On "Homeland," the CIA's Carrie and ex-Marine Brody, both exhausted and in tears, engage in the mother of all interrogations for a full 15 minutes until Brody finally admits that he's an agent for a global terrorist. In the moving, delightfully funny send-off to "30 Rock," Jack Donaghy reveals he's staged an elaborate suicide fake-out just to prove how much Liz Lemon will miss him. What these stand-out sequences have in common is that each is recognized with an Emmy nomination for outstanding directorial achievement, and each was directed by a woman.
FOR THE RECORD:
Of this season's 10 Emmy nods for directing episodic television, fully half recognize women — three for comedy and two for drama. (Two women are also recognized in the movies and miniseries category, bringing the total to seven). That's the most in the history of the awards, and it's notable because the industry has been notoriously slow to admit women to the ranks of episodic television directors.
Of more than 3,100 episodes of television in the 2011-12 season (the most recent for which data are available from the Directors Guild of America), just 15% were directed by women. But a survey of recent Emmy years suggests that when they do get the gig, women are doing exemplary work.
Lesli Linka Glatter is nominated for "Homeland" for the second year in a row and was up for directing "Mad Men" in 2010. Gail Mancuso is recognized for the second time for "Modern Family." Michelle MacLaren is on her third nomination for "Breaking Bad." Lena Dunham has been nominated twice for directing "Girls" (which she also writes, produces and stars in). Beth McCarthy-Miller, who directed the hourlong "30 Rock" finale, has been nominated seven times before.
McCarthy-Miller says she has déjà vu from 2011, when she, Mancuso and Pamela Fryman ("How I Met Your Mother") were three of the five comedy nominees. "It used to be there were no female comedy directors," McCarthy-Miller said. "Then two years ago, three of us were nominated at once. No one said a word about it, but we were so excited we all went out to dinner together to celebrate."
It isn't that female directors want to be singled out — it's just the opposite. Said Glatter about the Emmy recognition: "It seems people are able to look at the work and be gender-blind, and that's all that women directors have ever wanted." Rather, the focus the nominations raise is why industry biases against female directors are allowed to persist.
The DGA, in its 2011-12 study, listed a dozen series that hired women for fewer than 5% of their episodes, including several that hired none (the data exclude series that use only one or two directors through the season). Most recently, the guild has shifted its efforts to effect change from the corporate to the creative level.
"We believe that any real change must happen at the show level, where executive producers, producers and all those involved with the creation of the show must become champions of diversity," a DGA spokesperson said. The guild compiles lists of women and minority directors that it makes freely available to show runners, among other measures.
"It's still a relatively small pool of women who are getting hired, and that pool has to get bigger," said Glatter, who makes a point of mentoring other women. Some say that what they witness day-to-day in their working lives suggests the tide may be turning.
"I'm running into a lot more women directors, and also strong and talented women at the assistant director level," said McCarthy-Miller, who got her first directing shot via producer Lorne Michaels on "Saturday Night Live."
"It's time — it's just time," added Mancuso, who became a principal director on "Roseanne" not long after Roseanne Barr agreed to let her direct for the first time. "The numbers have been dismal in the past, but I'm feeling extremely optimistic."
Critic Alan Sepinwall, writing on Hitfix.com about the nominated episode of "Breaking Bad," observes: "Director Michelle MacLaren has been behind the camera for the series' most exciting action sequence (the shootout at the end of 'One Minute'), and arguably its most visually stunning episode ('4 Days Out'), and I think she may have just topped the latter. Every frame of 'Gliding Over All' couldn't have been more beautifully assembled … with one image bleeding seamlessly into the next. Even by the standards of this technically brilliant show, this was something."
Said Glatter, "We're in a golden age now. It's great to be doing the work that all of us are doing on television. You don't ever think about awards while you're in the process, but it is overwhelming and humbling to be nominated."