Lena Dunham Wants To See More Female Showrunners in Television

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In an hour-long interview with Bill Simmons from Grantland, the “voice of a generation” and creator/writer/star of the popular HBO show ‘Girls’ Lena Dunham, shared about the success of her show, and lamented how there are not enough female showrunners in television.

For those not familiar with the term, a showrunner is an important production position in TV. A showrunner is the person responsible for the day-to-day operation of a show, and they are often credited as an Executive Producer. Lena Dunham is an exec. prod. on girls, however, there aren’t as many as we would like.

If you start watching the video below at the 50 minute mark (that is if you absolutely cannot watch the whole thing, because you really should it’s interesting and hilarious) Bill asks Lena why there aren’t more female showrunners, and he lists of the few he does know: Lena (who executive produces with Jennifer Konner and Judd Apatow), Shonda Rhimes (who created ‘Greys Anatomy’, ‘Private Practice’ & ‘Scandal’), Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins (who are the creators & EP’s of ‘Trophy Wife’), Jenji Cohen (‘Weeds’ and ‘Orange Is The New Black’), Mindy Kaling (‘The Mindy Show’), Liz Meriwether (‘The New Girl’), Jill Solloway (‘United States of Tara’ and ‘How To Make It In America’) and Mara Brock Akil (‘The Game’, ‘Girlfriends’, ‘Being Mary Jane’).

Sounds like a fair amount right? Wrong, especially not compared to the many TV shows that exist in the world today!

“But that’s not a lot, you figure there’s maybe over 100 showrunners [in television]?” says Bill Simmons.

Lena explains it’s most likely because television, along with most industries are still bias toward males.

“I also think, and this is the same thing I think about female directors, that a lot of the traits that are instilled in women from a young age like positivity, equanimity, making people feel good all the time, people think that is at odds with being a director a showrunner or a person in a position of authority. But there’s no one personality type that has the skill to manage the goings-on of a television show.”

One solution Bill suggests that Lena agrees with is more women pitching TV show ideas which prominently feature women. But sometimes networks will not take the idea because they have already filled their “women’s show” quota so to speak. Which seems dumb because they wouldn’t do the same for men’s shows.

“Nobody is saying ‘I’m sorry we already have three shows called Dads,” says Dunham.

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Bill asks if Lena’s advice would be for more women to write shows based on women and therefore accrue more female showrunners.

Lena says it goes deeper than that, because networks often think they can only have a certain number of female-driven shows. We should probably take this moment to recognize that not only are half the population women, but the majority of the TV audience, at least in the US, are females. So why the heck NOT make more female-led shows?!

“Networks an studios seem to be almost pathalogically incapable of understanding that women make up 52% of the population on the planet and therefore programming that has women at its center is not a fad or a trend, it’s a necessary expression and it’s a necessary part of media,” says Dunham.

Bill is right to point out that Shonda Rhimes is basically carrying ABC with her 3 massive cult hit shows. “You’d think people would be looking around going ‘Maybe we need to find some more people like her?'” Yup! More women!

Lena says every time a female-driven TV show or movie comes out, the discussion over whether women are capable of creating box office success in Hollywood lessens, which means yes there should be more women pitching and writing and getting their voice heard in this medium.

“I think it’s frustrating because the women who make television and film are forced to be a voice for that inequality in the industry, when they really just want to make things.” But at the same time, progress is slowly happening, and the more women do speak up the more the balance will change to recognize women as viable creators in the entertainment industry, rather than looked upon as a niche market.

“I think people also don’t recognize that if a young woman is looking at the landscape of Hollywood, what they see are almost only all challenges,” she says, echoing the sentiment that this will deter a lot of females who would rather go somewhere they know there are guaranteed opportunities for them.

“That’s what I like so much about the Sheryl Sandberg ‘Lean In’ philosophy, even though it’s aimed more towards executives than creatives, is that idea that women have to create space for other women and women who rise to a position of power can’t be complacent in trying to bring other women along with them. It’s our responsibility to bolster each other, guide each other, mentor each other and be present for each other, otherwise it can be such a crazy battle.”

Words to live by…


 

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