The Women Behind Fall 2017’s Best TV

By
Female Showrunners
Photo: Getty Images / Jill Soloway, Shonda Rhimes, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Amy Sherman-Palladino

Following The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies’ big wins at the Emmys, where women truly shone this year, it’s hard not to celebrate the women behind the scenes responsible for some of TV’s best scripted programming.

The fall will continue the momentum with a number of new and returning shows created, produced, written and directed by women. And this year, several networks have launched programs to encourage and diversify the creative teams behind TV. 

NBC, which says all of its new and returning shows have female writers in their writers rooms and has female producers on 14 scripted series, has announced an initiative called Female Forward. The program, starting during the 2018-19 season, will give 10 female directors the opportunity to shadow on at least three episodes of a NBC series, with a guarantee to direct one in-season episode. 

It’s similar to FX and longtime collaborator Ryan Murphy’s current program, Half initiative, which aims to creative equal opportunities for women and minorities behind the camera. In 2016, the number of female and diverse directors on the network’s shows was 51 percent, up from 12 percent in the previous season. And on Murphy’s shows, like American Horror Story: Cult, at least half of the episodes are directed by women. The same is true for NBC’s Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, which will see half its first season helmed by female directors including Lesli Linka Glatter, who has been nominated for five directing Emmys (including this year, when she lost to Reed Morano). 

Check out all the series -- new and returning -- largely directed, written and produced by women coming this fall.

9JKL (CBS)

Dana Klein co-created the new CBS sitcom with husband (and star) Mark Feuerstein. The multicamera series is loosely based on their real-life experiences as a couple, when Feuerstein was shooting the USA series Royal Pains. Dana Honor and Wendi Trilling also serve as executive producers and longtime How I Met Your Mother director Pamela Fryman helmed the pilot.

Alias Grace (Netflix)

Another Margaret Atwood novel gets the TV treatment, with her 1996 fictionalized account of the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper at the center of the story. Sarah Polley wrote and produced the new limited series, which is directed by Mary Harron. Rising Canadian actress Sarah Gadon stars with Anna Paquin in a supporting role. 

Alias Grace
Director Sarah Polley and Anna Paquin in a scene from 'Alias Grace.' 
Photo: Getty Images / Netflix

American Horror Story: Cult(FX)

In addition to producers Alexis Martin Woodall, Karen Romero and Crystal Liu, FX and Ryan Murphy are making good on their promise to include more women behind the camera with Angela Bassett, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Jennifer Lynch, Liza Johnson, Maggie Kiley and Rachel Goldberg directing over half of Cult’s 11 episodes. “Normally you have to bring in the National Guard for that kind of stuff,” Johnson told ET of FX. The network took “this dare,” she notes, and “I think that’s kind of amazing.”

Better Things (FX)

Fresh off the series’ first Emmy nomination (for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series), Pamela Adlon is back with season two of Better Things, which she co-created with Louis C.K. This season, Adlon directed every episode in addition to serving as star, showrunner and co-writer. (M. Blair Breard, who also works on One Mississippi, co-executive produces.) “I have a vision and an aesthetic and a style that really lent itself to me taking over in every way on my show,” she told The Cut. “In that way it became a lot easier for me to execute this whole season.”

Black Mirror: “Arkangel” (Netflix)

While creator Charlie Brooker is largely the mastermind behind Black Mirror -- he has a writing credit on every episode of the series except one -- he does bring in award-winning directors to bring his anthology series alive. Season four sees Jodie Foster helming one episode, “Arkangel,” becoming the series’ first and only female director. Meanwhile, Foster has become a formidable TV (and Emmy-nominated) director, helming episodes of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, which earned Laverne Cox and Reg E. Cathey Emmy nominations and Uzo Aduba her first of two Emmy wins.

Broad City (Comedy Central)

Co-creators and executive producers Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are back with season four of Broad City, which has become a hilarious showcase for female friendships in addition to being a place that’s hosted a number of kick-ass female cameos, including Alia Shawkat, Cynthia Nixon, Kelly Ripa, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel Dratch, Tracee Ellis Ross and Hillary Clinton, “The extraordinary experience of not only working with two stupidly funny people -- it’s not even right how funny they are -- but on top of that, they are women and they also write and produce and edit and do all of that stuff on their show. The experience of that was the biggest and most wonderful breath of fresh air,” Ross told ET about appearing on season three, adding: “To see women in these comedic roles on a weekly basis is everything and a bag of chips!” Amy Poehler, Brooke Posch and Lilly Burns serve as executive producers, with Lucia Aniello, who wrote and directed Rough Night, serving as co-executive producer. 

