The Women Behind Your TV Obsessions

From bingeing on The Crown to the laugh-out-loud Insecure, the one thing our favourite TV shows right now have in common is Girl Power.

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by Emily Phillips |

Not just the stars – but the women who created them. Emily Phillips meets the game-changers smashing the glass TV screen...

Michele Clapton is head costume designer on The Crown

The Crown
©Netflix

We're all familiar with footage of the Queen, but The Crown is a drama, not a documentary. We were trying to find out a little more about her and the family dynamics and it's nice to do that with choices of cloth and colour.

The Queen's colours are stronger and more de nite whereas Princess Margaret was racier. We looked at archive pieces and exhibitions, but sometimes you can research for years and it's quite intimidating. A costume can't stand in a room on its own: it has to move. I like the psychology of it all. I'll meet with the production designer and, if I put up a mauve nightdress they'll say: "We could put mauve and green around the bed."

I started out in music videos and commercials working with artists like Annie Lennox and Boy George. I had a team of one. Now I have 35 or 45 people at all times for projects like this or Game Of Thrones that last eight or nine months at a time.

The Crown is available on Netflix now.

Amy Sherman-Palladino is series creator of The Gilmore Girls

gilmore girls
Gilmore Girls ©NETFLIX

What was cool about writing for these two characters again is it isn't a high-school girl and her mom; it's two women. Suddenly, they can have cocktails together. They can sit and drink and talk about sh*t. Family is great, because it is, for a writer, the gift that keeps on giving.

The world right now is an uncomfortable place. There's a comfort in this show, but it's pixie dust that makes a hit.The stars align.

Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is available on Netflix from 25 November. All episodes of seasons 1-7 are available now.

Melissa Rosenberg is executive producer and show-runner of Jessica Jones

jessica jones

For the first half of my career, I was the only woman in the writing room. Women were often hired at a low (ie, cheaper) level. I found myself more than once in a room full of educated, liberal, sophisticated guys... who'd joke about, demean and objectify women constantly.

I spent half my time defending my gender but then feeling excluded, the other half trying to be one of the guys and feeling violated and ashamed. Now I do the hiring and my rooms are gender-equal. Those misogynist jokes don't fly. And shockingly, we still have fun.

When it comes to female characters, the word "strong" often gets interpreted in a narrow way. She becomes a noble character with no flaws, who's difficult for women to relate to and impossible to live up to.

A truly strong character is complex. Human. Warts and all. Women are half of our audience. We want to see ourselves represented, to see our lives on screen, validating our experiences. To inspire us to keep fighting our own battles, to survive, to thrive, to contribute.

Jessica Jones season 1 is available on Netflix now.

Annabel Jones is executive producer of Black Mirror

black mirror netflix
Black Mirror on Netflix ©Netflix

Charlie Brooker and I have worked together for about 16 years. Black Mirror comes from Charlie's DNA, neuroses, his general unease. He'll be smiling deliciously and say: "I have a terrible idea," and I'll be like: "OK, let me get a coffee first." I suppose my job is to be Charlie's inner monologue.

I'm very much a list-maker, I have an ongoing email to myself 24 hours a day. I have three young children so you have to be very organised, but I have an incredibly supportive husband.

It still disappoints me that most of the rooms that I go into, I'm the only woman. I think you have to work harder to be taken seriously. I'm so used to it now, it doesn't faze me, but when you're younger it is intimidating.

It is changing, but there are fields that are still very much male-dominated. It is very hard to have a family and be filming 18 or 20 hours a day. Lots of women fall out of the industry as they get older, which I think is very sad.

It would take a massive shift in working patterns to make it more female-friendly.

Six brand-new episodes of Black Mirror are available exclusively on Netflix now.

Anne Mensah is Head of Drama at Sky

British drama feels like it's getting stronger and stronger, making it amazing to work at Sky, where you can effectively try being different and bringing new things to the screen.

I wanted to be a film director but then I learned I was rubbish at it. I was literally obsessed – still probably am obsessed – with film and film directors and incredible talents.

I've always had incredible female mentors, so I've been really lucky. We've been doing work with women directors in particular, because it's hard to be on shoots that are probably away from home. We try to make sure we're really mindful of the needs of all the people we work with, because men have children too.

It's important that we support diversity in all forms.

Cindy Holland is Vice President of original content for Netflix

orange is the new black
Orange Is The New Black ©Rex Features

With my job, like most management positions, there's certainly a lot of putting out fires. The TV industry certainly moves more quickly than the feature-film industry – you are creating many hours of content on a yearly basis for just one series, versus a year or two minimum that it takes to produce a similar amount of movie. But more and more what we are doing at Netflix is merging those two art forms together.

Our first priority in original programming is to bring compelling and diverse stories such as Orange Is The New Black. I am aware of the subtle and unconscious attitudes that exist that one just has to overcome.

The people around Netflix are pretty gender identity-neutral when it comes to the work that needs to be done. That's how I try to manage that.

