Panel Show Quotas

One of my very first posts on Feminist Fiction, way back in 2011, was about British panel shows. More specifically, about how few women there are on British panel shows. Thankfully, earlier this year, the BBC ruled that all panel shows much have at least one female guest in every episode. Considering that these shows usually have at least six comedians and a host, that's not exactly a revolutionary ruling, but it's a step.

But now that we've seen some of this post-quota TV, I'm left wonderinf whether they help to get the ball rolling towards actual equality on these shows? I'm thinking no.

I've commented before that the popular quiz show QI had something of a woman problem in the past, and the new quota has changed that somewhat. If we can trust Wikipedia as a source, every episode of the new season does have a female guest in it. But almost never more than one. In fifteen of the sixteen episodes, there is one female guest, two male guests, and two male regulars.

The only exception? An episode titled "Ladies and Gents." Strange.

And this is actually worse than before the quota. Then, not every episode had a female guest, but one quarter of the 2012 season had two female guests out of three total, and one episode had an all-female line-up. In 2013, ten episodes had one female guest, two had two female guests, and one had three female guests, with two episodes with an all-male line-up. More individual women were featured, and they had the chance to be half or more or the people on screen.

It seems like this show, at least, is treating the quota as exactly that. They'll meet the requirement and then pat themselves on the back for doing a good job, never considering going beyond it unless they have a particularly good thematic reason. And I have to wonder whether this makes it harder to get female comedians on the shows. Is there a sense that they're "only a quota"? Does this create a hostile environment and make female comedians less likely to make an appearance in the future?

Of course, I think requiring a female presence is much better than not having any presence at all, but how do things progress beyond that quota? How do you prevent a quota from stopping progress? Is it a case of waiting for things to settle, until meeting the quota becomes natural, until the idea of not meeting it or even going beyond it is absurd? Is a wide-sweeping rule enough to tackle this, or is more of an attitude change required? Should the change even start at the visible guest level, or should it focus on having more female producers of panel shows, more women involved in selecting the guests and editing the shows, perhaps even (shock horror) more women as regulars and show hosts?

I really don't know. But as great it is to see more women on panel shows, it's terrible to see that quota be barely met, to see shows do the bare minimum, and know that they could do better if they wished. It's terrible to see a line-up of male comedians and think "you're there because you're funny," and see the one female comedian at the end, struggling against the stigma that she's only there because the producers didn't have a choice.