Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thought Bubble...on 'The Mindy Kaling Project' and Funny Ladies

The Television Critics Association (TCA) summer conference is in full swing, and plenty of interesting tweets are emerging from the scrum of press and critics alike. Fox held their panel today, with a Q&A featuring head programming executive Kevin Reilly to talk about the state of his network and the upcoming season at hand. Of course, there was chatter over American Idol bringing on Mariah Carey and the various programming issues they face as the other networks muscle up with comparable programming that could threaten their ratings.

One interesting tidbit came through the Twitter feed from Huffington Post's Maureen Ryan (@moryan) whose insightful views on television and the events that promote them have always been among my daily "must-reads". It was an incredulous reaction to a moment that went down like a lead balloon, and made me wish I could be there to feel the heavy air. She discussed it in her column, which can be read by clicking this link.

When Reilly was asked about the lack of women in television, he was stumped.

"I'm not certain how to answer your question," he said. "I've never really had that issue put to me before."

Although studios don't hire production staff and show runners, it doesn't excuse the fact that as an executive, he could have answered the question with some sense of understanding. Although there are some women who handle producer and writing credits, we are always in need of more Shonda Rhimes, Mary Tyler Moores, Tina Feys, Darlene Hunts and  Elizabeth Meriwethers in the TV (and film) world.

However, I was surprised to find that Mindy Kaling, who will be seen this coming Fall in her own single camera comedy, The Mindy Project, has mostly employed dudes to write words for the show. There's apparently only one women on the writing staff. Now, of course male comedy writers are people too. In fact, I really dig them. But if Kaling, a female comedy writer who got her break very young, had paid back the universe for putting Greg Daniels in the room at the right time, plus encouraged the producers to include more ladies in the mix, perhaps I wouldn't be so pissed. After all, if Conan's boys club of writers are needed in order to capture his male voice, why can't more ladies be hired on that staff  for Mindy? If we are going to be watching a smart, intelligent doctor by day, fall to pieces as a head case with boyfriend issues, wouldn't it be better coming from a think tank of funny females? Or does she need to be surrounded by a roomful of boys thinking of ways to make her adorably tragic?

Yes, there is a boom on funny ladies lately.  New Girl, Two Broke Girls, BFFs, and Mindy's show. But the playing field is still unbalanced, and the showrunners who can propel prime time comedy are mostly handled by men. Can't we change that a bit?  Sadly, we women who want to write comedy and don't, may be the problem. And we struggle with this. Believe me. Regrets, I've had a few....dozen.

The reality might be that many female writers and potential producers don't step up to the plate because they cancel themselves out before they've even begun. I heard this at The Del Close Marathon last month, and I've heard it from legends like Merrill Markoe and Liz Winstead. Men do want to see more women in the comedy work force. UCB founders Matt Besser and Ian Roberts, themselves writers and producers of comedy, would love to see more women out there, but they aren't out there in droves.  Men out-number women in comedy writers rooms because women feel the odds are stacked against them, so they don't step up and show the powers that be what they've got.

You don't see as many ladies in improv Harold teams as you do men, because why bother when it's a boys club?  Women who write jokes and create comedy packets for the late night shows keep it to themselves rather than submit it to that producer on The Daily Show because it will get lost in the fray. It will be thrown in a pile marked "Not Ivy League School Graduate". In fact, so many talented ladies who could have been the next Tina Fey sit at their computers, write blogs and slog away at a day job thinking: "Why bother? Not only is there a boys club who won't read my material, there are actually women who might not give another lady a chance." Plus, theres's that one big magilla of fear: "Maybe I'm not that funny?"

Diversity programs at the WGAWest, NBC Universal and Warner Bros were created to allow a way for those of various race, sexual orientation or gender a step up in getting a chance to fill a spot on the writing staff of a prime time show. The competition is fierce, but then again, the whole process of even getting noticed by a producer is filled with banging your head against walls, and having your foot slammed by closing doors.

What is the point of this thought bubble of a blog post? Frustration. Frustration in myself. Frustration in not being able to write anymore. Frustration in that I'm not writing well anymore. (This posting might be an example). Frustration that I should have plugged away at writing that spec script and compiling work for a writing package years ago by not worrying about what the boys say.  It's not to say my brand of comedy writing would have really stood out, but who knows? It's possible I am one of the many women who could have made a difference in the television landscape if I didn't say "screw it".

For those of us who've held ourselves back - imagine: We might not be discussing the lack of female writers and arguing the case of women not being funny, brought up by certain men who are not funny.  Kevin Reilly wouldn't have been stumped by a question that reflects a major conversation going on in entertainment right now. I wouldn't be moaning about Mindy Kaling's lack of lady writers on her staff, or the fact I don't think she's written a funny thing since The Office, season two "The Injury" episode.

Imagine if we had the nerve, if we just believed in ourselves enough to make someone else believe in us.

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