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Tuesday, September 25, 2012
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Who Emerges Victorious In TV’s Female Revolution?

By Rachel Bennett
Television Editor & Columnist

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Tonight are the season premieres of Fox’s New Girl and the series premiere of The Mindy Project, two shows I have especially been looking forward to over the summer.

When I discussed the toughest time slots of the fall earlier this month, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST was one of my choices. Not only do I want to tune in to New Girl and The Mindy Project, but I also want to check out ABC’s Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, which premieres Oct. 23. However, I’m curious about The CW’s Emily Owens, M.D., premiering Oct. 16, because star Mamie Gummer has impressed me so much on CBS’s The Good Wife (and as much as I hate to admit it, the seemingly similar Hart of Dixie is fairly charming).

Aside from this, there’s something else I’ve noticed about the timeslot — and TV programming in general: It skews toward women.

The 2011-2012 season was the ultimate “battle of the sexes,” as HBO’s  Girls, CBS’s 2 Broke Girls and New Girl faced off against ABC’s Man Up, CBS’s How to be a Gentleman and ABC’s Last Man Standing. The women (or I should say, “girls”) emerged victorious, as Girls, 2 Broke Girls and New Girl became hits, whereas Last Man Standing was ironically the last man standing among the male shows.

In fact, TV titles are dominated by women. In an article by June Thomas of Slate, Thomas revealed that of the 2012-2013 TV season, 14 broadcast network TV titles reference women, whereas eight cite men. Conversely, in 1982, five titles referenced women and 20 mentioned men. Even for series that don’t have a woman-centric title, many still have a female protagonist — Showtime’s Homeland, ABC’s Revenge and NBC’s Smash are just a few.

ABC even goes out of its way to say that it appeals to female viewers. The Alphabet network targets women ages 18-49, and it’s responsible for seven of the top 20 series this demo watches. As for men in this age group, ABC has only one show, Modern Family, that makes the top 20 watched by this demo. In short, what makes this particularly interesting is that while film appeals largely to young male ticket buyers, which explains the rise and continued popularity of superhero films and the decrease in romantic comedies, TV is showing an opposite trend.

Many of these female-focused comedies are also run by women, including ABC’s Suburgatory, NBC’s Whitney, NBC’s Up All Night, New Girl, Girls and Don’t Trust the B—-. It’s a great development, one that most likely had some influence from the success of the film Bridesmaids, which was written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig.

Yet, there are still strides to be made. According to Lynn Elber of The Associated Press, “Women are consistently underrepresented in top TV creative positions and face being treated as dismissively as bit players whatever their achievements.”

She adds that these series are “exceptions to the rule” and cites a 2011 report by the Writers Guild of America that reveals women hold 28 percent of TV writing positions — a figure that hasn’t changed much from when it was last deduced in 2007. Likewise, 88 percent of the more than 2,600 episodes made during the 2010-2011 TV season were directed by men, leaving only 12 percent helmed by women.

Nevertheless, there has been some backlash to the growing representation of women in TV. In April, CBS’s Two and a Half Men co-creator Lee Aronsohn criticized such series as Whitney and 2 Broke Girls, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Enough, ladies. I get it. You have periods … we’re approaching peak vagina on television, the point of labia saturation.”

Up All Night creator Emily Spivey responded to the comment, saying to New York Magazine, “It sounds like the name of a boat, or the name of my funk album in the early eighties. No, the whole thing just seems so crazy to me. I was like, ‘Ugh.’ It actually made me tired.”

In May, actor Matthew Perry reacted to the “Women can be funny, too” phenomenon, declaring at the 2012 Comedy Central Comedy Awards, “This year, we saw many hilarious performances by women — as well as many idiotic articles from men about how women suddenly became funny. This wasn’t the year women became funny, this was the year men finally pulled their heads out of their asses.”

As for what the female show runners ultimately think of the mess? “I think true equality comes when we stop differentiating between the female shows and the male shows,” says Suburgatory show runner Emily Kapnek. “The male shows aren’t under the same scrutiny, and they’re not really referred to as male shows either. There’s been so much emphasis this year on the female shows and female creators and female stars and female writers. It’s not that it hasn’t been great and empowering. But at some point, that can’t be the most interesting thing about my show. It better not be.”

Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director (for her film The Hurt Locker), took a similar stance regarding her achievement, saying, “I hope I’m the first of many, and of course, I’d love to just think of myself as a filmmaker. And I long for the day when that modifier can be a moot point … But I’m very grateful if I can inspire some young, intrepid, tenacious male or female filmmaker and have them feel that the impossible is possible, and never give up on your dream.”

Although that is the dream for women in TV, as well as film, until women become just as equal behind the cameras as they are in front, I think we have to stress such modifiers.

As for now, I’ll be showing my support by tuning in to New Girl and The Mindy Project, which premiere tonight at 8 p.m. and 9.m. EST and 9:30 p.m. EST, respectively.

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