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Hollywood's 'The Black List' to scout diverse crop of TV writers

Franklin Leonard, CEO of The Black List speaks at the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival in Austin. His company will be creating a short list of writers from
Franklin Leonard, CEO of The Black List speaks at the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival in Austin. His company will be creating a short list of writers from "underserved" communities to TBS and TNT.
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Hollywood executives in the market for a screenplay or pilot script know to turn to The Black List for some of the best unproduced works in film and television.

The online service is where writers can have their work critiqued and ranked by studio execs.  Oscar winners Argo and The King’s Speech both made appearances on the list. 

But the company acknowledges that certain groups in Hollywood such as minorities aren’t getting noticed as much because they don’t have an “in” with the industry.

The Black List is tackling the issue by launching a new diversity initiative with Turner networks, TBS and TNT, said founder Franklin Leonard.

"We aim to be a doorway with a really good filter that allows people who are doing great work to get their work to Hollywood, where previously there may have not been an opportunity," Leonard said.

The Black List will identify 10 writers from “underserved groups” in Hollywood which Leonard said includes minorities, women, people with disabilities and baby boomers.  (The company will be using the diversity guidelines drawn up by the Writers Guild of America.)

Over the the next few months, staff will review scripts submitted to its site before turning in a short list to TBS and TNT sometime in April.

"We’ll identify a writer on the comedy side, and a writer on the drama side that they’re enthusiastic about offering a blind deal to write an original pilot," Leonard said. "And then the remaining writers' work will be shared with all the showrunners on currently active shows.”

To be considered under the new program, a writer must have submitted work to The Black List's online database. Posting a script costs $25 a month; a one-time, month-long post is enough to be eligible. 

The parternship with Turner comes amid criticism that writers' rooms are the domain of white males, leading to insensitive portrayals of minority groups.

Darnell Hunt, a UCLA sociologist studying diversity in entertainment, said the Black List initiative is a welcome and needed “step in the right direction.”

"What we’re finding is that most shows have under 10 percent or less of minorities in the writing room," Hunt said. "It’s pretty abysmal.'

Hunt’s research has shown that diverse casts and writing staffs often translate into strong ratings and revenue for networks.

As examples, he pointed to hit shows created by Shonda Rhimes such as Scandal, as well as the new Fox supernatural thriller, “Sleepy Hollow.”

The Black List announced a similar partnership with Warner Bros last year. Leonard said the company was approached by the Turner networks.

In a statement, Michael Wright, president, head of programming for TBS and TNT, said the goal of the initiative is "to find an abundance of exciting, highly creative work from a wide array of emerging writers."