Black Mirror
Jodie Foster and a scene from the "Arkangel" episode of 'Black Mirror' season four. 
Photo: Getty Images / Netflix

Chance (Hulu)

Scoring a two-season order from the get-go, Chance is back with its second installment from co-creator and showrunner Alexandra Cunningham. The Hulu original series starring Hugh Laurie follows a growing history in prestige TV for Cunningham that includes consulting on Bates Motel and writing and producing Desperate Housewives.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

Created, written and executive produced by Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returns for a music-filled third season. When it comes to their creative partnership, McKenna says Bloom is her soulmate. “I’ve had writing partners, producers and a number of really close collaborations -- but not one like this. We ended up writing 900 pages of material for the show. It’s productive and intense.… We have developed twin speak -- we’re basically like tree elves gibbering in our own language. No one makes me laugh harder,” she told Motto.

Chicago-Law & Order Universe (NBC)

Dick Wolf’s ever-expanding TV universe, which started with Law & Order and now includes Special Victims Unit, True Crime and the Chicago series (Fire, Med, P.D.), has become dominated by women behind the scenes: SVU is now executive produced by longtime writer Julie Martin and star Mariska Hargitay. True Crime, the new anthology series that launched this fall with The Menendez Murders, is executive produced by director Lesli Linka Glatter, who will helm two episodes. Half of the season’s eight episodes will be directed by women. Danielle Gelber, who helped launch the Chicago franchise, executive produces P.D. and Diane Frolov is the executive producer and co-showrunner of Med.

The Deuce(HBO)

The Deuce, HBO’s new series about the rise of the porn industry in 1970s New York City created by David Simon and George Pelecanos, also includes Nina K. Noble, who previously worked with Simon on Show Me a Hero, Treme and The Wire, as executive producer and star Maggie Gyllenhaal as producer. For Gyllenhaal’s part, she told ET that her role as producer was largely to give feedback on scripts. Megan Abbott and Lisa Lutz serve as co-executive producers and writers, while episodes of season one were directed by Michelle MacLaren, Uta Briesewitz and Roxann Dawson.

Runaways
Stephanie Savage and the cast of 'Marvel's Runaways.'
Photo: Getty Images / Hulu

Dynasty(The CW) andMarvel’s Runaways (Hulu)

Stephanie Savage knows teen drama. The producer has helped create, write and execute some of TV’s best high school-age soaps, from The O.C. to Gossip Girl to the short-lived Carrie Diaries. Now she’s back, teaming up with longtime producing partner Josh Schwartz, to develop and produce a remake of Dynasty for a whole new generation as well as co-create and co-run Hulu’s teen Marvel series, Runaways, about six teenagers who unite against their criminal parents. Episodes of the first season are also directed by Roxann Dawson, who has had a busy 2017, Nina Lopez-Corrado and Millicent Shelton.

Empire and Star (FOX)

The hit hip-hop series created by Lee Daniels returns for a fourth season with a crossover with Star, creating an expanded TV universe from the filmmaker. Ilene Chaiken, who created The L Word, still serves as showrunner of Empire, with Sanaa Hamri directing and executive producing and Attica Locke as supervising producer. Starring Queen Latifah, Empire’s female-led counterpart is executive produced by longtime Daniels collaborator Pamela Oas Williams and Effie Brown, who famously butted heads with Matt Damon on Project Greenlight and produced Dear White People.

The Girlfriend Experience (Starz)

The anthology series created, written, directed and executive produced by Amy Seimetz along with Logan Kerrigan, is breaking from last season’s format and will follow two parallel stories focusing on entirely new characters, plotlines and locations. Seimetz’s storyline follows Bria (Carmen Ejogo), a former high-end escort who enters the Witness Protection Program and is relocated to New Mexico.

Great News (NBC)

After serving as producer and writer on 30 Rock and The Mindy Project, Tracey Wigfield went on to create Great News, the NBC comedy about an up-and-coming news producer and her overbearing mother, starring Briga Heelan and Andrea Martin. The show is executive produced by Tina Fey, who will guest star on season two, and longtime TV director Beth McCarthy-Miller. 

Lady Dynamite
Maria Bamford and Ana Gasteyer in a scene from 'Lady Dynamite' season two. 
Photo: Getty Images / Netflix

Jane the Virgin(The CW)

Created and executive produced by Jennie Snyder Urman, Jane the Virgin returns with season four as Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is confronted by her first love, Adam, played by guest star Tyler Posey. The show is also produced by Corinne Brinkerhoff, Gina Lamar, Meredith Averill and Eva Longoria, who also directed an episode in season three. “I absolutely love seeing a Zoe Saldana succeeding. I love seeing a Gina Rodriguez succeeding,” Longoria told ET about women who empower her and what it means to champion each other. “Their success is my success. They're opening doors. Whether it's me opening doors for Gina or Zoe opening a door for me, we're all tied together.”

