At the TCA’s: TNT & TBS Leading Ladies of Comedy & Drama

Sarah Aubrey (Executive Vice President, Original Programming) gave the opening remarks at the
“Leading Women of Comedy and Drama” panel. The TCA panel featured Michelle Dockery (Good Behavior), Niecy Nash (Claws), Janine Sherman Barrois (Executive Producer/Showrunner, “Claws”),
Olivia DeJonge (Will), Alia Shawkat (Search Party), Nasim Pedrad (People of Earth),  and Megan Martin (Co-Executive Producer/Writer Animal Kingdom).

Sarah Aubrey laid out the thoughts and strategy of TNT and TBS in her opening remarks. “When we started this next evolution of programming at TNT and TBS a little over two years ago, one important agenda item for us was increasing dramatically the diversity of talent in front of and behind the camera. And that’s not just because it is the right thing to do, though I strongly, as does everyone at our company, believe it is the right thing to do, but also, in this very crowded landscape of content, we need new voices to break through the clutter. If we keep going back to the same storytellers, we might get great stories, but they are not going to stand apart.”

“So, for that reason, it is of the utmost importance for us to reach out beyond the usual pool of storytellers.”

The statistics Aubrey laid out showed just how much work needs to be done. “So, a recent Annenberg study said that male show creators outnumber female creators by more than 3-1. Women have only one-third of speaking roles. Take that in for a second. One-third of speaking roles, and an even smaller percentage jobs writing or directing. And finally, 19 percent of broadcast shows have no African-American speaking roles. 59 percent of broadcast TV shows have no Asian-American speaking roles.”

Niecy Nash explained the personal impact having so many women – and women of color – involved in her show, Claws. “You know, I started in this business 20 years ago, and what I see when I come on the set now does not — it doesn’t look today like it looked then.” Nash added, “We were all on the set of Claws, myself, Janine as our showrunner. We had Victoria Mahoney, who is an African-American woman. We had Rashida Jones. We have all these amazing, beautiful, talented, well-equipped black women leading the charge on this project, and for me, it was absolutely delicious, because I’ve come in many times and either been the only woman of color, you know, and not seen myself represented in the kinds of roles that I’m saying now, so it’s definitely a gift.”

Nasim Pedrad (People of Earth) shared her experience. “I graduated from theater school in 2003, and it’s really been interesting to see how much has changed for me as a woman, but also as a Middle Eastern person. I think we still have a long ways to go, but when I started out, a lot of roles I was auditioning for would be, like, the wife of a terrorist. And it was such a bummer to me that it was that narrow the way that I felt like my in to the industry was perceived. And I started to write. That’s why I started to write, was to empower myself to create opportunities to tell the stories I want to tell, and I just felt so stagnant waiting around for these auditions to come around for roles that weren’t even that interesting to me, and so yeah. That’s how I started writing.”

“I think diversity, the main reason it’s important, both with race and gender, is because it offers varied perspectives. If you have eight guys in a room, the pitches just won’t be as varied as if you throw a few women in there. Men don’t experience what women experience, and it makes for a better content.”

TBS and TNT continue to work to expand the points of view represented in their shows, as well as chasing away expectations that all female characters have to be likable.

If Breaking Bad can exist, why can’t a show like Good Behavior.

Pedrad brought up a common misconception. “That’s the big misunderstanding with sexism is that it’s also malicious, and it’s not. It’s just a lot of times out of laziness or being unaware, and that’s why this dialogue itself is important. Like, I’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of men who are feminists, and those are our allies. Like, we need to encourage this dialogue.”

Catch Animal Kingdom, People of Earth, Search Party, Claws, and Good Behavior on the TBS and TNT networks. Check your local listings.