Analysis: TV directing a white man's world

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  July 19, 2004 at 6:58 PM
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LOS ANGELES, July 19 (UPI) -- The Directors Guild of America has released a new report on hiring practices, and it shows that networks and producers still prefer white men to call the camera shots on prime-time TV shows.

The report, which examined employment of women and minority directors on the top 40 prime-time drama and comedy series in 2003-04, found that 86 percent of the episodes were directed by Caucasian males and that some of the best-known series on TV hire only white male directors.

The report was released to coincide with the TV-director hiring season, when decisions are made on who will direct episodes of the top shows during the upcoming season. The study -- an annual report on how many women and minority directors get network TV jobs -- found that the percentage of episodes directed by women fell from 11 percent in 2002-03 to 7 percent last season. Black directors continued to get more work behind the camera -- going from 3 percent of directing jobs in 2000-01 to 6 percent last season -- but overall, hiring of minority directors was little changed.

DGA president and Diversity Task Force Chairman Michael Apted told United Press International the lack of opportunity for women and minority directors in prime time is troubling, but not surprising.

"It's been like this for years," he said. "We've been making a lot of effort, particularly in the past year. We've met with networks, producers. It seems that nothing has changed. In fact it might have even got a little bit worse."

Apted said networks and producers had failed to live up to contractual obligations to make a good-faith effort to hire more women and minority directors.

He said networks and producers continue to use a long-running argument that it is difficult to find qualified women and minority directors. However, he said the DGA has been addressing that issue for years with its DGA Diversity Task Force. The task force develops annual contact lists of women and minority directors and makes the information available to networks, studios and producers.

The guild singled out nine shows that "demonstrated a four-year pattern of zero or minimal efforts in hiring women and/or minority directors."

"Everybody Loves Raymond," said the report, has not hired a woman director for any of its 96 episodes over the past four seasons. The show hired no minority directors during 2003-04 and has hired minority directors for just three of its 96 episodes in the past four seasons.

"Friends" hired no women directors for any of the 92 episodes in its final four seasons. The show hired no minority directors during 2003-04 and only one minority director -- who directed three of its 92 episodes -- during the past four seasons.

"JAG" has had 99 episodes in the past four seasons, using minority directors for four episodes and women for none. "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" hired one woman and three minority directors over the past four seasons.

"Malcolm in the Middle" has had no minority directors and just four women directors for its 90 episodes over the past four seasons. "Judging Amy" has had 24 women directors for its 99 episodes over the past four seasons, but no minority directors.

"According to Jim," "Yes, Dear" and "Navy NCIS" also made the list of shows that the DGA report said demonstrated a pattern of generally not employing women or minority directors.

The report also singled out shows that it said had shown "a good-faith effort" to hire more women and minorities during the 2003-04 season.

"Cold Case" employed women and minorities to direct eight of 21 episodes. "The Practice" used women and minorities to direct eight of its 23 episodes.

"Third Watch" used women and minority directors in 40 of its 97 episodes over the past four seasons. During its final four seasons on the air, "Frasier" employed women and minority directors for 28 of its 73 episodes, and "ER" hired women and minorities to direct 21 of its 81 episodes over the past four seasons.

The report also commended the production company ABC/Touchstone for its Directing Assignment Initiative, spearheaded by ABC prime-time president Steve McPherson. Working with the DGA, the initiative is intended to provide women and minorities with directing opportunities on ABC-produced prime-time series.

"Third Watch" and "ER" are both executive produced by John Wells, who established and runs the John Wells Mentor Program, which trains three minority and/or women directors each season, providing each with a stipend of $100,000. Warner Bros. provides the funding.

In a posting on the DGA Web site, Emmy-winning director Paris Barclay, who co-chairs the guild's Diversity Task Force, said Wells was "the exception in an industry of empty promises."

Apted said Wells' example -- and the record of such top-flight shows as "ER," "Frasier" and "The Practice" -- illustrate that network directing jobs can be filled just as easily by women and minorities as by white men.

"These are high-class shows," he said. "That completely sabotages any claim these other companies might make that the best people happen to be Caucasian males. It's not brain surgery -- it needs a will to be done."

Apted said the hiring trends persist, even though he said the people making the decisions ought to know better.

"Television gets younger by the minute," he said. "It isn't a lot of old fogies making these decisions. The show runners and producers of this generation are young people who, hopefully, one would have thought were brought up in a culturally diverse society. You'd have thought life in America would have changed over the last 45 years."


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