It’s all about women power! Demand for female-led shows increasing in the US and beyond

15 December, 2017

From The Handmaid’s Tale winning big at the Emmys to the increasing number of shows that prominently feature multifaceted and riveting female leads, shows that are unquestionably more than just a little bit feminist, seem to be on the rise.

While critics laud thought-provoking shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Halt and Catch Fire and Madam Secretary that explicitly address the issues, there’s a lot more shows out there that give women their proper dues and specifically, have a female lead character.

To investigate this trend, Parrot Analytics picked a sample of the 50 most in-demand titles of 2017 that have a female main character. To be included in the sample, the shows had to satisfy three criteria:

  1. The first is that they had to be feminist. As there are a lot of different schools of thought on exactly what that means, we have taken a simple definition. To make it on the list, shows must have a strong female lead character and pass the Bechdel test.
  2. To make sure the results were as up-to-date as possible and a real measure of what was in demand in 2017, shows had to meet the second criteria: they had to have new episodes released during 2017.
  3. Finally, as we are going to primarily be using US demand data, for data consistency the third criteria was that shows had to be English-language originals.

To start with, the average demand in the US for the 50 shows in the sample was plotted against the average demand for the US 500 most in-demand titles of 2017 so far.



(please note that to show detail, this graph has a truncated axis)

This graph shows that while the average demand for the top 500 titles stays almost level, over the year, the average demand for the sample titles increases slightly. This is best illustrated by the linear trendlines (dotted lines) for each group of shows. Over 2017, our sample is growing in demand faster than the US top 500. The clear conclusion from this is that audience demand for female-led shows is increasing.



We can take a closer look at the titles that make up our sample now, beginning with the genres represented. The sample titles come from 4 separate genres: drama, comedy, action and horror. Encouragingly, the percentage of our 50 sample titles from each of these 4 genres matches to within a few percent the percentage of all titles across these 4 genres! This demonstrates that the move to stronger female characters is universal and not confined to any one genre.

Repeating this with subgenres, we find that the highest representation in our sample comes from sitcoms, comedy-dramas and sci-fi dramas in that order. The high occurrence of comedy shows is an especially inspiring result; it shows that the age-old attitude that “women can’t be funny” is a vanishing one in the tv industry. Any executives still clinging to that notion would be well reminded that this is a list of most in-demand shows, so audiences clearly agree too. 


The most in-demand female-led shows in the US and beyond

To end this investigation, we will list the five shows from our sample are the most popular with US audiences in 2017.



The most in-demand title is Star Trek: Discovery, where Captain Burnham leads her crew through the sci-fi moral dilemmas the series is famous for. This has a clear lead over the next most in-demand title Orange Is The New Black, with its huge and diverse cast of female felons. The remaining three titles are all close to OITNB in demand and are in order Once Upon A Time, where Emma Swan has to guide fairy tales through the real world, Grey’s Anatomy which follows Doctor Meredith Grey through work and life and Empire, where Cookie Lyon stole the show so much the role was nominated for multiple Emmys.

Globally, this list changes:



Although it ranked 4th in the US, the most in-demand of our sample titles worldwide is Grey’s Anatomy. Closely behind that in demand is The Vampire Diaries, where the witty dialogue won that show 7 Teen Choice awards. Once Upon A Time also returns from the US list, while the global list is completed by the Shonda Rhimes’ legal drama How To Get Away With Murder and the Claire Danes-starring thriller Homeland.

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