More and more, places like SNL, late night shows, and major primetime network series are being called out for their lack of diversity: Variety recently broke down the low number of female showrunners on the broadcast networks, The Atlantic examined women’s progress in standup with the article “Comedy: Slowly Becoming Less of a Boy’s Club,” and Nightly Show writer Robin Thede called for action in her essay “On Making the TV Writers’ Rooms More Diverse.” When SNL’s cast featured no black women in 2013, people noticed. When The Late Show hired only two women on their writing staff in 2015, people noticed.
There’s one place, however, that’s seemingly been immune to that criticism for years. Since its launch in 2001, Adult Swim has brought us Tim and Eric, Childrens Hospital, The Eric Andre Show, Rick and Morty, Infomercials, and a host of other beloved, bizarre, envelope-pushing projects that wouldn’t fly anywhere else on television. But when they announced their roster of new and returning TV projects last month, something threw me back: 47 names were credited as “creators” on projects, and out of those 47, 0 were women. Here’s the full list:
NEW SPECIALS Robot Chicken: The Walking Dead Special - Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, John Harvatine IV, Eric Towner Montana James - Nick Corirossi, Charles Ingram Brett Gelman’s Dinner in America - Brett Gelman, Jason Woliner NEW SERIES Mr. Neighbor’s House - Brian Huskey, Jason Mantzoukas, Jesse Falcon Samurai Jack - Genndy Tartakovsky Dream Corp, LLC - Daniel Stessen Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace - Sam Hyde, Nick Rochefort, Charles Carroll Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio - Brad Neely Decker: Unclassified - Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington FLCL - Kazuya Tsurumaki PILOTS Art Prison - Tom Kauffman, Paul Isakson Lazor Wulf - Henry Bonsu Chuck Deuce - Chioke McCoy The Hindenberg Explodes! - Rob Corddry, Josh Perilo, Jonathan Stern RETURNING SERIES Black Jesus - Aaron McGruder Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule - John C. Reilly, Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim The Eric Andre Show - Eric Andre Mike Tyson Mysteries - Warner Bros. / Hugh Davidson Mr. Pickles - Will Carsola, Dave Stewart Neon Joe Werewolf Hunter - Jon Glaser Robot Chicken - Seth Green, Matthew Senreich Rick and Morty - Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland Squidbillies - Jim Fortier, Dave Willis Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories - Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim The Venture Bros. - Jackson Publick Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell - Dave Willis, Casper Kelly
After researching Adult Swim’s original series further, I reached a disappointing conclusion: This lineup is indicative of any other year at the network. That’s not to say there aren’t women working there – there’s Greatest Event in Television History co-producer Naomi Scott, PFFR member Alyson Levy, and most recently Becca Kinskey, who co-created and executive produced the new 4:00am short Mulchtown. But in terms of projects solely written, created, and/or starring women, Adult Swim falls surprisingly short (see for yourself here and here). It’s also worth noting that at their 2014 upfront, they revealed that 43% of their audience was female, and this excerpt from The Mary Sue’s loving breakdown of Summer Smith from Rick and Morty makes an interesting point:
In its sophomore year, the show became emotionally complex, more nuanced and more adventurous in both scope and structure. Most excitingly, creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon expanded Summer Smith (Spencer Grammer), older sister to Morty and granddaughter to Rick, into the most interesting female character to ever appear on Adult Swim. I know that’s a lofty claim, but I’ve been watching Adult Swim for more than a decade, and it hasn’t always been easy to find myself, or images of women I know, in the programming.
Women are watching, women work there in non-“creator” roles, and women have praised female characters there that feel more “real” than ever. So why, then, aren’t there any to be found as creators? Here’s Adult Swim’s official statement in response:
We are always on the lookout for new creative partners and have talented women writing and producing on our original series. We recently doubled our programming and development opportunities with the success of our streaming shows, which also have female creators.
So, sure, let’s look at the streaming shows. Adult Swim announced ten new streaming series last month, and when paired with their preexisting slate, the livestream roster features four women creators: Stupid Morning Bullshit (Sally May Skinner, co-creator), Call of Karaoke (Stephanie Lennox), and Assembly Line YEAH (Jiyoung Lee and Anca Vlasan). On top of that, Adult Swim’s development VPs take pitches from fans on the weekly streaming show Development Meeting, which is, as far as I can tell, the easiest and most transparent TV pitch process that exists right now. If the network is indeed “always on the lookout” for new voices, Development Meeting is a great avenue to turn that promise into action.
Still, a livestream isn’t a television show, and when we have to bend the definitions of “television show” and “creator” in order to find women on that upfront announcement, that’s a problem.
If they need proof that female-fronted shows do well on traditionally male-skewing networks, they need look no further than Comedy Central, the home of Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer, Another Period, Idiotsitter, Not Safe with Nikki Glaser, and more Half Hour standup specials featuring women this year than ever before. Not only are the majority of these shows critically acclaimed, but Comedy Central’s ratings prove that “more shows by women” does not equal “less men are watching.” Season 1 of Inside Amy Schumer’s male/female viewers were split 50/50, and Broad City’s most recent season actually drew more men than women – the ratings were split 60/40, according to Indiewire.
Most networks can’t hold a candle to what Comedy Central has done for women comedy show creators, but there are still signs of progress on all fronts except Adult Swim. IFC brought us Portlandia and Garfunkel and Oates, The CW has Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin, TBS gave Samantha Bee a late night show, and FX just ordered a comedy series created by two women with two other projects in development. Mindy Kaling and Julie Klausner’s comedies stream on Hulu, Tina Fey and Maria Bamford’s comedies stream on Netflix…the list goes on.
The only signs of progress at Adult Swim, meanwhile, are the few women who host their livestream shows, which the network is reportedly treating as an incubator for potential TV series. I guess that’s a step, but a progressive and willingly “out there” network like Adult Swim can do better than 47 to 0. And Jennifer L. Pozner, a media critic and the founding director of the advocacy group Women In Media & News, agrees:
Adult Swim can say they are “always on the lookout,” but if precisely zero percent of your shows are created by women it is quite clear that you are overlooking creative contributions from half the population. If they recognize the value of female creators of streaming content, that is even more reason to give women showrunner jobs for their regular programming slate. Instead, this pass-the-buck shell game (“hey, look over there, where there are some women! not over here where there are NONE!”) is so lazy as to be cliche. How sad is it that we may have our first female POTUS in 2017 before we have one female-headed show on this comedy network? Catch up, guys. To be this behind the curve of progress takes actual work.
When Adult Swim revealed they had a 43% female audience back in 2014, Variety reported that the announcement was accompanied by a glib slate on a big screen that read “No, really, why do you look so surprised?” I’m not at all surprised that women watch and love Adult Swim shows, and I’m not surprised that the network’s success is partly thanks to the talented, unnamed women working there behind the scenes. But I think it’s fair to point out that it is surprising – not to mention frustrating and alarming – that after all these years, they don’t let women create shows, too. If they do, they’re certainly not giving them credit for it.
UPDATE: Adult Swim’s EVP/creative director Mike Lazzo has addressed criticism of the network’s lack of women creators in a new post on Reddit this week.