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.
“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.
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”.