Media Parents

5 Minutes with… Series Producer / Writer Gaby Koppel

July 5, 2011 @ 8:12 am Posted in News Comments

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.

Gaby Koppel and her daughter Sarah. Photograph Graeme Robertson. Gaby Koppel is in the TALENT section of

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 in the TALENT section of Media Parents. for great networking, talent, jobs and information. To join us at our first birthday party in central LONDON on July 12th please email

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:

Please click here to read Gaby’s article on inherited cancer, published in today’s Independent :

by Amy Walker


  1. “….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.” is a brilliant line, Gabby. Horribly true. And they can’t see it!! It was weird the world missed this when Miriam O’Reilly was news of the week.
    As you say, we all sign up for a myth. So newspapers (and even my Dad, thirty years after my first credit!) think that a highly prescribed, scripted programme, the fruit of many months’ hard work and imagination, is the fruit of the presenters’ work and imagination when in fact s/he just turned up for the afternoon.
    But, we bought into the myth, so we shouldn’t complain.
    When we started we could see that if we weren’t at least a Head of Programmes by 50, we would be pretty much jobless. There is a pyramid of more researchers than PDs, more producers than series prods, more series producers than Execs etc. That’s a lot of wasteage. Unlike the law/medicine, even acting, television production is totally unregulated. And so, thirty years on, most of the telly boys and girls I know are now either in the mega-buck stratosphere, or have simply been chundering on for some years now, writing fairly obscure books, training as therapists, getting a tiny bit of PR or corporate video work, teaching nonsense media studies at the University of Totalcrap or whatever (by the way, if anyone wants to work with me on – a guide to careers after TV – get in touch). And more worryingly, if you weren’t at the BBC for a long period, most of us have far less pensions to look forward to than policemen.
    However, I am enjoying renewing the friendships with the people whose weddings I probably missed due to TV workaholic demands, and whenever these friends ask if I regret working in telly, I shoot from the hip and point out that I had more worthwhile fun in TV than they could possibly believe.

  2. David Poyser on July 5th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

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