National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article
TV's Fall Line-up: Progress or Problematic for
by Rebecca Farmer, Press Secretary, and Lisa
Bennett Haigney, Communications Director
NOW put primetime
network television programming in the spotlight with the May release of
the Watch Out, Listen Up! results. Cheers and jeers went out to ABC, CBS,
FOX and NBC based on program content.
Response to the campaign was
huge and mostly positive. NOW chapters across the country held actions to
bring attention to violence and sexual exploitation of women on TV. Many
people wrote and called to say how frustrated they are with the portrayal
of women in the media and the limited roles they occupy.
targets of the Watch Out, Listen Up! campaign may include television
advertising, radio and the Internet.
draws to a close, the networks are announcing their fall line ups with new
shows that could make or break their grade in NOW's media watch. Here's a
network by network look at what this fall's new shows hold in store for
the feminist TV audience.
ABC came in third in NOW's Feminist
Primetime Report, but its lineup includes such feminist favorites as Once
& Again and The Practice. Gender composition and social responsibility
were this network's high scores in the report, but it looks as though the
new ABC programs will not all meet this standard.
dramas have been winning points for the network, but one new comedy looks
promising. The Geena Davis Show features a career woman who enters a
relationship with a widower and father of two children. Her success as a
professional, independent woman could provide a great role model, if the
Davis lead character isn't confined to the stereotypical woman as nurturer
or supermom role.
Business As Usual: Madigan Men and The Trouble
with Normal have been marketed as male-dominated shows like much of
primetime network programming. The Trouble with Normal's woman character
stands alone in boy land, while Madigan Men is an all male cast whose only
diversity is an inter generational component a grandfather and a grandson
who try to find a woman for their middle aged son/father. If you're
looking for programming that includes women of color or diverse sexual
orientations, ABC's new fall shows are not the place to turn.
All Depends: Gideon's Crossing, another addition to the medical drama
genre, features an African American doctor in the lead role, but only two
women in a cast of ten lead characters. If the show gives prominent play
to these women doctors and continues ABC's attention to important social
issues, feminist viewers may stay tuned.
Last season CBS, which
ranked second in NOW's analysis, introduced several new programs that
performed well in NOW's Watch Out, Listen Up! analysis shows like Judging
Amy, Family Law and City of Angels. This season may also have a few stand
outs that deserve a look. The casts appear to be more diverse than usual,
in both race and age. Male cast members still outnumber women, but it
appears there may be some new entertainment for the feminist viewer on
Promising: Bette, starring Bette Midler, and Welcome to New
York, starring Christine Baranski, both feature mature female stars in
roles as successful women. Baranski is the real-life producer of her own
program and has already promised not to play the cliched hysterical female
executive. Let's hope these two strong performers demand material that
rises above the usual sit com level. That's Life-with four female stars,
including the esteemed Ellen Burstyn-sounds interesting: a blue collar
woman calls off her engagement and decides to go back to school where she
encounters the privileged set.
Business As Usual: Even the title
of Yes, Dear sounds stereotypical, as does the description of the lead
characters: a working dad and a neurotic stay at home mom. CBS says that
the father's most difficult job "may be keeping his wife calm. . ." The
Fugitive is a remake of the original 60s series and the popular movie.
Although there is racial diversity in the cast, the lead characters are
all male and the plot still revolves around a murdered woman.
All Depends: In CSI, a show about crime scene investigators, the female
lead is the great Marg Helgenberger from China Beach. But the program is
another focusing on violent situations. As we've seen with shows like
NBC's Law & Order, a crime show can mostly avoid exploitation and
address important social issues. CSI might be a respectable pot-boiler or
it might choose to wallow in blood and guts. The District has a racially
diverse cast (as any show set among the local city-workers of D.C.
should), but only two women are listed in the cast compared with five men.
The potential here for covering social issues is great. The plot
description, however, sounds more like Walker, Texas Ranger than NYPD
Blue, and the premise, a white police chief coming in to root out
corruption in a majority-black department, could be problematic if not
NOW named FOX a Network of Shame when it
ranked last in the Watch Out, Listen Up! analysis. The X Files, Party of
Five and That 70's Show are three FOX programs that did make the grade
with NOW's content monitors. If the new fall line up follows in the
footsteps of these shows, with impressive gender composition, social
responsibility and positive female role models, FOX may redeem itself from
its bottom of the barrel status.
Promising: Boston Public is based
on the lives of teachers in Boston public schools. The cast is diverse
along gender and racial lines and promises to tackle social issues that
teachers face in educating today's youth. American High, a reality show
documenting the lives of actual teenagers, has the potential to shed light
on the trials young women face from violence and sexual harassment to
racism and reproductive decision making. Under FOX's new President Gail
Berman, Boston Public and American High could be complementary programs,
two sides of one coin that may bring feminist viewers of all ages back to
the FOX network.