Lady Dynamite (Netflix)

The second season of Lady Dynamite sees the return of Maria Bamford, who co-executive produces with Pam Brady, in this delightfully twisted sitcom about the comedian adjusting to life in Los Angeles after spending time away recovering for bipolar disorder. The show also stars Ana Gasteyer, Mary Kay Place and Mo Collins.

The Long Road Home (Nat Geo)

Based on Martha Raddatz’s bestseller, the new scripted drama from Nat Geo chronicles the events of “Black Sunday,” when a platoon was ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad. Raddatz serves as a production consultant on the series, which includes episodes written by Amy Louise Johnson, Kelly Wiles and Lana Cho.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)

Amazon’s new period drama centers on a 1950s housewife (Rachel Brosnahan) who turns to standup comedy after her husband admits to having an affair. The series was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and co-stars Alex Borstein and Marin Hinkle, with a guest appearance by Jane Lynch. 

Mindy Project
Mindy Kaling and a scene from 'The Mindy Project.'
Photo: Getty Images / Hulu

The Mindy Project (Hulu)

Created by Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project is now in its sixth and final season on Hulu. Over the course of the series, there have been a number of women who have written and directed episodes. In the final season, Lang Fisher serves as co-executive producer as well as director alongside writers Mackenzie Dohr, Miranda Berman and Sonia Kharkar, Kaling’s longtime assistant, and directors Daniella Eisman, Linda Mendoza and Geeta Patel. With Mindy’s role front and center, Kaling used the character to write someone that was flawed. “I don’t want to be the sweet wife,” she recently told The New York Times. “And yeah, if that can be the legacy, and I had really funny jokes and said crazy things that women had not said before, then that’s really nice.”

Newton’s Law (Acorn TV)

Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger, the creators and executive producers of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (a must-watch now streaming on Netflix and Acorn TV), are back with another Melbourne crime series. This time, the story focuses a suburban solicitor who attempts to return to her briefly glorious career at the bar. Much of the first season was directed by Jennifer Leacey and Jennifer Perrott and written by Belinda Chayko, Elizabeth Coleman, Elizabeth Packett and Ellie Beaumont. 

One Mississippi(Amazon)

Co-created by Tig Notaro and Diablo Cody, One Mississippi is a semi-autobiographical series about a Los Angeles-based radio host who returns to Mississippi when she learns that her mother is being taken off life support, and ultimately stays to help care for the family’s affairs after her death. Season two, which is now streaming on Amazon, is executive produced by Kate Robin and M. Blair Breard, who also helps out on Better Things, with episodes written by Stephanie Allynne, Cara DiPaolo and Zoe Jarman and directed by Wendey Stanzler and Minkie Spiro.

Outlander (Starz)

While created for TV by longtime sci-fi TV producer Ronald D. Moore, Starz’s sweeping drama that travels through the ages is supported by a large female team that includes executive producers Anne Kenney, Maril Davis and Toni Graphia, co-producer Elicia Bessette and season three directors Charlotte Brandstrom, Jennifer Getzinger and Norma Bailey, and writers Joy Blake, Karen Campbell and Shannon Goss. 

Search Party
Sarah-Violet Bliss and a scene from 'Search Party' on TBS.
Photo: Getty Images / TBS

Queen Sugar (OWN)

The OWN drama returns with the second half of season two, helmed by an all-female directing team -- Garrett Bradley, Kat Candler, Julie Dash, DeMane Davis, Cheryl Dunye, Aurora Guerrero, Amanda Marsalis, Maryam Keshavarz, Liesl Tommy and Christina Voros -- handpicked by creator and executive producer Ava DuVernay.

Search Party (TBS)

The mysterious dark comedy starring Alia Shawkat was created by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, who both write and direct the series, which returns in November. The pair previously wrote for Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. Lilly Burns, who works on Broad City, Younger and Difficult People, also serves as executive producer. 

Shut Eye (Hulu)

As executive producer of Shut Eye, the psychic noir series starring Jeffrey Donovan, Melissa Bernstein is in charge of a lot. As head of the television division of Gran Via Productions, according to the New York Times, she helps staff the writers rooms, which now include Amy Berg and Katrina Cabrera-Ortega, hires music supervisors, editors and cinematographers and chooses directors, including Meera Menon, Sheree Folkson and Jennifer Getzinger. “I’m soup to nuts,” she told the paper during a visit to the set last year.

