An Actress's Thoughts

The Perfect Age for German TV

The Perfect Age for German TV

Last month I analysed two groups of German productions for TV and two groups for German cinema, in relation to female participation behind the camera and in front of the camera . Even though we have a pretty even amout of women and men in Germany – 41,64 Mio. women and 40,21 Mio. men in December 2011 – our films are more likely to tell the stories of men, as is supported by male leading and supporting actors outweighing the female actresses in numbers. For the TV films (highest audience and TV award nominations) the ratios were 1:1,7 and 1:1,8 respectively.

Now today let’s look of the ages of the actresses and actors that were cast. For this I once again used the data base of crew united, which distinguishes between leading, supporting and day roles. 190 actresses and 341 actors played in the 34 TV productions, that is a distinct imbalance. This is something that we don’t really notice when watching TV? Maybe. Well, that’s just how it is? No! It is not a task of public television to produce male movies with women in the wings. To avoid any misunderstandings: I am not against male-centric stories. “Das Meer am Morgen” (La mer à l’aube) for example is a very good and touching film, furthermore it’s based on a historic event that hit a group of men. But when I find a distinct minority of female roles for any group of films that I have investigated so far, then something is most definitely going wrong.

Figure 1 show the cast of 34 films with 10-year-age classes: 17 films from the top audience list 2012 (all crime / police investigation stories) and the 17 nominations for the TV film awards in all categories.


The best age for the roles or rather the actors that played them is between 40 and 50, 33 % of all roles are found in this group. 80 % of all male parts are between the ages 30 and 60. For the actresses we find the highest value – 38 – in the group of the 30 – 40 year olds. And the majority (74 %) of actresses were between 20 and 50 years old. 29 % of the actors and 19 % of the actresses were 50+. And 22 % of the actresses as opposed to 11 % of the actors were younger than 30.

This imbalance does not really reflect the situation in our society. Here we find nearly as many women as men for all 10 year-groups, and also we don’t see the steep decline with people getting older (also check out On Actresses and other working women.

To summarize these statistics: We definitely see more men than women in German TV productions. And we clearly see younger women than men. Since this has probably been going on for quite some time now the audience does not really notice this (any more), or takes this as standard. Because of our watching (or rather the broadcasting habits.

Figure 1 summarized criminal investigaton films and other features, but it may a good idea to separate these two groups, because criminal investigation films are a male genre (a majority of violent crimes in Germany are committed by men, there are more male detectives and police officers than females etc.). Therefore once again the two groups of 17 films: the ones with the largest audiences and the TV award nominees. This time analyzed with 5-year-classes for the acting people’s ages. And I look at the complete cast and the leading roles separately.

Figure 2 – the top 17 for audience numbers show a peak for male roles in the 45 to 50-age group (37 actors). 77 % of all actors were between 30 and 55 years old. The highest group for the actresses is the 35 to 40-age group (17 actresses), two thirds (67 %) were between 25 and 50 years old. 20 actresses (= 21 %) and 51 actors (= 31 %) were over 50, this is a ratio of 1: 2,5 (easy maths).


Figure 3 shows the distribution for the film award films. Here we get a slightly different diagram. The values for the actresses are not going as up-and-downy as for the top audience films, instead we find a rise of roles up to the 30-35 years group (23 actresses, that’s 24 %), after that the numbers decline. Tho thirs (66 %) of all actresses were between 25 and 45 years old. For the actors we get a peak in the 35 to 40-years group (26 actors), but this number is closely followed by 24 actors in the next two older groups, the 40 to 45 and the 45 to 50 years group. Two thirds of all actors were between 30 and 55 years old. 16 actresses (= 17 %) and 47 actors (29 %) over 50 participated, this is a ratio of 1:3 (one to three)!


Okay, these are quite a lot of numbers. To summarize the most important findings again: There are more parts for actors than for actresses, also at a higher age. j For the highest audience (criminal investigation) films the ration there were 2,5 as many male parts over 50 than female parts, for the film award nominations even 3 times as many. Female characters in the film award nominations are younger still than in the top audience productions. This conclusion we gain from comparing the two-thirds-values. For the top audience films, 67 % were between 25 and 50, for the film award nominations 66 % were between 25 and 45 years old. That’s another 5 years off. The two-thirds-values for the men were pretty even for the two groups of films.

Now finally a quick glance at the age distribution of leading characters (Figure 4 and Figure 5).

TopTV_Alter_HR_EN Grimme_Alter_HR_EN

Top audience: female leads peak in the 45 to 50 age group (7 actresses) , which is definitely older than the all-roles-peak (35 to 40). In the film award nominations group there are two small peaks with 5 actresses each: the 30 to 35 year olds and the 40 to 45 year olds (peak of all roles: 30 to 35).

For the men we find a very distinct peak for the leads in the group of 35 to 40 years (film award films, 9 actors) and in the group of 50 to 55 years (top audience, 10 actors). Are TV inspectors and murderers getting old?

By the way: a very bad value we get from comparing female and male leading characters for the film awards films : nearly 3 times as many men leading! And these are not the crime investigation stories. What might be the reason?

Of course these are only snap shots from 2012. And 34 of (how many in all?) new productions are only a small share. But these are films with a big audience, and in the case of the criminal investigation films (“Tatort”) we can assume that they will run and re-run on German TV for the next 20 odd years on all channels of German public broadcasting. The film awards films are also repeated (though less often) and of course this is good, because there are a number of good films in this groups.

A television programme that pushes women and especially older women to the sides and does not tell their stories should become a thing of the past. Not only for public broadcasting of course, but also for the private channels. These need to be checked as well. But that is a matter for a future investigaton.