Deadline’s roundtable on female-driven comedy has some interesting stuff in it, particularly these observations from House of Lies co-executive producer Jessika Borsiczky on the state of women’s employment behind the camera in television, which mostly serves to illustrate that things are good relative only to the movies:
We are sort of hitting a place where there’s some real seniority to women in television. When I started at HBO (in the movie division) in 1992 I certainly wasn’t running television shows, it took a long time…We have two women on the staff and three men. I ran an action movie company, and in 90 percent of the meetings I’d be the only woman in the room. When I shifted to television, it was a much more balanced environment. There are more women in comedy – the last show I ran was Flash Forward, and there are a lot more men in science fiction. I think it’s really important to be expressive and not self-conscious in a writers’ room when you’re going for comedy. On our show it’s not only women’s issues, but also race. We devoted an entire episode of House of Lies to anal sex, you have to know going in that when you are breaking that story there are going to be some very raw moments in the room. I have to say nobody felt uncomfortable, and we were laughing our heads off. That being said, there are limits, I know stories of women who were discriminated against for taking maternity leave, or sexually discriminated against by their bosses, I think that still exists.
An industry where you face the prospect of discrimination for taking maternity leave you’re allowed by your contract is probably not one that’s going to be exceptionally thoughtful and sensitive in its explorations of the issues faced by women in their real lives.
I’m also really interested in the arguments Borsiczky and other women in the roundtable make in favor of a boundary-pushing environment in the writers’ room that seems to imply that women have to be sure they want to be in that sort of environment before they proceed. From what I’ve seen of folks writing television dialogue in the moment, it absolutely is a tough editing process: every line is diamond-cut, and that requires a particular kind of ego to hold up under. But in terms of busting boundaries, you can get there both by creating safe spaces and by making your willingness to go to difficult places a mark of toughness. The ability to tackle impolite topics is not gendered, and just as women can thrive in filthy, frattish writers’ rooms, I’m sure there are a lot of men who would do just fine in the kind of bonded environment Lena Dunham, for example, talks about trying to create on Girls.