SMILF (Showtime)

Created, executive produced, written and directed by Frankie Shaw, SMILF is a new series based on Shaw’s Sundance Film Festival Jury Award-winning short film of the same name. The series follows the life of Bridgette (Shaw), a Boston native whose desires for relationships, sex and a career collide with the realities of being a single mom. Janice Williams (HBO’s Confirmation) also serves as executive producer and Rosie O’Donnell co-stars in her first series regular TV role. 

Queen Sugar
Ava DuVernay and a scene from 'Queen Sugar' season two. 
Photo: Getty Images / OWN

Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)

The longtime Star Trek franchise returns to TV for the first time since Enterprise ended in 2005. Discovery, which notably has shaken up traditional cast of characters with Sonequa Martin-Green leading as USS Shenzhou First Officer Michael Burnham, is executive produced by Heather Kadin (Limitless) and Gretchen J. Berg (Revenge) with Kirsten Beyer writing and Lee Rose directing one episode.  

Teachers (TV Land)

TV Land’s original comedy about a group of elementary school teachers was created and executive produced by and stars The Katydids -- Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O'Brien and Kathryn Renée Thomas -- with Allison Brie serving as executive producer. “I think my favorite part about this dream that we’ve all achieved together is that the six of us are women, and we’re friends and we’re doing it together,” Freedman told Splitsider. “There’s not another show that’s an all-female ensemble that started the way we did, does exactly what we do, and does it to the depth that we do it.” 

Ten Days in the Valley (ABC)

Created by Tassie Cameron, the new thriller starring Kyra Sedgwick (who also serves as executive producer) tells the story of a television producer trying to balance a complicated work and home life after her daughter disappears in the middle of the night. The series is also executive produced by Jill Littman, Sherry White, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross.

TGIT (ABC)

Shonda Rhimes’ Thursday night lineup is back, with Grey’s Anatomy returning for season 14(!), Scandal debuting its final season and How to Get Away With Murder returning with the newly Oscar-minted star Viola Davis. Created by Rhimes, Grey’s is executive produced by Betsy Beers, Krista Vernoff, Zoanne Clack and Debbie Allen. Scandal, also created by Rhimes, is executive produced by Beers. HTGAWM sees Rhimes and Beers serving as executive producers. All three shows have become a place for women writers and directors, with longtime star Chandra Wilson helming the most among her female counterparts. 

This Is Us
Elizabeth Berger and Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore in a scene from 'This Is Us' season two.
Photo: Getty Images / NBC

This Is Us (NBC)

Elizabeth Berger is one-half of the duo responsible for This Is Us season two as co-showrunner and co-executive producer, alongside Isaac Aptaker. The two were promoted to run the show alongside creator Dan Fogelman after penning some of season one’s most pivotal episodes. They have a long history of writing together, getting started on FOX’s Friends With Benefits before first working with Fogelman on The Neighbors and Grandfathered. Season two will also see Regina King stepping in to direct an episode, making her the second high-profile guest director following Helen Hunt in season one.

Top of the Lake: China Girl (Sundance TV)

On the second, stunning installment of Top of the Lake, co-creator, writer and director Jane Campion takes Robin’s (Elisabeth Moss) story from a remote New Zealand town to Sydney, Australia, where she investigates the murder of a Chinese prostitute while trying to connect with a daughter she gave up for adoption. As for returning to Top of the Lake, Moss told ET that she saw it as an opportunity “to show real humans and real women that are very complicated and have very different feelings and emotions about things.”

Transparent (Amazon)

Creator Jill Soloway has long called for an end to the patriarchy by putting more women behind the camera and in her writers’ room. On her other Amazon series, I Love Dick, the writers’ room was 100 percent women, a “choice,” she told ET, “to create a room without the male gaze.” Transparent, which is back with its fourth season, is executive produced by Andrea Sperling and Bridget Bedard, with episodes written by Faith Soloway, Stephanie Kornick and Our Lady J and directed by Soloway, Allison Liddi-Brown, Andrea Arnold, Sarah Gavron, Marta Cunningham and actress Gaby Hoffmann.

Will & Grace (NBC)

After initially ending in 2006, Will & Grace is back with its original stars -- Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes -- and producing team, creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick and Tracy Poust. After writing and producing for Ugly Betty and serving as executive producer on 2 Broke Girls and The Crazy Ones, Poust returns as executive producer on the revival, which has already been renewed for a second season.