In­clu­sion Im­pact Re­port

Studios and net­works prep di­verse mix of tal­ent with di­rect­ing, writ­ing pro­grams

Variety - - Contents - Story by WHIT­NEY FRIED­LAN­DER

HOL­LY­WOOD IS WELL aware that di­ver­sity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion are es­sen­tial parts of putting to­gether a tele­vi­sion writ­ers’ room when it comes to both well-rounded sto­ry­telling and good, old- fash­ioned op­tics. Re­cent years have shown that one of the most pop­u­lar ways to do this is start ’em early: most ev­ery net­work and stu­dio has a work­shop, lab or fel­low­ship ex­pressly aimed at hon­ing the tal­ents of bud­ding TV writ­ers.

So just how suc­cess­ful are they? While none can prom­ise im­me­di­ate em­ploy­ment to en­try-level writ­ers who com­plete their pro­grams, the odds of land­ing that first staff job af­ter grad­u­a­tion or dur­ing the course of these work­shops seem quite good com­pared to those who don’t en­roll in such a pro­gram.

Raamla Mo­hamed says she started her fel­low­ship with the Dis­ney | ABC Writ­ing Pro­gram — the only stu­dio or net­work pro­gram that pays — with $6 in her bank ac­count. She now has an over­all deal with ABC Studios.

Keto Shimizu says NBC’S Writ­ers on the Verge pro­gram “was ab­so­lutely my big break.” Karen Horne, the se­nior VP of pro­gram­ming tal­ent de­vel­op­ment & in­clu­sion for NBC En­ter­tain­ment and Uni­ver­sal Tele­vi­sion Studios, knew she was a die-hard su­per­hero fan and be­came what Shimizu de­scribes as “re­lent­less” about get­ting her a meet­ing on thenNBC Bat­man se­ries “The Cape.” Shimizu’s now an exec pro­ducer on the CW’S “DC’S Leg­ends of To­mor­row.” (Not every­one is so

The orig­i­nal in­tent was to change the land­scape of what staffs look like.”

Jeanne Mau

for­tu­nate, Horne ref­er­ences writer Britt Matt, who was three years out of Writ­ers on the Verge be­fore she got staffed at both NBC’S “Mar­lon” and “A. P. Bio”).

And while not all of these pro­grams specif­i­cally pick can­di­dates from un­der­rep­re­sented com­mu­ni­ties, they do tend to fill the ma­jor­ity of the spots — a game- changer for those nor­mally on the other side of things.

“I was the only white male in [my] pro­gram, which was a fan­tas­ti­cally en­light­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Chris Masi, a grad­u­ate of NBC’S Writ­ers on the Verge. He’s con­tin­ued to en­counter sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions with his staff jobs on BET’S “Be­ing Mary Jane” and Fox’s “Star” — where he’s worked with writ­ers, and cre­ated char­ac­ters, who don’t come with his back­ground and serve as re­minders to him that “my ref­er­ences aren’t like this mono­lithic de­ci­sion on what’s good and what’s bad.”

Masi, like most, ap­plied sev­eral times to sev­eral dif­fer­ent writ­ers pro­grams. En­trance to all of them is, not sur­pris­ingly, ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive and re­quires a good deal of pa­tience and an in­ner be­lief that there’s al­ways next time. Although the pro­grams are not uni­form in in­struc­tion, they do come with the ex­pec­ta­tion that ap­pli­cants al­ready pos­sess the gift of prose.

“The orig­i­nal in­tent was to change the land­scape of what staffs look like [and] in the past three or four years, it’s re­ally about teach­ing our writ­ers the busi­ness of tele­vi­sion,” says Jeanne Mau, CBS’ vice pres­i­dent of en­ter­tain­ment di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion who over­sees its Writ­ers Men­tor­ing Pro­gram.

They also re­quire some brand aware­ness. Or, as Kelly Ed­wards, HBO VP of tal­ent de­vel­op­ment who over­sees the Hboac­cess Writ­ing & Di­rect­ing Fel­low­ships, puts it: “If they want to write for kids’ pro­grams, then we can’t nec­es­sar­ily help them.”