Francesca Gregorini is Director of season 2 of Humans

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Humans was the first TV show that I've directed. I feel very spoilt, so I'm scared now to take another job because everyone was so smart, creative and collaborative. The female characters are super-strong.

Crossing over from film, where as the director you are king of the hill, I was really scared that I'd have no control, but I wanted to take a chance because this is the golden age of TV and I want to be part of it.

My advice to young girls who want to break into the industry is to learn to write, because that was my way in. I was like: "Right, you want my script? I'm attached." I remember getting my hands on my parents' [Bond girl Barbara Bach and stepdad Ringo Starr] video camera as a child and creating little movies with my step-siblings.

I don't care how women are getting in the door, I don't care if it's pressure to hire them, because at least it will force bosses to look at their work and hire the best person. TV gives women that opportunity.

Humans is on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4.

Lisa Nishimura is Vice President of original documentary and comedy programming for Netflix

Making A Murderer

When I joined Netflix nine years ago, it was still a US-based DVD firm. Now we're a global streaming company in 190 countries creating original content. That's evolution.

Something like Making A Murderer takes place in a tiny town in Wisconsin and I always argue that most people in the US couldn't point to it on a map, but it turned into a global conversation.

The quality of the film-making and storytelling was so powerful that it really struck people. They felt the immediate need to talk to one another about it through social media, and it's allowing storytellers to connect with their viewers all around the world.

With 86 million subscribers, it's incredibly important for us to have a very powerful and deep bench of storytellers. We are absolutely delighted to give women like Making A Murderer's Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, and Ava DuVernay, who directed 13th, a platform. I'm incredibly drawn to that.

Issa Rae is Creator, Executive Producer and star of Insecure

issa-rae-insecure

I was complaining so much on my blog about what I wasn't seeing. Why can't we just have regular black people on screen? And an internet commenter said: "Why don't you do something?"

So even though I'd never made a TV show before, I started out with my web show Awkward Black Girl. I don't want to portray black people being overly dramatic: the violence, or 'the hood', or a slave story. I just want to tell the regular stories. Because that is my life, and my friends.

This show will not encapsulate the entire black experience, every person is not going to relate to it, and that's fine with me.The title came from the perception that black people and characters are always flawless or fierce or superheroes and magic. What about the rest of us who are none of those things?

The journey to get this show to television has been a rough one, but since the show has been picked up, it's been easier. Our director Melina Matsoukas [who also directed Beyoncé's Formation video] is amazing and has really heightened the show.

Insecure is on Tuesdays at 10.45pm on Sky Atlantic.

Faye Dorn is executive producer of Fortitude

I came to this project straight from maternity leave, so I was a bit nervous about having a little child and not being able to be out on productions all the time.

Luckily, Fortitude is mostly shot in London, with a bit in Iceland. I started 12 years ago, right at the bottom as a receptionist for a small production company that grew. My two male bosses really nurtured me, so in that regard I would like to say that I haven't faced any sexism, but of course I have. I'm quite young-looking, although I've just turned 35.

Recently, a male actor humiliated me. "You're the exec producer? How old are you?" I just wound him up and said: "I'm 21." He said: "Do you have family in the industry?" assuming I had got my job through nepotism. I said: "No," and he said: "Well, what university did you go to?" and I said: "Sussex," and he was like: "Oh, OK so she's not the genius."

I like to think of myself as a real champion of women. Of the directors I hired, 50% were women.

Fortitude season 1 is available on Sky Box Sets now and will return in the New Year.

Academy Award-winning Catherine Martin is Executive Producer and Production Designer on The Get Down

The Get Down Netflix

I oversaw the set and costume design and was involved in the visual effects. I'm also there to facilitate people's access to my husband Baz [Luhrmann, the director].

There's a lot of stuff you can find about disco in the late '70s. We met Diane von Furstenberg and she was very helpful about that whole world of Studio 54. In terms of the hip-hop part of the show, we got that through research.

A lot of the clothes are custom made, because you're not going to find the perfect, disco pimp suit in a vintage shop.

The Get Down part 1 is on Netflix now.

Sarah Treem is show-runner on The Affair

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When I joined the first season of House Of Cards as a writer, no-one thought it was going to be a big deal.

I got pregnant the first year we were shooting. I was just like: "I can't get myself back to shooting in Baltimore after this," so I wrote The Affair pilot. I was looking for a way out.

Fundamentally, show-running is being a writer. But it's a steep learning-curve. If you talked to people who worked with me in that first year, they'd say I was an unmitigated disaster, but we won the Golden Globe and

the show came out well.

I had to learn how to run this organisation of 150 people with millions of dollars on the line. I had to talk to a management consultant, I had to make a lot of mistakes, I had to basically grow up.

On season two, I deliberately filled the writers' room with friends. It gets to a very intimate place where I'm asking everybody to reveal their secret shame and I felt like the people I'd known for a long time could give me the benefit of the doubt when I started to fall apart.

I have a group of people who've known me for a long time, who are like: "She's not inherently an asshole, she's just having a hard week."

The Affair season 3 returns to Sky Atlantic at 10pm on 20 November.

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