When Starz continues to try to put these things at the fore, they do try very much to push forward this idea that they are a place for new voices. They really present a more diverse group of voices and really put their money where their mouth is with that.

Courtney A. Kemp, Creator/Executive Producer, “Power”

The process is making sure that their voice comes through loud and clear instead of trying to adulterate it with notes and your own ideas.

Carmi Zlotnik, Programming President, Starz

Nurturing Visionaries

STARZ is thriving by empowering an inclusive stable of YOUNG showrunners and letting veteran writers experiment

By Mannie Holmes

Great writing and typecasting don’t mix.

The WGA’s first-ever Inclusion Report showed that 88 percent of TV showrunners in the 2017-18 season were white, but people of color are delivering some of the most compelling content on television.

And while many networks prefer that top showrunners repeat safe, comfortable formulas, many writers have the itch to push their limits and experiment with the medium.

Starz is flourishing by encouraging both representation behind the camera and creative diversity onscreen. Programming president Carmi Zlotnik says the cabler has made a conscious effort to serve “gaps where people are under-programmed” by hiring staffers and creators that would shrink their representation blind spots and increase authentic storytelling.

“Starz took a chance on me,” says “Power” showrunner Courtney A. Kemp, who pitched the show alongside rapper-turned-actor Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.

“When you’re a young person of color, oftentimes networks will give you a showrunner who is usually an older straight, white male who has been in the business for a long time.”

Even on her own show, which is entering its sixth and final chapter, people were surprised to find the showrunner was a woman of color. But she got to run the show and make it her way.

Starz’s commitment to diversity even works to the white guys’ benefit. Ronald D. Moore was quite successful as a writer of edgy science-fiction franchises, most notably the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica.”

It was a shock to his fans when, for his next show, he chose Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling “Outlander” books, which blend romance, history, adventure and science fic­tion — and had a strong, independent woman as their lead.

“What we’re looking for is a unique point of view and a clarity of vision and ability to execute,” Zlotnik says.

It was a 2013 Starz literary adaptation, “The White Queen,” based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, that led to “Outlander” joining the network’s slate in the first place.

This season, Starz has another limited series based on Gregory’s books about women in Tudor England, “The Spanish Princess.” Showrunners Emma Frost and Matthew Graham say they pride themselves on bringing agency to King Henry VIII’s first wife in a way never seen onscreen before.

“We don’t inherently believe that only women can understand female stories and characters,” Frost says. “But there are some experiences that are more gendered — for example, the experience of sex, of desire and of power, all of which our show is very concerned with.

“Female directors, editors, writers, producers and a female director of photography [Maja Zamojda] all ensured that in so much as a female gaze exists, we were able to capture it,” she says.

Zlotnik explains, “I think the process is making sure that their voice comes through loud and clear instead of trying to adulterate it with notes and your own ideas.”

There are some experiences that are more gendered — For example, the experience of sex, of desire and of power… Female directors, editors, writers, producers and a female director of photography all ensured that insomuch as a female gaze exists, we were able to capture it.

Emma Frost, Showrunner, "The Spanish Princess"

With that diverse content, the network also ushered in a new generation of filmmakers inclusive of such underrepresented groups.

“Vida” showrunner Tanya Saracho chose to hire only Latinx women of color to direct the show, and her writers’ room is entirely represented by Latinx scribes (a majority of them identifying as LGBTQ+) to help guide the storylines of its queer Latina leads.

“ ‘Atlanta’ had just come out with an all-African-American writers’ room and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, we can do that,’ ” Saracho says.

“The network has chosen to be very strategic and specific,” says Zlotnik. “We punch way above our weight in terms of what we’re able to accomplish with our programming.

“It’s by being very targeted and looking at these audiences and trying to convert potential viewers into subscribers,” he adds.

Kemp says, “When Starz continues to try to put these things at the fore, they do try very much to push forward this idea that they are a place for new voices. They really present a more diverse group of voices and really put their money where their mouth is with that.”