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Women in Hollywood: The Writers

October 20, 2010

Grey's Anatomy writer-producer Shonda Rhimes


Please don’t start with a list of omissions. I selected writers whose work has both influenced and inspired me. However, you’re certainly welcome to list your own favorite and I hope you do!

Jill Soloway – “They never let two old, ugly women talk on TV that long.” quipped feminist screenwriter Jill Soloway when dishing the way female writers in Hollywood are introduced to a Hero’s Journey – the unofficial outline and bible of screenwriting. Soloway has written for Six Feet Under, Grey’s Anatomy and currently serves as the executive producer/showrunner for the Showtime original series The United States of Tara. Here’s Soloway discussing the “Men’s Story” problem in Hollywood for a NOW function.

Shonda Rhimes – Oh Shonda! The Dartmouth educated, undisputed queen of the primetime soap! As the multi-tasking showrunner and writer of the juggernaut Grey’s Anatomy and its spin-off (that I don’t actually watch) Private Practice. What I find fascinating about Rhimes’ success is how unimpressed folks seem to be about it. Other than Oprah, what woman of color has that much influence on the images we see on television? Rhimes was the first Black woman to write and produce a “hit” television show! *crickets*Grey’s Anatomy wasn’t the first show to actively seek to showcase a cast reflective of many life experiences, but it’s definitely one the of the first shows to do so successfully. Or as Sandra Oh wrote for Time:

Somehow, in the midst of all that pressure, Shonda’s vision for the characters became more sharply focused, more self-assured. She found that her responsibility was to them and her creative voice. And by remaining true to that voice and singular vision, I think she has created something great. As a fan, I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.

Cindy Chupack – As a writer-producer for HBO’s polarizing hit comedy series Sex and the City, it must have come as quite a shock to Cindy Chupack that her show was, “a bunch of old chicks who act young written by gay men.” Several Golden Globe and Emmy wins didn’t seem to clarify the matter. It’s a shame. Chupack’s work on the show was fantastic and her writing is some of the sharpest comedic writing on TV. I don’t know if Chupack was singularly responsible for the line, “I’m freaking Annie get your clothes on!” but that still makes me laugh.

(sorry about the weird sync issues and it’s NSFW!!!!)

Julie Martin – As one of the many bright shining stars of something I like to call “The Fontanaverse”, Julie Martin (like her cohort Anya Epstein) came on my radar through her work on Homicide: Life on the Street. Along with Bonnie Marks and the backbone of H:LOTS – James Yoshimura – Martin crafted one of the most gripping episodes of the series – The City That Bleeds and has long been my favorite TV writer.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2010 1:10 pm

    Back when I was a comic book addict, people used to look at me funny when I talked about my favorite comic book writers. Mostly they knew the titles; occasionally the artist — like Jack Kirby, or Neal Adams — would break out. But the one who wrote the text was about as anonymous as the the one who filled in the word balloons.

    I imagine it’s the same way with your knowledge and awareness of who writes the TV shows. I’ve really had my eyes opened, and am glad to see that women (and women of color!) are gaining a toehold in writing and directing and generally helping to shape the culture I consume.

  2. October 20, 2010 2:17 pm

    ok, I like joseph campbell&bill moyer hours, and that isht made me lol. because it’s true! thanks for profiling these three, it’s good to get people learning/remembering their names. i base the majority of my movie choices on the directors, not the actors (though there are always exceptions) and i tend to base my television on writers.

  3. October 21, 2010 11:13 am

    Admittedly I don’t watch any of these shows, but I’m happy to know they’re all run by such interesting women writers!

    Some of the lady tv writers I’m thankful for are Susie Lewis (co-creator of Daria) and Annabel Jankel (co-creator of Max Headroom, which I’ve been getting into lately). I’m having trouble thinking of others besides Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling. I think most of my favorite shows were created by men, even if women write certain episodes.

  4. October 21, 2010 11:36 am

    Annabel Jankel!!!! Wow that’s so old school. What’s nice about this batch is they turn up just about everywhere, particularly Julie Martin, who’s moved over to the L&O franchise and Anya Epstein is running everything else. Oddly enough the best place to find women writing, directing, producing is on Cop shows!

  5. October 21, 2010 7:45 pm

    Oh my stars, I love this feature! So few people pay attention to the names that flash in the credits and the IDs of the writers are always one of the things I am most interested in. I love that many of these ladies are also wearing other hats and working as producers, directors, etc.

  6. October 22, 2010 3:58 pm

    Two wonderful writers who went through the Roseanne ranks: Amy Sherman-Palladino (later the creator of the love it or hate it Gilmore Girls) and Penelope Spheeris (who directed The Decline of Western Civilization documentaries on the LA punk and metal scenes, Wayne’s World, and, oh, basically kicks ass). Wikipedia says that she’s 64 years old, which makes me want to complain less about my knee pain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penelope_Spheeris

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