‘Bring The Funny’ Director Carrie Havel Talks The Need For Diversity In Unscripted TV

So I think to see other people from different backgrounds and the way they respond to even comedy performances, sketch performances — you're basically selecting how you're going to tell the story for the audience, mostly in a live environment. A lot of these shows are live, and you're basically telling that story based on your choice of what you're showing the audience. So if you add the live aspect into it, even more, the importance of the director and what the director sees goes up even more, because there is no edit, there's no careful shot selection that happens after the fact. In unscripted, I think, if you look at the types of things that you direct, obviously music plays a huge part, not so much in Bring the Funny but in other variety or award shows or any of those unscripted genres. The way someone approaches a live cut to a music performance, I think that's storytelling right there, especially in a live show.
From your perspective, how has the landscape for TV changed for the underrepresented in both scripted and unscripted — specifically with women?
Why did you create the Alternative Directors Program and what impact do you hope it will have?
DEADLINE: What can inclusive representation bring to unscripted TV that many people aren't aware of?
It's a program that many are vying to be a part of. As part of NBC's inaugural Alternative Directors Program (ADP), Havel is part of an ever-changing TV landscape in an often overlooked part of the industry when it comes to diversity.
As far as impact:
They said yes not just because I asked them to do it, but because they believe in the mission of the program and giving back after all the success they have and continue to enjoy. One thing I would be remiss to not mention: Every director I asked to participate as a mentor our Alternative Directors Program said yes immediately. They volunteered time, energy, expertise, and passion, and have contributed advice on how to make the program even better in the future. None of this would have been possible without their support and guidance.” />
The demand was there, and they brilliantly and quickly filled the supply. I think the historical context is an excuse of how we started, but it is no excuse for why, 15-20 years later, we have not evolved and widened our pool. AHR: We can begin with a historical account of the advent of Reality TV, and how the explosion of live and “as-live” event television attracted directors mainly from News and Sports, both then-male-dominated fields, and Britain, where they were years ahead of us with what they call “Light Entertainment.” Variety shows, and competition series like “Pop Idol” and “Strictly Come Dancing” were all beloved well before they flooded airwaves in America. Producers, agents, and executives were in desperate need for individuals with experience in commanding multi-camera control rooms, with the ability to go live or at least produce a solid line cut.
AHR: It’s a brilliant time for new voices to enter the arena for a few key reasons; first and foremost, women are increasingly in positions of power; second, men and women alike are more aware of the inequalities and barriers to entry that exist, which has opened up the dialogue in a way that was not there before; and finally, for those not influenced by the first two, it has proven time and again that inclusion is good business.
First, I hope to get the directors who have successfully gone through our program directing jobs, hopefully for NBC Universal. Carrie Havel is a great example of someone who easily transitioned from the program to directing the series “Bring the Funny” for NBC and the studio.
DEADLINE: Diversity is always talked about with scripted television but hardly in unscripted. Why do you think that is?
HAVEL: I think definitely the more representation you have, the more people look at that position and go, "Oh, wow. I could do that too," like, "Oh, there are other women. There are other minorities who do this." So I think that definitely is very important for sure.
Do you think its the same? Compared to scripted, what are the benefits of having more diversity with directors and people behind the camera? DEADLINE: Unscripted is a different kind of storytelling.
"I've wanted to direct a show for NBC for a very long time," Havel told Deadline. And interestingly enough, in the cable world, I seem to keep circling with comedians and doing a lot of comedy shows. "So when the opportunity presented itself, I obviously was going to jump at it. So it seemed like a good fit as well."
As Hollywood continues its move to more diversity and inclusion behind and in front of the camera, there is one genre that often gets overlooked: unscripted television. During reality competitions and live events, the screen isn't totally void of representation of women, people of color and other marginalized communities, but behind the camera is a different story. Carrie Havel is changing that.
The second, is that we have no culture of apprenticeship or on the job training in the field. There are some real diverse and female standouts in the unscripted director world, but not nearly enough; and there are also terrific Assistant Directors who have been dutifully serving for years next to top directors on the most complex of productions. These individuals have every ability, but just need to be encouraged and invited to the table, and mentored by people with broader experience.
with Fred Savage on Fox. She has also worked on nearly all live musical events including Hairspray Live, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, A Christmas Story Live and Rent Live. Havel has worked on some of TV's most successful unscripted franchises including America’s Got Talent, World of Dance , The Titan Games, Little Big Shots, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and the Video Music Awards. She also directed the new series What Just Happened??! She is probably best known for a video her work on Grease Live as an Associate Director when a two-minute control room video of her rhythmically calling “Greased Lightning” went viral.
I'm ready to take that next step." I've worked on tons of your franchises and I'm ready. So in that respect, for me, it was great because suddenly the (NBC) program gave me the opportunity to say, "Yes, here I am. But I think NBC was smart in realizing that, "Hey, if we're going to look for qualified women and minorities to try to take the next step up and become directors of some of our shows, let's look at people who already work on our franchises and know the way we work, know the kinds of shows we like to do." And so obviously a great place to start would be to look at the AD chair and see who's sitting there. Here I am, NBC.
