The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The drought is over: David Letterman hires a female writer

February 5, 2010 |  1:04 pm

One of the worst-kept, not to mention most embarrassing, secrets in late-night TV has been the virtual absence of female writers from the late-night comedy show writers rooms. Up until now, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien have had the same track record, having zero -- as in 0 -- women on their writing staffs. According to a recent story in Parade magazine, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson each have one female writer, though in the case of Ferguson, the writer is -- ahem -- his sister.

Letterman Matters are so bad that New York Times TV reporter Bill Carter actually weighed in with a blog post to break the amazing news that "The Late Show With David Letterman" has hired a female writer. It's Jill Goodwin, who had to put in nearly a decade with the show, most recently as an assistant for the writing team, before finally being allowed to graduate to writer's status. Carter didn't mention why Letterman might be finally hiring a woman now, but many female writers in the business have long speculated that Letterman, having something of a female problem after news surfaced of his longtime flings and affairs with female staffers, might be making the hire simply for PR reasons.

Of course, women aren't doing any better on the movie side of the business. Even though there are two female-directed Oscar best picture nominees this year, both films were independently financed far outside of the studio system. As the Jezebel website recently noted in a conversation with New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, who has been an especially vocal detractor of sexism in Hollywood, two studios -- Warners and Paramount -- managed to go through all of 2009 without releasing a film directed by a woman.

It's pretty embarrassing to realize that women are better represented on the cobwebby old Supreme Court -- two of nine judges -- than they are at virtually any major Hollywood studio or network comedy show. When studios are bidding for hot new directing talent, it's rare to ever hear a woman's name on the buzz lists. Just check out Deadline Hollywood's Mike Fleming's post today about the hot new talents being hired to direct big studio films. Needless to say, they're all guys.

I'm delighted to see Letterman taking a tiny step in the right direction, but as the immortal James Brown would say, in show business, it's still a man's, man's, man's world.

Photo of David Letterman by John P. Filo / Associated Press.

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