The Emmys' Lady Problem: The Staggeringly Small Number of Female Nominees for Writing and Directing (INFOGRAPHIC)

By Cory Barker

Jul 17, 2013

As I started preparing for the Emmy nominations announcement coming tomorrow, I got to thinking about how great it would be if Homeland writer (and now The Bridge showrunner) Meredith Stiehm earned a nomination for her work on the Season 2 episode "The Clearing," and about how Lena Dunham probably deserves another nomination for her direction on Girls. While both of these women are former Emmy nominees, which probably makes it a little more likely that they'll grab additional accolades, not all female writers and directors are so lucky. While I knew that it'd never been particularly easy for women to break through the proverbial glass ceilings in the big drama and comedy writing and directing categories, I quickly started to wonder just how difficult it is for women snag those prestigious nods.

Well, after some extensive research, several hours spent perusing the official Emmys database, and even more extensive spreadsheeting, I think I have an answer: It's really, really, really difficult for women to land nominations for writing and directing Emmys, in either comedy or drama. In fact, it's safe to say that the Emmys have almost entirely failed to recognize female writers and directors over the last three decades. Part of the problem here is simply that not enough women have the opportunity to work in these positions in the TV industry, but even with that consideration, the data is troubling.

Below, you'll find my consolidated data points in trusty infographic form, along with some corresponding observations along the way. A bit about the methodology: I chose 1980 as the cut-off date both because it's a nice round number and because by that time, most of the Emmys' historically shifting categories had solidified enough that the "comedy" and "drama" categories were clearly delineated. In the writing categories, there were often repeat nominees within the same year, but I counted a name each time that it appeared. So, Mad Men's Matthew Weiner counts multiple times every year because he's nominated multiple times. If anyone, male or female, appeared on the list of nominees, they were counted, repeat or not. That's also why some years, there are upwards of 20 nominees in a 5-nominee race. This gives us the truest picture of the Emmy process. Make sense? Sure it does!

Comedy Writing

As you can see, since 1980 there have been 281 total nominees (repeats included) in this category, with 239 of those names being male and only 42 of them being female. Percentage-wise, that breaks down to just a little over 15 percent of the nominees being female. There've been 7.2 men nominated per year, opposed to just over 1.3 women. Let me channel Pete Campbell for a second and say that THIS IS NOT GREAT, BOB. And here's the breakdown on a year-by-year basis:

Yow. There've been multiple years where there are more than 10 male nominees, but only one year (1992) where at least five female names made the final ballot, and just one more (1997) where there were at least four women present (and three of those women co-wrote a single script with two men). There hasn't been a single year where there were more female nominees than male. But there were nine years where absolutely no women were nominated. NINE. In this time period, only Diane English (four nominations) and Tina Fey (three nominations) had more than two individual nods, and women were part of the winning script just six times (and only English's 1989 and Fey's 2008 wins were non co-writes).

Drama Writing

Things aren't much better on the drama side. Since 1980, there've been 324 nominees: 274 men, 50 women. That's just over 16 percent for the ladies. Yearly, we've seen 8.3 men and 1.5 women earn nominations in the drama race. The good news? There are women here than there are in comedy (you know, because women aren't funny, or something). The bad news? There are more men too, so the increase is incremental. Year-by-year:

Mostly the same story. There are more co-writes and "story by" credits in the drama writing category, but that seems to have mostly helped one gender more the other. There were seven years with more than 10 male nominees and only two (1991 and 1992) where there were at least four female names on the final ballot. Not once were more women nominated than men, and once again, there were nine years where there were zero total female nominees. Robin Green (Northern Exposure and The Sopranos) has scored an impressive seven nominations since 1980, though only one of those nominations was for a solo script. Women have been part of the winning script nine times in the last 33 years, most of them on co-writes with big-time male showrunners like Steven Bochco, David Chase, and Matthew Weiner.

Taken together, the writing categories are pretty bleak: 605 names, and only 92 of them female (15.2 percent). Weirdly, despite the number of years where there were absolutely no women nominated in either the comedy writing or drama writing categories, none of those years overlap; at least one woman was nominated every year. I guess the good news is that recent years have shown a nice improvement. Twelve of the 42 female nominees in comedy writing have come in the last 10 years, whereas 17 of 50 in drama writing have come in the same period. Maybe we've turned a little corner. Hopefully.

Comedy Directing

You're probably noticing a theme here. Although there's no real recurrence of repeating nominees in the same year, women have been even more absent in the comedy directing race than they have been in comedy writing. In 33 years, we've had 166 nominees in comedy directing and only 13 of them have been women. That's a measly 7.3 percent. As far as averages go, we're looking at 5.03 men nominated each year, compared to only 0.39 women. That's right, the average isn't even close to one female nominee per year. Here's the year-by-year breakdown:

There's less year-to-year variance, but a more depressing overall picture. Somehow, women have been nominated in just 10 out of the last 33 years, so more than two-thirds of the time, there've been zero female nominees. That's pretty gross. And in those 10 years with female nominees, only twice has there been more than one female nominee (in 2009 nad 2011). Some positive spin: 2011 in this category gives us our first year with more female nominees, so yay. Less positive? Only one woman has won this category since 1980 (Dream On's Betty Thomas in 1993) and Lee Shallat-Chemel and Beth McCarthy-Miller are the only two women to earn multiple nominations, with three and two, respectively.

