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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2001 >> Article

NOW’s Report on Primetime TV: Women and Diversity Still Supporting Players

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney, Communications Director

This month NOW will release its second Watch Out, Listen Up! report analyzing primetime television. After the positive responses of feminist TV viewers to last year’s report, NOW decided to keep watch on the broadcast networks to see if any progress was being made.

"Many women and men wrote and called NOW to share their outrage about what passes for entertainment on television," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "People are looking for a way to make the networks listen up and respond to their complaints--they want to be a part of something bigger."

Last May, NOW directed frustrated viewers to chapters that held Watch Out, Listen Up! house parties, wrote letters to the Federal Communications Commission, and demonstrated outside local TV stations. The NOW Action Center is in the process of creating a media activism kit that anyone can use any time of the year to protest sexist, offensive and non-inclusive television programming.

This season, analysts looked at the new fall programs, spring replacement shows, special presentations and the networks' decisions on which shows to keep and which to cancel. NOW also included the full line-ups of the WB and UPN -- two smaller networks that don’t yet have the reach of the major four.

The Summer 2000 issue of the National NOW Times listed the new programs the networks had placed on their fall schedules, and attempted to determine--based only on promotional material--which shows looked promising and which looked like business as usual. NOW was pleased to note that by the time the new year rolled around, many of the most offensive shows were already gone. These included the male-centric sitcoms Madigan Men and The Trouble with Normal (both on ABC) and the salacious Opposite Sex and The Street (on FOX), Titans (on NBC) and Young Americans (on the WB).

Several promising shows, however, also didn't make it--including Bette and Welcome to New York (CBS), both comedies focusing on mature, successful women. Hanging by a thread are two more positive shows, Gideon's Crossing (ABC) and That's Life (CBS).

Among the new shows that have already been renewed for next season, pleasant surprises include CSI on CBS, Boston Public on FOX, Girlfriends on UPN and Gilmore Girls on the WB, all of which have diverse casts and strong storylines. And a couple of new spring entries showed up in time to offer something worth watching: What About Joan, starring an unconventional female lead, and My Wife and Kids, about an African American family, both on ABC.

Analysts found plenty of objectionable content, too. The Fighting Fitzgeralds and Three Sisters (NBC) rely on ancient stereotypes about Irish-Americans and women, respectively. UPN’s WWF Smackdown and Gary & Mike both scored off the charts on violence and offensiveness. And Temptation Island (FOX) and Chains of Love (UPN) relied on high levels of sexual exploitation to grab attention. Nikki, on the WB, manages to capture the worlds of professional wrestling and Vegas showgirls in one regressive comedy.

Overall, the Watch Out, Listen Up! report shows that many smart, strong female characters joined the airwaves this season. But women are still outnumbered and outranked by male stars, and true diversity--race, age, sexual orientation, size, ability--on TV remains a dream, not a reality.

NOW encourages activists to talk back to their TVs. To be a part of the campaign and to read the full Watch Out, Listen Up! 2001 Primetime Report, visit or call 202-628-8669, ext. 123.

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