Business As Usual: Glorification of white collar
sexism permeates FOX ads for The Street. In one program preview, a young
career woman steps into an elevator only to have the man standing behind
her whisper to a friend "This elevator isn't the only thing going up." In
the office, the man finds the object of his desire to be his new boss. The
message is that no matter how successful you are, you can't escape the
clutches of sexism and that sexual harassment is always a given. In
Opposite Sex, three young men at an otherwise all-women school taints a
potentially women friendly, woman-positive theme with men's sexual
fantasies. For a show that advertises "Find out what happens when girls
rule the school," the camera in Opposite Sex focuses predominantly on the
three boys. FOX's web site promotes Dark Angel with: "Women envy her.
You'll want her." This sci-fi, post-apocalyptic program may have a strong
woman as the lead character, but the network's promotion of the show
focuses heavily on her physical attributes and addresses itself to men.
The Lone Gunmen, an X-Files spin-off, is about government conspiracies
and, with the exception of one woman character, makes no attempt to break
out of the white male mold.
It All Depends: Freaky Links will
feature two women and three men in a cyber, sci-fi drama. Depending on how
the program builds its female characters in the boy-filled electronic
world, Freaky Links may entice feminist sci-fi fans. Schimmel, a family
comedy about a dad raising two teenage daughters, could give feminist
issues some primetime play, but the seemingly peripheral role of their
mother might bring this program down. And Goodman, starring Roseanne's
John Goodman, features a single dad raising teenagers. Although it's been
reported that Goodman's character will be gay, FOX has not promoted this
NBC came in first in the Feminist Primetime Report,
receiving high ratings for gender composition, social responsibility and
the low level of sexual exploitation in shows like ER, Law & Order and
Will & Grace. Much like the other networks, however, NBC's new shows
lack racial and gender diversity. With so many programs aimed at men,
women viewers may stray from NBC.
Promising: Daddio, a comedy
about a stay-at-home dad, is one of two domestic-related shows that stand
alone as potential highlights in NBC's lineup of new programs. Daddio's
portrayal of a dad "trying to find his way in a mom's world" may
successfully show that child-rearing is not just a mom thing, but that
dads can do it too. This program's role-reversal could serve as a reminder
that gender stereotypes do not define the world and should not hold women,
or men, back, and not simply a glorification of single dads at a time when
single moms are frequently vilified. Tucker tells the tale of a
14-year-old boy being raised by his newly divorced mom. The show surrounds
one teenage boy with numerous strong women characters, a rarity in the
television world. The program will focus not only on the trials of a boy
whose father has just abandoned him, but also on his aunt, mother and the
sassy girl next door. This classmate-next-door neighbor character is
described as a savvy girl and feminist role model for
Business As Usual: Titans, a new drama from the usually
un-feminist Aaron Spelling, looks like a primetime soap opera devoid of
any attention to feminist issues or social responsibility. Titans has been
marketed more with the lead female character's scantily-clad body than
with insight into the show's content. All we know about the content so far
is that the lead male character, billed as the "prodigal son," returns
home from overseas to find that his new stepmother, the scantily-clad lead
female character, is the woman with whom he previously had a steamy
affair. Deadline is about an investigative journalist who, according to
network promos, has "three ex-wives and a bad attitude toward authority"
so that "nothing is ever easy in [his] life." Deadline sounds like a macho
program that could do NBC's feminist ratings more harm than good. Dag, a
comedy about a Secret Service Agent assigned to the First Lady, looks like
a program that will have feminist eyes rolling before long. NBC's web site
describes this Agent's duties to include "running errands, organizing
luncheons and walking the dog." This description trivializes the major
role that a First Lady can play in the national political scene and
implies that women's concerns are confined to minor domestic matters. NOW
dreams of a show about a Secret Service Agent assigned to a woman
political leader that addresses issues women in power face trying to
create change from the inside.
It All Depends: Although The Michael
Richards Show and The Steven Weber Show do not seem offensive or
anti-feminist, the number of shows titled "The (fill in guy's name) Show"
keeps growing. Feminists are uninterested in the same-old, same-old. TV
needs more programs that reflect women in all our diversities.
UPN and the WB networks were not monitored in the Watch Out, Listen Up!
campaign. Here is a look at the new shows they have scheduled for the fall
Promising: Girlfriends chronicles four best friends,
who stick together through thick and thin. This is the only new show on
any network to feature four African American women as lead characters and
promises to addresses numerous aspects of their lives. These strong women
characters could potentially provide positive role models for TV
Business As Usual: Freedom looks like another macho,
violent, futuristic program with mostly male characters. This program's
content appears limited to fighting and more fighting. NOW goes out on a
limb and predicts this show to fare poorly with feminist viewers.
Business As Usual: Young Americans looks like the WB's white
bread attempt to reach a limited population of U.S. TV-watching teenagers.
This show's diversity is limited to a cross-dressing girl who wants to
have the same education as the boys and a girl who serves as the token
poor person. The show could turn out to be an extended Tommy Hilfiger ad
unless it takes on the real issues that teenagers face.
reviews are based on information available to the general public through
TV promotions and on network web sites.