Drama Directing

Hey, a moderate improvement! We've seen 169 nominees in this category and a grand total of 16 of them have been women; that's 9.5 percent. The yearly average is similarly better, but still depressing: 4.64 men and 0.48 women each year. Still less than one woman each year, but still improvement! And here's your year-to-year:

More marginal increases. Whereas women have only been nominated in 10 of the last 33 years in the comedy directing category, they've appeared in 14 of the 33 drama directing races. That's almost half, you guys! Same deal with multiple female nominees in the same year, though: That's only happened twice, in 1992 and 2010. Thankfully, 2010 was another year where there were actually more women (three) nominated than men (two). Finally, we've seen just two female winners here since 1980, Cagney & Lacey's Karen Arthur in 1985, and ER's Mimi Leder in 1995, and Leder is literally the only woman with more than one nomination in the time period.

Combined, there have been 348 total nominees in the directing categories, and just 39 (or 11 percent) of them have been women. That's even less than in the writing categories, but not a surprise considering so many of the writing nominations came from co-writes with men. Similarly disturbing is that there have been 14 years where no women were nominated in either comedy or drama directing. Nevertheless, the recent improvement in the writing categories is present in the directing ones as well: Six of the 13 female nominations in comedy directing have come since 2009, while five of the 16 in drama have come since 2008.

Ultimately, though, the situation's not good guys. Not at all. The worst kind of sausage fest. Recent history has been better, but the Emmys—and the whole industry—needs to do better.

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  • karylmiller Jul 19, 2013

    When I won my Emmy in 1974 (writing for Lily Tomlin's special), more women won Emmys than ever before. Because we were Strong, Invincible... Wo-mannn, we thought in just a few years we would achieve total equality. Still waiting ...

  • Madelynn1984 Jul 18, 2013

    As you said in your intro, I think more of this probably comes from women being underrepresented in these jobs than in the nominations. Thanks for taking the time to look into it! Very interesting. We can't become complacent and just assume women are being treated as equal to men in all industries. Obviously, in some we still aren't.

  • CaitlinRice Jul 18, 2013

    Sadly, this doesn't surprise me in the least. I don't look at it as a "we should be hiring more women for statistical purposes", but there are tons of female writers and directors that are more than worthy of getting these opportunities. I think, while we outwardly are a more progressive society, there is unfortunately some hesitance to hire women in these avenues. I think the success of people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Lena Dunham in recent years will open the door more but it's not a trend that I see changing anytime in the near future. I mean, this is the same group of people that think that Modern Family is still deserving of all the rewards.....

  • osdawaya16 Jul 18, 2013

    I don't see the big deal, personally. Sure, there aren't many women nominated. But are there really many women deserving of a nomination? It's one thing to say that women are underrepresented, but compared to the current nominees, are there any female writers that you would want to be nominated based solely on their writing (and not on gender)? It really irks me when people complain about sexism but their solution is "Cater more to women!" Wouldn't that be considered sexism too?

  • MissMunchkin Jul 18, 2013

    This just hurts and makes it seem very hopeless when I send script after script to different networks, get told that my spec script was quite "impressive" but "not what we're looking for right now"... and sometimes I honestly feel like if I put the name "Steven" on it instead of my real name, I'd actually get taken seriously and get some real work.

  • sheikyerbouti1 Jul 18, 2013

    that must be really frustrating. Hope you get a break!

  • CurlyMC Jul 18, 2013

    I'm not sure i see sexism in this, at least not from the Emmy side of things. It seems like a numbers game. If you have 100,000 writers overall in television (for example) and 90,000 are men while 10,000 are women obviously more men will be nominated. I think it is more an industry thing and as more women like Lena Dunham get their voices heard and their work out there those numbers will get better. You're own pretty little graphs there show marked upswings in the last 5-10 years. Plus on the lighter side, the guys that have been writing those tv shows since the 80's gotta retire, go senile or die soon right?

    Side bar: go Tatiana Maslany

  • CoryBarker1 Jul 18, 2013

    Yeah, it's pure sexism across the board, the Emmys are just reflective of that.

  • emmiegirl Jul 18, 2013

    Nice Job Cory, that was an interesting and thought provoking, if somewhat dispiriting analysis of the lack of female representation in the big categories. I think it would be interesting to look into the data on submissions for nominations in each category to determine if there is a corresponding discrepancy in the women submitted for nomination.
    There are several good HR studies of behavior that reflect women in general are not as aggressive as men in pursuing and demanding promotions and pay raises, a factor contributing to the fact that in many fields women make an average of approx 70% of the remuneration of their male counterparts. Are women not as aggressive in submitting themselves for the Emmys?

  • docspector Jul 18, 2013

    Is the complaint here that the awards are biased, or that women are underrepresented? Because those have two really, different solutions. If the allegation is that the awards are biased against women, the solution is blind judging. Remove the names from the ballot and let the voters pick A, B, C, D, or E from a list of nominated works, with no names attached. If the problem is that women are under-represented, well, there's no quick fix for that. STEM careers have been fighting that battle for a couple of generations now.

  • CoryBarker1 Jul 18, 2013

    Women are underrep'd. The bias is in the industry and it trickles down (over) to the Emmys.

  • ButterMeUp44 Jul 18, 2013

    Could it be that women writers lean towards a female demographic? Girls is popular show, but I don't see many men watching it. Is that a factor at all?

  • hockeyrick Jul 18, 2013

    So, watcha gonna do?

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