Something exciting has been going on at The CW.
The network — which is to today’s teens what The WB was to adults who went to high school in the ’90s — doesn’t usually come up in conversation about the big prestige dramas and important television shows of the day. It doesn’t have that premium cable cache of HBO or Showtime, nor the sexy it’s-not-TV-it’s-internet angle of Amazon Prime or Netflix.
And yet, on Tuesday at the Television Critics Association summer tour, The CW had something remarkable to offer: An all-female panel of executive producers. Wish we lived in a world where such a high number of high-powered ladies were not newsworthy, but TV writers rooms are still dominated by white men, and the women who do make it into those rooms earn less money than their male peers do.
There were eight women participating in “Running the Show: The Women Executive Producers of The CW”: Jennie Snyder Urman (the Peabody Award-winning Jane the Virgin), Gabrielle Stanton (The Flash), Diane Ruggiero-Wright (iZombie), Wendy Mericle (Arrow), Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off, The Originals), Caroline Dries (The Vampire Diaries), Laurie McCarthy (Reign), and Aline Brosh McKenna (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
As female and non-white showrunners have stressed before, there is something irritating, even insulting, about framing conversations about their work around their minority status. Mindy Kaling, for instance, has discussed the challenge of addressing “people’s demands of you reflecting on your otherness” while “running a show on a major network.” Shonda Rhimes has also talked about leaving gender off the table: “Gender doesn’t have anything to do with this job. Either you can write or you can’t. Either you can run a show or you can’t.” White men never have to spend time answering questions about “what it’s like” to be a dude in show business.
But the women from The CW panel described their experiences working at a network where “female voices and female stories are welcomed enthusiastically,” as McKenna put it, and how they choose to support other women in the industry. As Flavorwire reported, Ruggiero-Wright talked about the conscious effort she makes to get women in the writers room:
You want to hire the best writer for the job. So if the best writer for a particular job is a man, I’m going to want to hire a man. If the best [person for the] job is a woman, I’m going to want hire the woman. And if it’s between the two, honestly, I’m going to pick the woman, and that’s just the truth. That’s how it’s going to be. If they are equal to the job and I have a choice between a man or a woman, right now in this job, I’m going to support the sisterhood.
Plec, whose shows feature their fair share of savagery — you’ll find your vampires, werewolves, witches, and other assorted magical types tend to get themselves into some violent situations on a fairly regular basis — talked about her boundaries for “gratuitous” violence. Sexual violence against women has become such a common trope on TV that its prompted guidelines for TV writers suggesting they maybe consider not having female characters be raped as a plot device and to help viewers answer the question, “How much rape is too much rape on my favorite shows?”
During the panel, Plec said, “I used to have this rule: Never make anyone an alcoholic, never make them rape, never make them molested. Because when all is said and done, their character becomes singularly about being that and you lose the ability to write them as human beings without that problem weighing over them.”
Ruggerio-White related what it’s like to be on the staff of someone else’s show and to have to write a rape storyline, even when “you don’t want to do it,” because viewers will believe “this is your interpretation of what it feels like to be a female and suffer this — and it’s not. It’s your own staff of the show, and this is what you kind of have to write, and it’s just such a horrible position to be in as a writer, and I don’t want to put any other writer in that position.”