January 19, 2020
British TV talents from Lucy Prebble to Paul Abbott are helping to diversify drama – by spotting and mentoring emerging writers. We talk to some of them
‘She’s the real deal’: top TV writers on mentoring the stars of the future
There has never been a better time to be a screenwriter. This is what playwright and screenwriter Lucy Prebble describes as “a golden age of television”. Alongside established channels, new streaming services such as Apple and Disney jostle competitively with Amazon and Netflix for viewers and hits. “They’re approaching everybody, going: work for us, work for us, work for us,” Prebble says (in her case, this is no surprise as, with HBO’s Succession, she is, as writer and co-executive producer, the hottest of properties).
And yet, a report from May 2018 on gender inequality, which gathered data for more than 10 years, revealed that only 28% of all UK TV episodes were written by women (a dire statistic that has begun to shift with more top female screenwriters – among them Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michaela Coel and Sharon Horgan – making headlines). A 2018 open letter from female TV writers to drama commissioners noted, too, that “our BAME colleagues are consistently conspicuous by their absence.” Film director Steve McQueen’s recent outburst against the controversially non-diverse Bafta film awards could equally have been lobbed at television commissioners. The industry remains claustrophobically elitist. It is depressing to hear Paul Abbott and his mentor describing script editors at the BBC as predominantly Oxbridge, even if Abbott concedes that this is starting to change.
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