2010 TV – Women on the Small Screen: Bimbos Behaving Badly

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Television

If you take a look at the Emmy Award nominations from the past couple of years, you’ll see some heavy-hitting women recognized for exceptional dramatic acting. Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Kyra Sedgewick, Julianna Margulies. There are several intelligent shows that depict strong women in positions of power. There are also comedies (and hybrid “dramedies”) that hinge on smart, interesting female leads.

So why am I distressed by the current television line-up? I can sum it up in one word: Snooki.

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

Reality shows have taken over the airwaves. They are cheap and quick to produce. Relaxed censorship guidelines allow for truly tasteless content. These programs pander to the lowest common denominator, putting so-called “real” people (read, ‘exhibitionists with no acting training’) in extreme situations. They’re forced to live together and compete in over-the-top staged stunts. They’re filmed at their very worst, egged on until they break up or break down.

None of these people come across well, and the women on these shows are such extremes that they have become a modern day equivalent of commedia dell-arte clowns. We have the spoiled rich wife, the tough-talking bad girl, the hot and horny ho. It’s appalling. (FYI, WVFC contributor Jenn Pozner explains how reality-TV producers orchestrate these very intentionally sexist results in her book Reality Bites Back. — Ed.)

A couple of highlights from this impressive new genre …

Kendra. Hefner’s smartass girlfriend from The Girls Next Door may have an incredible body, but she appears to be functionally illiterate. In one episode of the original show, when Hef took the girls to Italy, she observed that the food was good, but didn’t live up to the fare at “Olive Garden.” So what do we do with this accidental actress? Give her her own show, of course.

The Real Housewives of __________. Quite the successful franchise, with six different sets of housewives to date. These women may have enormous McMansions and plenty of bling, but don’t judge a book by its cover. They are not exactly a class act; the series should be renamed “Bimbos Behaving Badly.”

The Jersey Shore. As my 13-year old daughter would text: “OMG.”  I am speechless.

The talent-based shows like Dancing With the Stars and American Idol are less offensive to me because they do have legitimate entertainment value. After all, there is a modicum of skill involved — or to be fair, in some cases there is a great deal of skill as well as God-given talent. In Dancing, half the cast is professionals. Yet audiences seem to be just as interested, if not more, in the backstage bickering and the personal lives of the quasi-professionals.

Magazine-format and even major network news programs aren’t much better. Yes, we do get updates on the economy and the wars in the Middle East. But we also hear – ad nauseam – about eating disorders, plastic surgery, celebrity divorces, Lindsay Lohan’s latest trip to rehab, and Britney’s battle with the bulge.

Why does the television audience gravitate toward this deplorably low-rent content? Do we honestly believe these people are “just like us?” Or do we count our blessings that we only have 2.3 children instead of “plus 8?”  Are we happy with our faces and bodies? Or envious that we can’t afford ten plastic surgeries?

My hope for the future (if not 2011, maybe soon thereafter) is that whatever pendulum we’re on will swing the other way. Audiences will demand entertainment over voyeurism and trained talent over psychotic civilians. The Writers Guild of America West has more than 12,000 members. AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, has 70,000. Surely there are enough professionals to go around.

There, I think I’ve worked myself into a state – I’ll go numb my mind with Bridezilla now.

“Broadcast News” Revisited – “Morning Glory” is Forgettable but Fun (VIDEO)

December 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Media, Movies

A smart, ambitious, young network producer tries to negotiate the fine line between news and entertainment, while struggling to balance her career and her love life. Sound familiar?  It should.

Watching the romantic comedy Morning Glory, I was reminded over and over of one of my favorite films from the 1980s. Unfortunately, most often my thought was that the new movie lacked its predecessor’s sharp writing, genuine ethical dilemmas and multidimensional characters.

It’s hard to believe that Broadcast News was released twenty-three years ago. Despite some ill-advised hairdos on Holly Hunter, the movie still holds up remarkably well. The characters are so unique and interesting, the issues so complex, and nearly every line of the dialogue is not just memorable but iconic.

While Morning Glory is a better-than-average bit of entertainment, it just doesn’t fill those very big shoes.

In Morning Glory, the adorable Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a driven young producer at regional Good Morning, New Jersey. Right away, we know she takes her work oh so seriously — she’s up at 4 a.m., has earned the slavish loyalty of her Garden State colleagues, and is a complete and utter loser where her love life is concerned. Becky dreams of someday landing a plum position with The Today Show. When she is laid off through no fault of her own, she defies her mother’s advice to give up her dream and instead lands a big city job with the self-defined “worst morning show ever,” Daybreak. Becky’s mission?  Revive the dwindling ratings and save the show.

Can she do it?  Of course. Because that’s the kind of movie this is.

