COMEDY 50:50 IN THE NEWS THIS YEAR
On 18 June, ITV made headlines when it announced it would no longer commission shows by all-male writers. Saskia Schuster, ITV’s head of comedy and founder of the gender equality initiative Comedy 50:50, hoped the move would create more opportunities for women in an industry and genre that has long been dominated by men. What she didn’t expect was a backlash: op-eds condemning box-ticking quotas, viewers applauding shows that wouldn’t exist without all-male writing teams (Peep Show, Dad's Army, Blackadder) and critics on Twitter labelling her a militantly feminist member of the #GalQaeda.
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“The focus was never on banning male teams,” Schuster tells Vogue. “The goal is inclusivity. The current number of female writers in comedy is woefully low and before I started Comedy 50:50, I was being pitched very few scripts by women.” Determined to change the culture, she rewrote her contracts, asking comedy shows to aim for equal representation and scripted commissions to demonstrate their best endeavours to include female voices. She also created a database of more than 500 women writers to help producers find new collaborators.
BRITISH COMEDY GUIDE
Last week ITV's head of comedy, Saskia Schuster, announced that the broadcaster is now contractually requiring involvement of female writers in all of its comedy commissions.
Talking at a conference on diversity, Schuster particularly highlighted the network's comedy entertainment shows, such as ITV2's CelebAbility, which are written to a standardised format by hired teams of writers. She pointed out "an awful lot of my comedy entertainment shows are made up of all-male writing teams".
She expanded that there were "a significant lack of shows written by women or with women on the writing teams".
The announcement comes just a few months after the launch of Comedy 50:50, an initiative founded by Schuster aiming to "change a culture" and "address gender imbalance in comedy". With backing from organisations as diverse as BBC Writersroom, BAFTA, and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, it hopes to enable "female writing talent, performers, directors and crew to have equal presence".
Last Monday, I spoke for five minutes on a panel in Bradford, alongside the head of ITV comedy, about diversity in television. As a working comedy writer, I was well positioned to make the point that comedy is better when it’s written by a wide range of voices – people of different genders, races, sexualities, everything. Mad controversial, right? Burn the witch! I assumed my comments would, like most comments ever made on panel discussions, be lost in the annals of time. Even if I wasn’t, like most people on panels, speaking out of my annals.
Quite the shock, then, when I woke up the next morning to find that my name, photo, quotes and tweets had been used – without my knowledge – on multiple news platforms. Most under versions of the inaccurate headline “ITV bans all-male comedy teams”. I opened story after story to see an (old) photo of myself, looking like a demented elf who just tried ketamine for the first time, staring up at the world as the new poster child for “keeping men out of comedy” … GO AWAY MEN! TAKE YOUR PENISES, TUCK THEM BETWEEN YOUR LEGS AND NEVER BE FUNNY AGAIN! The stories mentioned I had recently been hired to write on ITV’s CelebAbility, a show that had no female writers on its previous two series.
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