So the schedule's a little more forgiving and it allows for more people to come in, and maybe episode one goes to this person and episode two goes to this other person. HAVEL: The one thing I can think is, in the scripted realm, especially if you're looking at episodic, there's a lot of different directors for projects that can come in. So that's a compressed schedule, and you're looking at, with a scripted show, probably a week per episode. But in unscripted, the schedule is so tight…you're doing an entire season in maybe five or six tape days. Generally, it's not going to be one director for all of the episodes. Bring the Funny was 10 total days, five rehearsals, five tape days for an entire season except for the finale. Whereas you just don't have that luxury with an unscripted show.
One director was sponsored by her program mentor to get into the DGA, and at least two have gained a top agent as a direct result of participating in the program and our sponsorship of them. Second, I hope to open up doors for the directors, and help them expand their professional networks.
I believe two things have contributed to this. One, as more series have been commissioned, we all have relied on hiring the directors with the most experience. The catch, of course, is that the exact experience we seek is the barrier to entry for anyone new trying to break through. With millions of dollars, ratings points, and reputations on the line, a solid director is quite possibly the most important first hire.
DEADLINE: Would you say that there's a lack of diversity and representation when it comes to behind the camera for unscripted television?
Access and opportunities are changing the lens of scripted entertainment with brilliant results. One way to look at the benefits of inclusive representation is to just imagine all of the wealth of stories still untold, that could be unlocked if shared through new storytellers’ eyes. The ability to tell stories of the lives of real people, whether to highlight how related we are or to showcase our unique perspectives, is a gift with limitless storytelling potential. Where we are right now reminds me of reading about how men hold 80 percent of all patents. We must open up the pipeline and create an environment where we are encouraging people to join our field, raise their hand, share their ideas, and create apprenticeships to fill in knowledge and experience gaps. They have more access to STEM education, role models, encouragement, and mentorship on the process to register their patents. MEREDITH AHR: At its heart, unscripted TV is a reflection of ourselves and our time. It isn’t because they are smarter, or are more innovative. What will follow is a much-needed expansion of networks, to attract the best and the brightest diverse minds to our genre.
Now, Havel is moving up the ranks as the director of the new comedy competition series Bring the Funny which premieres tonight. To add to that, she is the only woman directing a new alternative series on a broadcast network this season.
I can't say. And I'm not exactly sure why that is. But kudos to NBC for realizing it and saying, "Hey, let's try to come up with a program and try to put some measures in place to try to expand as a pool a bit." CARRIE HAVEL: Yeah. On the network level, there's only a handful of females or minorities that are in the director's chair.
Instead of being complacent about it, we are choosing to act. We believe that it is a responsibility for those in power to open the doors for new voices who will enhance our storytelling and connect with our viewers in new ways. We created the Alternative Directors Program because my team and I have been increasingly frustrated by the lack of change in our part of the industry.
"Every director I asked to participate as a mentor our Alternative Directors Program said yes immediately," said Meredith Ahr, NBC’s President of Alternative & Reality Group. "They said yes not just because I asked them to do it, but because they believe in the mission of the program and giving back after all the success they have and continue to enjoy."
But I have to say I kind of fell into it and I realized I loved it. The first show that I worked on that was multi-camera and live, I was like, "Oh yes. This is it." Maybe they should now. HAVEL: Scripted is fine from what I've read. I don't have any real firsthand knowledge of how that's changed. I don't think anyone really goes like, "I want to be an unscripted director." Or maybe they do.
DEADLINE: Why do you think directors in the unscripted space are generally white, straight men?
DEADLINE: Since you've been in the industry, how have you seen the landscape for TV change for underrepresented in both scripted and unscripted, and specifically for women?
Executives, agents, producers, directors – everyone at every level can make a difference. The key realization is that if you are not actively a part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. Third, I hope the program has the broader impact of elevating a much-needed conversation about inclusion, and the responsibility we all share in actioning change.
Bring the Funny marks her first time as a series director on network TV (she directed What Just Happened after Bring the Funny) and she said she wanted to prove to everyone that she was "up to the task" to making the show "look and feel great." As a women in the male-dominated space of unscripted TV, Havel and Ahr talked to us about how things are changing.
It’s a brilliant time for new voices to enter the arena for a few key reasons; first and foremost, women are increasingly in positions of power; second, men and women alike are more aware of the inequalities and barriers to entry that exist, which has opened up the dialogue in a way that was not there before; and finally, for those not influenced by the first two, it has proven time and again that inclusion is good business.
You just have to sort of work your way up. They're happy to be ADs and want to be ADs, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. And so for me, becoming an associate director was obviously going to be for me the best way because I want to be sitting right next to the director and learn everything I can about how these shows are made. And in terms of the AD role, I see a ton of female ADs. Now, from talking to a lot of them, I would say a lot of them don't have directing aspirations. So once I realized that, I had the question of how do I become the director. Tons.
In the new Bring the Funny, Havel oversees all episodes as director. The new competition series features the world’s best comedic acts and, for the first time on television, embraces every style of comedy performance — from sketch troupes, musicians, magicians, YouTubers and more — in one competition. The series features Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson, comedian Jeff Foxworthy and Chrissy Teigen as judges while comedian and Insecure actress Amanda Seales  serves as host.