Saskia Schuster, the Controller for Comedy at the UK-based television network ITV, recently declared that she would no longer be commissioning comedy shows which featured all-male writers rooms.
Schuster made her declaration at the recent 2019 Channel 4 Diverse Festival, noting that she made this decision due to the “lack of shows written by women or with women on the writing teams.” Schuster also observed that an “awful lot of my comedy entertainment shows are made up of all-male writing teams” and that “too often the writing room is not sensitively run. It can be aggressive and slightly bullying.”
The new commissioning practice states that shows commissioned or recommissioned for the network must “aim towards 50:50 gender representation.”
Last year, Schuster launched the Comedy50/50 initiative “to address gender imbalance in comedy.” The initiative provides resources and hosts events for writers which work towards the express aim “that one day 50:50 [ratio of male-to-female writers] will be normal practice.” On the Comedy50/50 website, Schuster identified four reasons why female comedy writers allegedly struggle with their employment circumstances when compared to males:
“Female writers aren’t being hired onto writing teams because they can’t compete with male writers who commonly have accumulated more writing credits. This reflects the long standing culture of comedy being male dominated.
Female writers find it hard to find producers to work with who ‘get’ their voice and can thereby develop a script to its full potential. This reflects the difficulty of broadening personal networks and producer/writer relationships – partly relating back to the problem of not gaining enough writing credits to even get that first meeting.
Female writers often don’t thrive as the lone female voice in the writing room. Too often the writing room is not sensitively run, it can be aggressive and slightly bullying. There can all too often be a sense of tokenism towards the lone female. Or the dominant perception is that the female is there purely so the production can hit quotas. Many women don’t want to be or don’t enjoy being that lone female.
Producers often don’t know how to expand their circle of female writers with whom they work and many feel frustrated that they know only a small pool of talent upon which to draw.”
Schuster appears to be building on her experience with Comedy50/50 to achieve better representation at ITV, as she had begun instating similar gender-equality practices and terms specifically for potential new comedy programs in 2018:
“I changed the terms of the Social Partnership Agreement. When a show is commissioned or recommissioned, the Social Partnership form is issued with the production contract. From today, this is an additional term of the commission:
Writing teams must aim towards 50:50 gender representation. The production will require commissioner sign off on the make up of the writing teams.
In returning scripted commissions the production must demonstrate best endeavours to include female writers in the writing room.”
What do you make of Schuster’s new policy regarding all-male writers for comedy shows?