Emmys flashback: Only 10 female directors have won for fictional programming

Emmy recognition for female directors was a long, long time coming. The playing field is a bit more level but has a long way to go. Eght of the 20 nominees for directing in the comedy series, drama series, and movie/limited series categories are women.

The first Emmy for outstanding directing was handed out in 1955 to Franklin Schaffner for the “Studio One” live drama “Twelve Angry Men” (he won an Oscar 15 years later for helming Best Picture champ “Patton”).  It wasn’t until 30 years later that a woman director was even nominated in that category.  Karen Arthur made history again when she won an Emmy for the “Heat” episode of CBS’ “Cagney & Lacey.” It was the only nomination and win for this prolific TV helmer.

The flood gates didn’t exactly open after Arthur’s win. More women were nominated in this category, but it took another decade for another to win — Mimi Leder for the “Love’s Labor Lost” episode of NBC’s “ER.” The only other woman to win was Reed Morano in 2017 for the pilot episode of Hulu’s “A Handmaid’s Tale.” She was the first woman in history to win both the primetime Emmy and a DGA award for directing a drama series.

Leder is nominated this year for “The Interview” installment of Apple TV +’s “The Morning Show”; Lesli Lina Glatter is nominated this year for the “Prisoners of War” episode of Showtime’s “Homeland”; and Jessica Hobbs contends for the “Cri de Coeur’ episode of Netflix’s “The Crown.”

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The track record for women directors in the limited series, movie or dramatic special is even more bleak. The first winner was Fielder Cook in 1971 for the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentation of Arthur Miller’s “The Price.” Scroll down the list of nominees and winners and you’ll discover that it isn’t until 1984 that a woman was even nominated: Randa Haines for ABC’s “Something About Amelia.” She lost to Jeff Bleckner for PBS”  “Concealed Enemies.” Two years later, Haines directed the classic feature “Children of a Lesser God.”

Though other women earned nominations, it wasn’t until 2009 that a woman was in the winner’s circle. Irish director Dearbhla Walsh prevailed for the first installment of PBS’ “Little Dorrit.” Since Walsh’s landmark win, Lisa Cholodenko won in 2015 for HBO’s miniseries  “Olive Kitteridge” and Susanne Bier in 2016 for AMC’s “The Night Manager.”

This year, three women are nominated in this category: the late Lynn Shelton for “Find a Way” installment for Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere”; Maria Schrader for Netflix’s “Unorthodox” and Nicole Kassell for “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” episode of HBO’s “Watchman.

SEE 2020 Emmy nominations complete list: All the nominees for the 72nd Emmy Awards

Outstanding in director in a comedy series was first handed out in 1959 to Peter Tewksbury for the “Medal for Margaret” episode of CBS’ “Father Knows Best.” In 1976, Joan Darling became the first woman to be nominated for a director in any category for the beloved “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of CBS” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” She lost to Gene Reynolds for “The Welcome to Korea” episode of CBS “M*A*S*H.” The following year, she was nominated again for the “The Nurses” episode of “M*A*S*H”; she lost to Alan Alda for the “Dear Sigmund” episode of the same show. Darling did take home a Daytime Emmy in 1985 for the ABC “Afterschool Special: Mom’s on Strike.”

In 1993 Betty Thomas became the first female director to win for a comedy series when received the honor for “For Peter’s Sake” episode of HBO’s “Dream On.” It would be 20 years before the Emmy went to another woman — Gail Mancuso won back-to-back Emmys for ABC’s “Modern Family.” Jill Soloway also won consecutive Emmys in 2015 and 2016 for Amazon Prime’s “Transparent.” And in 2018, Amy Sherman-Palladino picked up this Emmy for Amazon Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Both Mancuso and Sherman-Palladino are nominated this year in the comedy category; they are the only two women among the seven nominees. Mancuso is up for the “Finale Part 2” installment of “Modern Family,” with Sherman-Palladino in contention for “It’s Comedy or Cabbage” episode of “Maisel.”

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