The new guard of female showrunners. Lena Dunham (as Louis C.K.) and Mindy Kaling (as a giraffe) palling around last Halloween.
Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal (oh, and Crossroads, the critically panned but fan-adored Britney Spears film), wasn’t impressed with the show, which centers on a Vegas dancer turned ballet instructor.
Hey @abcfbunheads: really? You couldn’t cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?— shonda rhimes
Sherman-Palladino, goaded by Media Mayhem host Allison Hope Weiner, took issue with the fact that Rhimes, a fellow female showrunner, was attacking her:
“Look, I’m not going to get into a pissing match with Shonda Rhimes, because she has 15,000 shows on the air, and she’s doing just fine for herself… [But] I’ve always felt like women have never supported — just in a general sense — women have never supported women to the level that they should.”
Sure, some successful women feel threatened by their peers. But the Rhimes-Sherman-Palladino feud seems like the exception to the current overarching rule in female-created television: Support your competitors.
Men have always outnumbered women in comedy. But the gender gap is finally narrowing, with the demand for female-created comedy higher than it’s ever been. And women in the business seem to have realized the best way to fill this gap is to support one another rather than tear each other down. While Rhimes and Sherman-Palladino have never even met, an emerging group of female showrunners appear to have become each others’ biggest fans.
In the fall of 2011, Whitney Cummings debuted Whitney and 2 Broke Girls. Liz Meriwether launched the massively successful New Girl. Emily Kapnek debuted Suburgatory. And former SNL writer Emily Spivey created Up All Night. This year, HBO premiered Lena Dunham’s Girls, and ABC offered Don’t Trust the B——- in Apartment 23, created by Nahnatchka Khan. The Office’s Mindy Kaling’s show The Mindy Project debuts later this years.
The funny — or perhaps, not so funny — thing about these funny women? They’re all incredibly supportive of each other.
When the networks announced which new shows would be picked up for second seasons, many female showrunners posted tweets congratulating one another:
Congrats @therealzooeyd and @lizmeriwether on your dope Fox show! Keep killin it ladies! Girl power!— Whitney Cummings
â€œ@WhitneyCummings: “whitney” is picked up for a season 2!” congratulations, Whit!!!— Mindy Kaling
@EmilyKapnek KAP! CONGRATULATIONS to you too! XO— e. spivey
The tone was similar when Kaling’s show (originally called It’s Messy) was announced:
@mindykaling so happy for your show! #itsmessy #cantwait— Liz Meriwether
@mindykaling congrats to YOU superstar! Keep sparkling! You’re an inspiration!— Whitney Cummings
@mindykaling I cannot wait to watch every week wearing a pore strip and cheering my head off. Love love love.— Lena Dunham
Many of these women also stood by Dunham throughout the Girls backlash, much of which centered on the show’s white cast. During a roundtable discussion in May with New York — a discussion held largely in response to Two and a Half Men co-creator Lee Aronsohn’s comments that we were approaching “peak vagina on television” — DeAnn Heline, co-creator of The Middle, said she found Dunham’s writing to be very real.
“I sort of watched it thinking, ‘I’m not in my twenties anymore. Am I gonna relate to this? Is she just gonna really annoy me?’ And then I just loved it,” said Heline, whose sitcom about a middle-class family was just renewed for its fourth season on ABC.
In an interview with the A.V. Club last November, just as the Girls hype began, Kaling argued that today’s female showrunners aren’t just supporting each other because they’re all women, but because they’re all immensely talented people.
“Lena Dunham is so funny, so talented, and it’s a joy to talk about her talents, because it’s not like I’m just supporting Lena because she’s a woman,” she said. “I just recently saw a couple of episodes of her show Girls — the cast is uniformly great, and it’s all women, pretty much. I think it’s 75 or 80 percent women, and I love that.”
“I read this cheesy quote once: ‘Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours glow brighter.’ We women have to stick together. People ask me why I’m so hard on men. It’s because they’ve gotten a really easy ride. And it’s not that I think women should take over the world. But I do think it should be 50/50. I’m very much about letting other people shine, because it makes us all shine brighter.”
This strong bond among female showrunners didn’t come easy. In her book Lizz Free of Die, Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show, writes about her early days in comedy — a time when she “needed women in my life as I embarked on a career dominated by men, many who had the self-esteem of an abandoned pit bull and who weren’t shy about expressing their opinions of me, my humor, and women in comedy in general.”
Roseanne Barr became that woman for Winstead, inviting the young comic to perform as her opener in the ’80s.
“‘We gotta help each other, kid, because there is power in numbers,’ [Barr] once said to me,” Winstead writes. “I wished I saw more numbers.”
It may have taken three decades, but now she’s got them.