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Women Writers and Pilot Pickups: By the Numbers

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For the past three years the lovely folks over at Deadline Hollywood have crunched some numbers and given us an overview of how women writers fared during pilot season. Since 2010 there has been a 12 percent jump in the number of pilots written by women that are picked up. Unfortunately, those numbers weren't very high in the first place. The following table summarizes the statistics from the past three years:

2010 2011 2012
Overall 20% 35% 32%
CW 50% 50% 50%
NBC 19% 41% 42%
ABC 36% 28% 36%
CBS 21% 36% 24%
FOX -- 36% 19%
 

It's comforting to see an upward trend across the board but the drastic differences between the networks highlight the bias that still exists today. Also, it's important to note that these numbers are for overall women writers, which includes women writing alone, on a writing team with another women, or a man. When we look at pilots written solely by women, the numbers get even smaller. This begs the question of why there seems to be a glass ceiling for women and whether it will disappear in the upcoming years. In Deadline's 2010 article "Women Can't Create, White Men Can't Jump" Neely Swanson shared a comment from a former showrunner who said, "Here's the reality. If you have seven writing slots, there will be roughly 400 writers to read. Of those 400, only 50 will be women." Swanson argued against that numbers in previous years, while low, weren't so low as to support this theory.

The 2011 increase in women writers' pilots being picked up was emphasized by an influx of what I'll call lady-centric comedies (Whitney, Are You There, Chelsea?, New Girl, Up All Night). The network touted their female creators and many of these shows achieve critical success and solid ratings. The popularity of the genre mirroring the success of women pilot writers suggests this may have been a case of more women stepping up during pilot season or a genre carrying female writers. However, this year's relative stability in the number of pilots by women picked up proves that women writers are carving a place out for themselves.

In Swanson's article 'How Did Women Pilot Writers Fare For 2012?' she talks about making an effort to be "gender blind." With the CW steady at 50 percent and NBC increasing 23 percent in the past three years, this goal seems achievable. On the whole these statistics point in the direction of a less biased future -- especially considering that this year women wrote around 45 percent of comedy pilots. Of course not every pilot written by a woman will be picked up (RIP Susan 313), but women are garnering more attention for their work in television and their presence will only continue to grow in upcoming years.

Chelsea Marotta recently graduated from the College of William and Mary. She is a writer, comedian, and a daytime bartender. In her spare time she runs this webcomic.