Writers' Rooms Might Finally Diversify, Thanks To New York State Tax Credit

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 09: (L-R) Michelle Wolf, John Lutz and Amber Ruffin attend an Special Advanced Screening Of Key & Peele on October 9, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly)
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New York-based writers' rooms might score a victory when the New York state budget passes on April 1st. Why? Because two bills are being lobbied in the New York State senate by the Writers Guild of America East to subsidize the existence of writers' rooms. That's right — there is currently no budget for writers' rooms to even exist. There is a film tax credit in effect in New York state, but it's meager, and does not currently cover any writer's salary. The bills would require shows to hire people of color. The technical details: 

The bill amends the state's film tax credit program, which offers $420 million a year to cover mostly technical and crew production costs, like props, makeup, wardrobe, lighting and post-production. Under the proposed law, the credits would also reimburse writers' fees and salaries, up to $50,000 per project for qualified writers.

So what does this mean? For one, that New York writers' rooms will finally begin to look a little more like the actual demographics of New York City. The purpose of `the tax credit would be to create more jobs for writers, and that means more diverse writers. It's no secret that writers' rooms in NY are unabashedly white; Saturday Night Live finally hired two black, female writers this February, but it took years of criticism for the long-running variety show to get its act together in being more representative. And when adorable Seth Meyers took over Jimmy Fallon's vacant seat on Late Night, he hired Amber Ruffin as a writer, and she became the FIRST black woman EVER to write for a late-night primetime show. 

It's disappointing, though, that three women in the scope of all of New York's writers' rooms are counted as a victory. This new tax credit could definitely give opportunity to New York shows to hire more diverse voices. Though conservatives, of course, are critical of a tax credit to subsidize the arts, it's crucial in New York for the state budget to account for cultural institutions. So much of New York identity comes through on late-night and variety TV programs; that's why it was so exhausting for so long that SNL's writers' room was not at all representative of the people of its city.

More diverse voices in writers' rooms would mean more diverse stories being told on TV. It's a responsibility of New York state to pass these bills, because the city can't continue to purport to be a helm of culture and diversity if it doesn't share those stories on TV. As writer Lisa Takeuchi Cullen noted of the new bills, 

"I think people like me have stories to tell... and I think we sound a little different and we have life experiences that are different from many of the writers who are working in Los Angeles today." Writers who know New York well will definitely depict the city as a setting more authentically than anyone else, she said.

Hopefully this means more shows like Broad City. 



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