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Women shine on screen but not behind scenes in TV industry

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Monday, September 24, 2012 - 7:46 am

LOS ANGELES — At first glance, the television industry is in the grip of female empowerment so strong that men seem relegated to an afterthought.

“Girls” and “New Girl” are scoring ratings, buzz and Emmy Awards respect. Actor-writers Tina Fey (“30 Rock”), Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”) and Lena Dunham (“Girls”) are case studies in hyphenate success.

But appearances are deceiving, especially within the Hollywood fantasy factory: Making TV overwhelmingly remains men’s work even with the television business in its seventh decade.

Women are consistently underrepresented in top TV creative positions and face being treated as dismissively as bit players whatever their achievements.

Yes, Dunham was nominated at Sunday’s Emmys for writing, directing, producing and starring in HBO’s “Girls.” Fey, a triple-threat acting, writing and producing winner for “30 Rock,” is competing again for on-screen and behind-the-camera honors, as is Poehler.

“New Girl,” from creator and executive producer Liz Meriwether, is up for four awards, including best comedy actress for star Zooey Deschanel.

The shows and the women creating them may be a sign of change. But they stand now as exceptions to the rule, according to the most recent research from labor unions and academic studies — and women themselves, including the industry’s most successful.

Of the more than 2,600 TV series episodes produced in the 2010-11 season, 88 percent were directed by men and 12 percent by women, according to a Directors Guild of America study.

A 2011 report from the Writers Guild of America, West, found the share of TV writing jobs filled by women is essentially “stuck at 28 percent,” little changed compared to 2007 figures from the previous guild study.

TV’s behind-the-camera bias also is shared by moviemakers: A scant 3.6 percent of directors on the 100 top-grossing films of 2009 and 13.5 percent of writers were women, according to a 2011 study by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

The Oscars started in 1929, but it wasn’t until 2010 that a woman finally won a best director award, when Kathryn Bigelow took home the trophy for “The Hurt Locker.”

The Emmy Awards, past and present, tell the same tale.

This year, Dunham is the sole female directing nominee in all categories, including drama, comedy, miniseries and variety programs. Five women are nominated for writing drama and comedy, with a handful more scattered among the largely male writing staffs for variety shows including “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

Since 1959, the debut of directing awards for comedies and dramas, three women have won: Betty Thomas in 1993 for “Dream On,” Karen Arthur in 1985 for “Cagney & Lacey” and Mimi Leder in 1995 for “ER.” Women have claimed somewhat more Emmy gold on the writing side, with about 15 trophies for comedy writing and eight for drama scripts.

If statistics are coldly revealing, everyday workplace accounts are unsettling.

Janis Hirsch, a veteran TV writer, said producers and writers, male and female, can be tough on women in the pressure-cooker world of TV. But her accounts of men behaving badly sound like absurdly outdated sitcom scenes.

Some men poison the work atmosphere by using raunchy sexual terms for women as a power play, she said. Others blatantly discriminate.

“We literally get told, ‘File a complaint, and you’ll never work again,’” Hirsch said.

Why is Hollywood’s shabby treatment of women so stubborn?

“This is not perceived as a problem by many of the individuals who could do something about it,” said Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. “There’s a good deal of denial, and, until that changes, the numbers are not going to move.”

AP Writer Michael Cidoni Lennox contributed to this report.