Media Parents Series Producer Gaby Koppel writes here about ageism in the TV industry, and her piece on inherited cancer appears in today’s Independent, see link below.
My first response when I heard that Miriam O’Reilly was taking action against the BBC for ageism was a groan. After all, I reasoned, women who go on the telly as presenters enter into a pact with the devil when they do their first piece to camera.
The deal is this: what you look like, sound like and act like matters. Having good teeth and good hair matters, and whether or not you have wrinkles matters too. That’s why TV ‘faces’ can earn several multiples of what the humble producer does, not to mention the sideline of a column in the Redtop News, to fund the five star hols or whatevs where they can lie on the beach and moan about the paparazzi. It won’t last, so you get paid more for a shorter shelf life.
OK, looks matter in a different way for men and for women, none of the girls could get away with looking like John Sergeant and still earn a living. But that’s what you signed up for, so quit moaning. And not just Miriam O’Reilly. All of a sudden there seemed to be a chorus of prominent TV s’lebs, many of whom have traded on their glamour and their looks for years, now cross to find they’d been dropped. Often in favour of someone who looked a bit like they had when they were younger.
Let’s be straight. I worked with one of the people complaining loudest. And nobody ever hired her for her rigorous line in questioning. Of course, like most producers, I’ve had the usual run-ins with tricky presenters, so it’s only human to feel they deserve what comes to them.
It’s always been different for producers, I told myself. We’re the ones hired for ability and experience, for our great CVs and our probing intellects. Really? Well it’s time to get real. Between 2006 and 2009, nearly 5,000 women left the television industry as opposed to 750 men. The older they were, the more pronounced the effect, so that each year there are fewer and fewer older women left in the business. The female TV producer over 50 is practically a threatened species.
What we look like and the date on our birth certificates matters every bit as much as it does for a presenter, and that’s the connection between those in front of camera and those behind. It’s not us and them, we are all in this together.
Which is why Miriam O’Reilly’s victory over the BBC matters, and not just for the select bunch of highly paid front women. The television screen is the shop window both for our industry, but also more importantly for the world we live in. The women on telly represent us and what we aspire to. It’s not stretching the point to say that they are ultimately the role models for womanhood and professionalism. That’s why we need to see older women on telly. Because they set the expectations of how we all can be.
So bravo Miriam, roll on the grey haired anchorwomen of tomorrow and let’s hope they hold the doors open for the rest of us to follow.
Gaby Koppel is a freelance journalist and TV Series Producer of landmark, prime-time programmes including Child of Our Time.
She is a graduate of the MA programme in Creative Writing (Novels) at City University, where her work in progress won the Christopher Little Literary Agency Award 2010.
She blogs as Jew Bitch: http://lockshenhara.blogspot.com/
Please click here to read Gaby’s article on inherited cancer, published in today’s Independent : http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/cancer-the-flaw-in-our-family-tree-2306945.html