A few weeks ago, I knew fall was here, not by the changing leaves or by the smell of pumpkin-spiced lattes from any nearby Starbucks. It was the onslaught of new fall TV show promos.
Magazine ads, web promos, commercials on TV – I couldn’t get away. I found myself resenting these shows that I didn’t even know about, scoffing at what I presumed to be tired premises, beaten into my head over and over.
(I do have just one bone to pick before I can continue. OK, NBC’s “Prime Suspect,” let’s get a few things straight: I have never seen such tireless promotion in my short life and don’t even get me started on the hat. Maria Bello, a word of caution, that sassy chapeau you sport in every promo is stealing the spotlight. I know you’re playing a more edgy character than Helen Mirren did with her “Prime Suspect” that aired 20 years ago, but I think if the Dame opted to go hatless, you could, too.)
Maybe it was all those ads talking, but I was very aware of the new fall lineup and I noticed something: Is it just me or are there more new shows with women in the lead than ever?
NBC has the aforementioned “Prime Suspect,” “Whitney” (and arguably “Up All Night,” whose two out of three leads are women.) ABC has “Pan Am,” “Revenge,” and “Suburgatory,” with “Apartment 23,” and “Good Christian Belles” premiering in the near future. CBS has “Unforgettable” and “Two Broke Girls.” Fox has “Terra Nova,” and while there are more men than women in the cast photo, the lead woman is a scientist whose surgical brilliance sends her back in time and once there, she holds her family together, too. Even the CW is in with shows like Sarah Michelle Gellar’s “Ringer,” “The Secret Circle” and “Hart of Dixie.” BET has “Reed Between the Lines.” HBO offers Laura Dern’s “Enlightened” and Showtime’s “Homeland” with Claire Danes is already receiving critical acclaim. These new shows already join such lady-powered staples like “Body of Proof,” “Parks and Recreation,” “30 Rock,” “Harry’s Law,” “Nikita,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “The Closer,” “Gossip Girl,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” “The Good Wife,” etc. (along with the much longer list of ensemble shows that have a 50/50 mix of men and women.) And, let us not forget about Oprah, who has her own network in 2011.
So, then I dug a little deeper, pondered a little further. Yes, 2011 might be the year of the female lead. Sure there are tons of women on TV, but what makes these newbies have the staying power needed to be picked up? While only dabbling in TV theory as a hobby/life major, to me it seems like in 2011, it’s all about empowered, strong, deep and dynamic female characters. They’re well-rounded heroines, some saving the world, others serving up comic relief and advice for the empowered women watching.
If strong women are the norm, then how do we describe the portrayal of women in NBC’s “Playboy Club?” Spoiler alert: In the first episode, the new bunny Maureen stabs a mobster in the neck when he was getting too fresh. While this does seem like an empowered woman, she loses that title when you find out the murder weapon was her stiletto heel and she runs to a man for help. The show was canceled after three episodes. And yet Fox’s “New Girl” was picked up for the rest of the season after the first episode. For me, it felt like a watershed moment: adorable yet substantial nerdy women were given the green light while the bunnies were told to stay in the ’60s.
As of press time, “The Secret Circle,” “Hart of Dixie,” “Ringer,” “Revenge,” “Suburgatory” “Up All Night,” “Whitney,” and “2 Broke Girls” were picked up for a full season. NBC’s “Free Agents” was canceled. I guess people don’t want to watch a show advertised solely on the foibles and follies of office hookups. ABC’s “Charlie’s Angels” was canceled, too. (File that with the bunnies, that should have stayed in their decade.)
Comedian (and creator/writer behind two new hit shows, “Whitney” and “Two Broke Girls”) Whitney Cummings offered an explanation to all these women on TV: “I think that we’re in a really amazing time where there are really a lot of really fantastic female actresses and comedians, so I imagine there’s just a lot of opportunity for women to have powerful roles.
“Or it’s just there’s more and more women are writing TV, also, so that also probably is part of that trend as well, because women tend to maybe write strong women.”
As a TV nerd and comedy writer wannabe, I am so happy to see more opportunities for women. The proof is when women like Cummings, Amy Poehler or Tina Fey are the norm. We women like our women well-rounded in 2011.
I hope this trend continues and more dynamic women come into our homes each new season.
More Tina Fey, less T&A. Am I right?
And what TV street cred do I possess to make such hypotheses? TV captures my attention in a way most people can’t. TV is always witty and funny and never demands you to put on your skinny jeans and do your hair to have fun. Good luck keeping up with me unless you’re an avid fan of NBC’s comedy night done right, which is why I describe myself as a blue-eyed Liz Lemon or a brunette Leslie Knope.
Katie Bell is a graphic designer with ?Current Publishing, ?and a freelance writer.
Maria Bello and her hat in NBC’s “Prime Suspect.”
The women of fall TV, from top left: Rachel Bilson in “Hart of
Dixie,” Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph in “Up All Night,”
Carly Chaikin, Cheryl Hines and Jane Levy in “Suburgatory.” From
middle left, Christina Ricci and Margot Robbie of “Pan Am,” Sarah
Michelle Gellar in “Ringer,” and Amber Heard, Naturi Naughton and
Leah Renee Cudmore in “The Playboy Club.” From bottom left, Rachael
Taylor, Minka Kelly and Annie Ilonzeh in “Charlie’s Angels,” “Two
Broke Girls” starring Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs and Zooey
Deschanel’s “New Girl.”
Katie Bell is a graphic designer and freelance writer with Current Publishing.