Thursday, November 12, 2009

7240: Not Ladies’ Night.

From The New York Times…

Among Late-Night Writers, Few Women in the Room

By Bill Carter

In many ways, television today is about women more than men.

More women watch television than men; female producers and writers have had huge success in prime time and daytime; in January, women will occupy two of the three seats as anchors of network evening newscasts.

But there is one glaring exception: very few women make it inside the writing rooms for late-night television hosts, despite that women make up a larger proportion of their audience than men.

There are no female writers on the new “The Jay Leno Show,” none on “Late Show with David Letterman,” none on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.”

The lack of women in late-night writing positions was pushed again to the forefront by David Letterman’s confession of sexual relationships with his staff members.

In an article for Vanity Fair’s Web site, a former writer for Mr. Letterman, Nell Scovell, described her experiences in the late 1980s, citing what she called a “hostile work environment,” including Mr. Letterman’s romantic relationships with women on the staff.

“Writing for late-night talk shows is a great entry-level TV job, and if you deny women that opportunity it reduces the chance for them to pursue careers in comedy,” she said in an e-mail message. Her article was cited in motions filed with the court this week by the lawyer defending the man accused of blackmailing Mr. Letterman.

In the 1980s, Mr. Letterman pioneered the kind of college-age male humor that dominates late night. But now, his audience is almost 55 percent women; Mr. Leno’s is more than 53 percent, and Mr. O’Brien’s just over one half. Yet the writing room and sensibilities of the show itself remain largely male.

Steve Bodow, head writer for “The Daily Show,” conceded that the preponderance of male writers had not changed much in recent years, although his show hired two women writers in September.

“We shook the trees a little,” Mr. Bodow said of the special efforts the show made. “Women have a different perspective, which we like on the show.”

But perspective is not the same as sensibility. Some women in the business argue that, as long as the hosts remain almost exclusively male, so will the writers.

“When you’re writing for late night, you’re writing through one person’s prism, and that person at the shows you’re looking at is always a dude,” said Hallie Haglund, one of the new writers on “The Daily Show. “ Allison Silverman, who has served as the only woman writer first on “The Daily Show” then on Conan O’Brien’s staff, said she had no trouble assuming the voices of male hosts. But she added, “I don’t think the issue of sensibility is off base. The hosts and the staffs I worked on often resembled one another. Have you seen how many tall Irish people are on Conan’s staff?”

Read the full story here.

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