Still, as utopic as they sound, these pro­grams are by no means per­fect. Mau says that her “big­gest fo­cus is re­ten­tion; how do you get in a room and stay in a room” be­cause “the main in­tent is to ul­ti­mately build showrun­ners.”

Fox Writ­ers Lab grad Yasemin Yil­maz says she feels “once you’re out of the pro­gram, es­pe­cially af­ter a year or two, you’re ex­pected to kind of go off on your own.”

Rayna Mcclen­don, who was part of NBC’S Writ­ers on the Verge, brings up the ele­phant in the room: “they’re try­ing to do Band-aid work be­cause that all changes when you get in the room.”

She’s not alone in feel­ing this.

“I think these pro­grams could im­prove on stan­dards for how that staff writer is to be uti­lized,” says ven­er­a­ble pro­ducer and showrun­ner Glen Maz­zara, who has spo­ken at sev­eral work­shops and hired grad­u­ates of these pro­grams. He adds that “one of the big prob­lems we’re hav­ing in the in­dus­try is that studios and net­works are afraid to di­rect their showrun­ners on how to ap­pro­pri­ately man­age their staff when it comes the ques­tion of gen­der and race.”

Maz­zara says he’s heard of di­ver­sity hires — a term, he stresses, that has not uni­formly been de­fined by Hol­ly­wood — who start later in the show’s run than the rest of the room or

are passed over for script as­sign­ments.

At the end of the sea­son, they could also be de­nied the all-im­por­tant pro­mo­tion from staff writer to story editor; a fi­nan­cial hit, as this takes away their chances of re­ceiv­ing a script fee if they do write an episode. Or they could not be asked back at all.

Tim Mc­neal, ABC’S vp of cre­ative tal­ent de­vel­op­ment and in­clu­sion, is coun­ter­ing this prob­lem with a data­base that houses de­tails on past grad­u­ates of his pro­gram’s nearly 30-year run.

He al­ways has a name ready when a showrun­ner asks. And WGA has its own pro­gram specif­i­cally for mem­bers who, per­haps af­ter com­plet­ing one of the stu­dio or net­work’s pro­grams and gone through a round of staffings still end up “fall­ing by the way­side be­cause you’re no longer the free writer,” says Tery Lopez, WGA West’s di­rec­tor of in­clu­sion and eq­uity.

There’s also more to come.

Sue Obeidi, the di­rec- tor of the Mus­lim Pub­lic Af­fairs Coun­cil’s Hol­ly­wood bu­reau, says her or­ga­ni­za­tion has “no­ticed a trend where the in­dus­try is re­spond­ing to us and to our sto­ries and so we thought we need to help the com­mu­nity of screen­writ­ers hone their craft.” To do this, they re­cently be­gan hold­ing screen­writ­ing labs with Dis­ney/abc TV and Wise En­ter­tain­ment and plan to add more in 2019.

“We’re con­stantly try­ing to in­tro­duce ex­ec­u­tives to our screen­writ­ers, get­ting them one- on- one in­ter­views and ask­ing our screen­writ­ers to ap­ply to the writ­ers pro­grams,” Obeidi says.

Also coming next year: Sony Pic­tures TV will launch its di­verse writ­ers pro­gram, which will fo­cus on emerg­ing tal­ent and is not to be con­fused with its al­ready suc­cess­ful writ­ers scheme on the fea­tures side.

Slowly but surely, di­ver­sity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion are be­com­ing less talk­ing points and more ways of life.

Ta­ble TalkPar­tic­i­pants of ABC’S 2018-20 di­rect­ing pro­gram meet to bandy about cre­ative film-wor­thy ideas.

Verg­ing on Great­nessMem­bers of NBC’S “Writ­ers on the Verge” Pro­gram gather for a group photo Pamela Gar­cia Rooney, from left, Ed­ward Ex­cal­iber, Marissa Lee, Mar­got Ye, Bernard Ba­dion, Sara White, Joanne Lee and Tif­fany Shaw Ho.

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