soloway talked to Time about the lack of women in Hollywood, saying, “I’m starting to think they (hiring executives) are starting to do it on purpose.” You can listen to the entire interview at Time.
9. Tina Fey
Tina Fey is a household name, and you more than likely know of her, but the list wouldn’t be complete without highlighting her accomplishments. Fey created and starred in 30 Rock as the affable Liz Lemon, also a TV writer. So many times we’d hear in the series, “Don’t be a Lemon.” Fey is no Lemon. Being a long-running writer and star on Saturday Night Live, Fey moved into screenwriting with the success of 2004’s Mean Girls. She’s now co-creator of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Fey doesn’t mince words when it comes to talking about women working in entertainment, but she does have hope, telling the fashion magazine Porter, “TV has always been kinder to women. It’s a tricky business. But the more women you can filter up the pipeline, the more women producing, the more women up the chain of deciders, the more independently financed movies will get made.”
10. Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro
Marti Noxon (left photo) got her start in TV writing working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She continued writing episodes for series like Brothers & Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy, and Mad Men. On the other hand, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro had a background in reality TV working as a producer for The Bachelor, which left Shapiro kind of wiped out. She headed to Portland to work in advertising. But she still kept writing and submitted a pilot script, with no agent, to Lifetime, and the pilot was green lit (which is very rare). Nixon and Shapiro didn’t know each other until Lifetime paired them up, and the rest is UnReal. The over-the-top ridiculousness of UnReal details what happens behind-the-scenes on a dating competition show, say … like The Bachelor? It follows two cutthroat TV producers, both women, and the high-energy programming they create. We’re so glad Lifetime put these two women in touch with each other.
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