NBC pushes to get fe­male di­rec­tors

The net­work launches a pro­gram to ex­pand the pool of women be­hind TV cam­eras.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Meg James and Yvonne Vil­lar­real

NBC is launch­ing a new, stepped-up pro­gram to get more fe­male di­rec­tors hired in tele­vi­sion.

The broad­cast net­work un­veiled its Fe­male For­ward ini­tia­tive Thurs­day at the Tele­vi­sion Crit­ics Assn. press tour in Bev­erly Hills. Its goal is to take a mean­ing­ful step to tackle a prob­lem that has been vex­ing Hol­ly­wood for years: how to in­crease the pool of fe­male di­rec­tors who des­per­ately want, and need, valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind the cam­era.

“We are con­stantly try­ing to find more fe­male di­rec­tors, and we asked our­selves, ‘What are we do­ing that is dif­fer­ent and bold?’ ” NBC Pres­i­dent Jen­nifer Salke told The Times. “I said, ‘Let’s just put our money where our mouth is.’ ”

The pro­gram is de­signed to give 10 fe­male di­rec­tors the op­por­tu­nity to shadow an­other di­rec­tor on as many as three episodes of an NBC se­ries. As the men­tor­ship is wind­ing down, each woman will have an op­por­tu­nity to di­rect at least one episode of the se­ries she has been shad­ow­ing.

The pro­gram comes on the heels of a sim­i­lar ef­fort at FX by pro­ducer Ryan Mur­phy, whom Salke worked with when she was an ex­ec­u­tive at 20th Cen­tury Fox Tele­vi­sion. Salke said she found in­spi­ra­tion in Mur­phy’s ef­forts. Salke also said NBC ex­ec­u­tives were frus­trated dur­ing pi­lot sea­son when they kept los­ing the pre­cious few fe­male di­rec­tors with ex­pe­ri­ence di­rect­ing pi­lots. The pool, she said, was just too small.

“We need to get peo­ple in the pipe­line fast,” she said, adding that the com­mit­ment would be to work with 10 fe­male di­rec­tors a year. “Imag­ine over three years, that will be at least 30 new fe­male di­rec­tors.”

Salke turned to Lesli Linka Glat­ter, one of the in­dus­try’s most suc­cess­ful episodic TV se­ries di­rec­tors — she has worked on “Home­land” and “Mad Men”— to spear­head the pro­gram.

Linka Glat­ter, who is di­rect­ing two episodes of the lim­ited se­ries “Law & Order: True Crime — The Me­nen­dez Mur­ders,” said Salke called her ear­lier in the week.

“I have been men­tor­ing fe­male di­rec­tors for years,” Linka Glat­ter said. “And I feel that if you are in a po­si­tion to, then you need to grab the hand of the next gen­er­a­tion. That’s what you have to do.”

Salke, in an of­fi­cial re­lease on the pro­gram, said it had been an “ur­gent goal” of NBC’s to iden­tify more fe­male di­rec­tors.

The push will be­gin with the 2018-19 sea­son on 10 NBC se­ries, with a goal of in­creas­ing the num­ber of fe­male di­rec­tors and par­tic­i­pat­ing shows in sub­se­quent years.

“It shouldn’t be harder for our daugh­ters to di­rect than for our sons. It should be an equal play­ing field,” Linka Glat­ter said. “A pro­gram like this is a game changer, and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”

Linka Glat­ter has long been an ad­vo­cate in the ef­forts to close the gap on the pool of work­ing fe­male di­rec­tors — and on her own had al­ready been giv­ing fe­male di­rec­tors op­por­tu­ni­ties to shadow her on shows, in­clud­ing “Home­land.”

“It has not hurt my ca­reer,” Linka Glat­ter told a small group of re­porters. “It has been joy­ful for me, and this is now a big topic of dis­cus­sion, as it should be. I feel so strongly about it.”

The ini­tia­tive joins the grow­ing push, mostly spear­headed by showrun­ners, of staffing se­ries with more fe­male di­rec­tors — among them OWN’s “Queen Sugar,” FX’s “Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story,” Ama­zon’s “Trans­par­ent” and Net­flix’s “Jes­sica Jones.”

And, to be sure, there is more work to be done. Only 17% of all episodes on broad­cast, ca­ble and stream­ing net­works were fe­male-di­rected, with mi­nor­ity women ac­count­ing for a puny 3%, ac­cord­ing to 2016 Di­rec­tors Guild sta­tis­tics.

A San Diego State study by Martha M. Lauzen found that the film in­dus­try is even more lim­it­ing. In 2016, only 7% of films were helmed by women. TV has been slightly bet­ter be­cause there are more projects, but in­sti­tu­tional chal­lenges re­main.

A sep­a­rate San Diego State re­port by Lauzen found that while broad­cast tele­vi­sion had the best record in the in­dus­try — with 26% of women in prom­i­nent roles be­hind the cam­era in 2015-2016, that per­cent­age has been stag­nant.

“The em­ploy­ment of women work­ing in key be­hind-the-scenes po­si­tions on broad­cast net­work pro­grams has stalled, with no mean­ing­ful progress over the last decade,” Lauzen wrote in her 2016 re­port “Boxed In,” con­ducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Tele­vi­sion & Film at San Diego State.

NBC En­ter­tain­ment Chair­man Robert Green­blatt said the ini­tia­tive was de­signed to build off an ex­ist­ing pro­gram. The dif­fer­ence, he said, is that the new pro­gram will guar­an­tee episodes that the women can di­rect on their own.

Green­blatt said the prob­lem wasn’t that TV net­work ex­ec­u­tives were op­posed to giv­ing women op­por­tu­ni­ties. Rather, it was a case of in­er­tia. “Every­one has just been lazy,” he said. “It’s not like there have been con­scious de­ci­sions to ‘keep women out of it.’ Fewer women are in the pipe­lines, and even fewer get the op­por­tu­ni­ties. We just say, ‘Oh, yeah, hire those male di­rec­tors whom we know and have worked with.’ ”

In this arena, chang­ing at­ti­tudes have just come too slowly, said Linka Glat­ter.

“You al­ways hear that there are just not enough di­rec­tors, and that’s just not true,” she said. “There are amaz­ing women di­rec­tors — and di­verse di­rec­tors, and it only helps sto­ry­telling to get a broader view of the world.”

Jen­nifer S. Alt­man For The Times

DI­REC­TOR Lesli Linka Glat­ter says, “It shouldn’t be harder for our daugh­ters to di­rect than for our sons.”

David Liv­ingston Getty Images

NBC’S Jen­nifer Salke: Push an “ur­gent goal.”

Fred­er­ick M. Brown Getty Images

RYAN MUR­PHY among pro­duc­ers lead­ing way.

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