Tag Archives: scott & bailey

Where Are All The Heroines On TV?

atlantis with titleI’ve been enjoying Atlantis with my kids and both my son and daughter love it. They like the humour, the emotional drama, the action and the adventure. But I was sitting there wondering, what sort of message does this send my daughter? The female characters are either passive love interest or evil. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against an all male lead cast. It’s great to see male friendships on screen and the stories are fantastic. But when it replaces Merlin (also centred around two male characters) and is followed immediately by a trailer for The Musketeers (need I say more?), it does make you wonder, where the heck is the new Buffy? Have I really got to go back ten years (before my daughter was even born) to find an action heroine on my tv screen?

buffyI know, you’re going to tell me that there are plenty of all-female shows. Call the Midwife is a brilliant show and I’m as big a fan as anyone else, but when it comes to genres other than drama (action, adventure, fantasy, science-fiction, thriller) the women are almost absent.  Valuing caring is hugely important; it’s a trait massively undervalued in our society, but that’s for another time. But not every girl wants to be a nurse. Where are the role models on screen, those lead characters, driving a show, that offer something different?

I appreciate that the genres I’m talking about only account for a small percentage of our tv drama output. So maybe female protagonists fare better in the genre that dominates our original drama; crime. Whether it’s gentle puzzle-solving or dark thrillers, our appetite for crime drama is huge. But even here, where there is no earthly reason for there not to be a 50/50 split of shows with a female lead and shows with a male lead, the men outnumber the woman 2:1. Here are the original crime dramas from the main UK broadcasters in 2013:

Male led crime dramas: Sherlock, Ripper Street, Luther, Death in Paradise, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Poirot, Endeavour, Lewis, Shetland, Whitechapel, Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, Jonathan Creek, By Any Means, Murder on the Homefront. 

Female led crime dramas: Vera, Scott & Bailey, Marple, Silent Witness, Field of Blood , The Guilty

I’ve not included the brilliant Broadchurch because I honestly felt that the lead was split between the two detectives; one male, one female.

So where’s it all going wrong? Are female-led shows being developed but just not getting the green light? It’s possible, though in my experience producers aren’t being offered those shows. Whether I’m part of an in-house development team getting scripts from the most experienced writers, or through Script Angel reading spec scripts from the next generation of screenwriters, the vast majority of scripts I see conform to the stereotype – the dramas (emotional) are dominated by female characters and the genre shows are dominated by male characters.

So what’s the answer? Maybe producers need to get more pro-active; seeking out or specifically asking for shows that challenge that. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to you guys, the screenwriters.  We need to change the diet on offer to producers and commissioners to force them to redress the balance. 

The under-representation of woman in genre television isn’t of course the only problem. Our representations of  minority groups (sexual orientation, religion, colour) are woeful. It’s often argued that audiences prefer to see white heterosexual male leads  but that, quite frankly, is bs. As Scott & Bailey has proved for female lead characters, Luther proves that a black lead doesn’t cause the world to end or even audiences to switch off in horror. If you encounter that argument – ignore it! Audiences predominantly watch white male leads because THAT’S ALL THEY’RE BEING OFFERED.

Since woman make up half the population, why on earth are they not also the lead in half the genre shows on television?  Whenever questions of under-representation arise, one of the suggested solutions is to write ‘blind’. By that I mean, create a rounded character that is defined by their personality and then decide their gender, ethnic background and sexual orientation. Whatever the means by which screenwriters create their original shows, my plea is for more female characters in genre shows now.

Calling the shots on more than just Call The Midwife

call the midwife cyclingAn all-female directing line-up shouldn’t make headlines.

As it enters production on series three, Call The Midwife has been making headlines, both here and in the US. The reason?

Every director on the series will be a woman. Although this is said to be by happy accident rather than design, helped in no small part by the intimately female subject matter, it does raise the question: why is this so unusual?

It’s not without precedent – the third series of Scott and Bailey beat Midwife to it – but it’s far too early to say the tide has turned. As I look across the current drama landscape, it’s clear that these two shows are indeed news-worthy because all-male directing line-ups are still the norm.

I knew back in 2009 that the television directing landscape was male-dominated. Working on Blue Murder for ITV Studios, I did a huge trawl of directing talent working in the industry. Of the 140 names I had, only 16 were women, a paltry 11%.

I’d assumed that since then things had improved. But recent research by Directors UK found that the number of women directors in UK drama has dropped significantly in the past five years. In the US, the Directors Guild of America revealed that in 2011/12, only 15% of scripted television episodes were directed by women.

Recent big dramas such as Broadchurch, Ripper Street, Death In Paradise, Luther, DCI Banks, Prisoners’ Wives and Mr Selfridge clocked up 112 hours between them, hiring 29 directors. All were men. The continuing drama series don’t fare much better: women make up 18% of the directors on Holby City, 17% on Casualty and 13% on Waterloo Road.

Organisations like Women in Film & Television do much to give the issue profile but we need more research if we’re to start tackling this dearth. Thankfully, there is progress here. Directors UK formed the Women’s Working Group, chaired by Beryl Richards, which has been able to mine broadcasters’ annual residuals data to track the gender split. Kate Harwood, BBC’s head of drama production, England, has shown her support.

While active encouragement into the industry is to be applauded, is there a lack of women pursuing directing as a career? Or are we just not hiring those that are emerging?

The evidence from the UK’s film industry, where female directing talent is similarly underrepresented, suggests that women are setting off on the path to a directing career.

Briony Hanson, director of film at the British Council, notes that at film schools and among short filmmakers, there are as many women as men. Then suddenly they disappear.

It’s the men who go on to make their first feature film and break into television drama directing, becoming the next generation of film and television directors.

The BBC is undertaking a study of hiring practices in BBC drama to determine why it seems so difficult to get a drama directing job if you’re a woman. It’ll be interesting to see what issues the research reveals. Hopefully, we can then take steps to help those talented female directors not just to break into the industry but to sustain successful careers as directors.

Article written for and first published in Broadcast 20 June 2013