CW Network’s Female Showrunners Talk About The Importance Of Telling Women’s Stories

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If you are familiar with most of our articles, you will know we are vehement champions of having more female executives in Hollywood green-lighting more women’s stories. There is a definite gender problem in the film and TV industry where men are paid more, men are given more interesting roles, the majority of directors, producers and writers are men, and women have been and are generally left to play catchup, or be the accessory.

However this is shifting dramatically with the emergence of modern feminism which is pushing women in the industry to reclaim spaces for themselves in the name of gender equality. Because the media and entertainment are such powerful vehicles of communicating messages, it is more important than ever that women are given equal opportunities to be representatives and role models for the next generation.

At the recent Television Critics Association (TCAs) held in Los Angeles, each network had a chance to showcase their upcoming shows and present panel discussions about various topics. The CW Network held a very important panel called “Running the Show: The Women Executive Producers of the CW“.

Eight female showrunners sat on stage and talked about the importance of telling women’s stories, why they want to hire more women, and how the gender bias in Hollywood makes them feel. On the panel was Aline Brosh McKenna (‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’), Jennie Snyder Urman (‘Jane the Virgin’), Gabrielle Stanton (‘The Flash’), Diane Ruggiero-Wright (‘iZombie’), Wendy Mericle (‘Arrow’), Julie Plec (‘The Vampire Diaries’, ‘The Originals’), Caroline Dries (‘The Vampire Diaries’), and Laurie McCarthy (‘Reign’).

Can we just stop for a second and point out how BADASS it is to see a network hire so many female showrunners! This is what we need to see more of so that the actual position itself is no longer seen as something women are trying to aspire to, it is simply something they do, and in great numbers.

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Aline Brosh McKenna said that unlike most other networks, the CW has created an environment that is very positive toward women and their stories.

“You definitely feel when you’re working at The CW like female voices and female stories are welcomed enthusiastically, and that’s great. I never feel like it’s being second-guessed in any way or that our experience is being hemmed in in any way by men. I just feel like it’s a very obviously female‑friendly group,” she said.

“I feel like [The CW executives] treat us like we’re showrunners. They don’t treat us like we’re female showrunners,” added Laurie McCarthy.

One of the biggest burdens placed on women in positions of leadership is for them to give other women a helping hand. The argument is that if they do it simply to favor women, then it is just another form of sexism (puh-lease!!!!). Instead it has to be done on the grounds of merit. Here’s what Diane Ruggiero-Wright had to say about being in a position where she has the power to hire whichever writer she wants.

“You want to hire the best writer for the job. So if the best writer for a particular job is a man, I’m going to want to hire a man. If the best [person for the] job is a woman, I’m going to want hire the woman. And if it’s between the two, honestly, I’m going to pick the woman, and that’s just the truth. That’s how it’s going to be. If they are equal to the job and I have a choice between a man or a woman, right now in this job, I’m going to support the sisterhood,” she said. Preach it!

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The rest of the women on the panel agreed with her, adding that when more women are in the writers room, there is a better chance of having interesting female characters, rather than stereotyped one-dimensional roles we are so used to seeing.

In a recent speech at a film industry event in Hollywood, Golden Globe winner and creator/showrunner of ‘Transparent’ Jill Soloway echoed the same sentiments about the importance of female writers.

“With more women at the helm of shows, there is little doubt that the hiring hurdle for women, particularly as episodic directors, will decrease over time. The world, the matriarchal revolution, is dependent on female voices and speaking out loud,” she said.

Today women account for less than 20% of all writers in Hollywood according to research, which means the percentage of empowered and complex female characters on screen isn’t exactly going to be high either. Not every male writer is as enlightened about feminism as Joss Whedon

“There’s a lot a women who are looking for good roles and so the fact that we get to be part of the group … it’s a great opportunity for women to act and to be storytellers,” said Julie Plec on being in a position to hire female writers.

Dianne Ruggiero-Wright added that although we need more female writers in the industry, they don’t want there to be any distinction between female writers and male writers, just good writers who hold an equal amount of jobs in the industry together.

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“Once you start breaking it down to what men are good at and what women are good at and what they bring to the table, you take away from the fact that we’re writers. We’re creative people and we’re thinking of characters… our job is to tell a story,” she said.

“While we feel very honored to be sort of celebrated like this, a showrunner, is a showrunner, is a showrunner. We all suffer in the same ways, we all go through our on version of hell in running a show,” added Julie Plec.

But clearly this female panel is evidence of the shifting tides, as ‘Jane The Virgin’ showrunner Jennie Urman says she was in a position on the second season where she was looking for more men, because her writing room was predominantly female! This is a good problem to have, let’s be clear, because it sends the message that women are capable (‘Jane The Virgin’ is the only show to win the CW Network a Golden Globe, FYI) and are a vital part of the industry.

“There is a real problem with women being underrepresented. What’s good about this is if women see it and think ‘I’m going to do that,” said Aline Brosh McKenna.

An issue that was brought up toward the end of the panel was about the inclusion of topics like sex and violence (particularly against women) in their shows. Some of the women had some very distinct thoughts about this and shared them with the audience.

“I used to have this rule. Never make anyone an alcoholic, never make them rape, never make them molested. Because when all is said and done, their character becomes singularly about being that and you lose the ability to write them as human beings without that problem weighing over them,” said Julie Plec.

In an interview about the now-cancelled show ‘Hannibal’ recently, showrunner Bryan Fuller made a very bold statement about sexual violence and rape saying he refused to include it in his show, calling it “low-hanging fruit”.

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“The reason the rape well is so frequently used is because it’s a horrible thing that is real and that it happens. But because it’s so over-exploited, it becomes callous. That’s something I can’t derive entertainment from as an audience member – and I’m the first person in the audience for ‘Hannibal’. My role, as a showrunner, is to want to watch the show we’re creating. And if something feels exploitative or unnecessary, I’ll try to avoid it,” he said at the time. It is not often the kind of statement we hear from executive producers, let alone male EPs, so we were stoked to hear him say that.

‘iZombie’s Diane Ruggiero-Wright had a good explanation for why she doesn’t want to include gratuitous sex and violence in her work:

“Sometimes you’re on other staffs of other shows or you’re not the showrunner and you have to do a rape storyline and you don’t want to do it. People are going to be watching it and they’re going to see your name on the episode and they’re going to think you think that’s what it means. Like, this is your interpretation of what it feels like to be a female and suffer this — and it’s not. It’s your own staff of the show, and this is what you kind of have to write, and it’s just such a horrible position to be in as a writer, and I don’t want to put any other writer in that position,” she said.

We can safely come to the conclusion that having more female writers and showrunners in TV is not just a great idea, it is vital. It will change the way females are portrayed on screen, it will change the topics addressed in storylines, and it will give women more credibility within the industry so that sexism becomes an issue of the past.

We think the best way to sum up how ridiculous it is that there aren’t more networks following in the footsteps of the CW Network, is this awesome Funny or Die video starring comedian Margaret Cho and a handful of women played a reverse-role scenario in a fictional writers room. If women were in charge of TV the way men are today (as opposed to being allowed to bring their femininity to the table), here’s what it would look like:

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