McAdams throws herself into the part of Becky, and the audience roots for her as she struggles to save the show. Despite the trappings of a typical romantic comedy, we never doubt Becky’s intelligence, talent and instinct. At her first production meeting, she is bombarded with story ideas, questions, and complaints from her disgruntled, dysfunctional cast and crew. She not only takes control but fires the arrogant foot-fetishist co-host, earning a round of applause from her appreciative new team.

However, this act of bravado puts Becky in a difficult situation. She has to find a new co-host, stat. Fortunately, the network has a former evening news anchor under contract and available. Unfortunately, said anchor would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else than co-hosting a “fluffy” morning show. And that pretty much sets up the conflict for the next 90 minutes.

Rachel McAdams is joined by Harrison Ford as legendary newscaster Mike Pomeroy. He is in rare form, with a cragged face and more bristle than a porcupine. With pretty much every line he growls, he insults Becky, the network, the show, the audience and most of all his co-host Colleen Peck, a former Miss Arizona played hilariously by Diane Keaton.

Ford and Keaton share some of the movie’s funnier moments, such as their mutual refusal to make the first move when McAdams’ Becky tries to introduce them, or their over-the-top on-air sniping. Ironically, their bickering begins to draw an audience and Becky soon adds attention-grabbing stunts, such as strapping the hapless meteorologist into the world’s fastest roller coaster, and booking sumo wrestlers and exotic animals.

The ratings improve, much to the surprise of the surly network executive (an underutilized Jeff Goldblum), but not a surprise to the audience. Colleen and Mike learn to work together. Serious news and talk show entertainment can co-exist after all. Becky mends her workaholic ways and lands handsome magazine-show producer Patrick Wilson. The Today Show comes a-courtin’ but Becky realizes that her heart is at Daybreak. And they all, we presume, live happily ever after.

Morning Glory is formulaic fun. The cast is quite good, with McAdams proving once again that she’s leading lady material. Young, pretty and sometimes a bit of a ditz, she nevertheless makes you believe in Becky’s genuine abilities. She’s supported by fine character portrayals by Ford, Keaton, Goldblum, Wilson, and smaller though solid performances by Ty Burrell, Matt Malloy, and John Pankow. Directed by Roger Michell—best known for another offbeat romantic comedy, Notting Hill—the movie was written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who scripted The Devil Wears Prada.

If you want to enjoy a couple of hours, by all means go see Morning Glory. But if you’d rather treat yourself to one of Hollywood’s most intelligent modern classics, rent Broadcast News.

Like Becky Fuller, Holly Hunter’s Jane Craig is a driven young producer. (Although like Mike Pomeroy, she worships at the altar of serious reporting.) She, too, struggles with ratings and content and network expectations. And she also wonders if she can ever satisfy her work ambition and her desire for a romantic life.

But Jane’s character needs more than gumption to succeed. She is torn apart by questions of ethics, both on the job and off. She falls in love with a handsome empty suit (William Hurt) even though she has no respect for him. Meanwhile, she respects a brilliant coworker (Albert Brooks) but is aghast when she learns that he loves her.

Jane doesn’t get a happy ending like Becky’s. She can’t “have it all,” as Brooks’ character Aaron points out after she rejects him.

Six years from now, I’ll be back here with my wife and two kids. And I’ll see you, and one of my kids will say, “Daddy, who is that?” And I’ll say it’s not nice to point at single fat women.

I realize that Morning Glory and Broadcast News, despite their shared settings and themes, represent two different genres of film. Morning Glory squarely lands in the romantic comedy category: cute, scrappy heroine takes on a seemingly impossible task, mayhem ensues, she saves the day and gets the guy. Broadcast News, while dealing with romance is more of a “dramedy:” sometimes bitingly funny, but just as often piercing and poignant.

But Morning Glory would have benefited from a bit more depth of character, and a resolution that wasn’t quite so predictable and pat. What saves the day for Becky and company? A frittata. Nothing can save the day for Jane. Her issues are too complicated; the questions she raises are unanswerable.

It’s interesting to think about how each movie examines the value of hard-edged reporting at a time when audiences are looking for escapist entertainment. In Broadcast News, we agree with Jane’s standards about the integrity of the news and applaud her when she walks away from a romance with someone who doesn’t live up to them. In Morning Glory, on the other hand, we watch Becky nip away at Mike’s rigid definition of news and succeed only when he finally surrenders to the public’s appetite for early morning kibitzing and cooking.

Too often, television news audiences want sound bites and easy answers. We don’t want to turn off the TV and have to think about what we’ve heard. This was somewhat true in the ’80s and much more so today. (I can only imagine what Jane would say about so-called “reality TV.”)

If Morning Glory is any indication, movie audiences seemed to have evolved (or devolved, perhaps) in much the same way. We want a nice, neat package, where all conflict is resolved in 90 minutes. And we really want a happy ending for our heroine. But personally, I’d rather leave the theater thinking as well as smiling.

I saw Broadcast News twenty-three years ago and I remember every scene, every major character, and dozens of lines from the script word-for-word. I saw Morning Glory last week. It was a very enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. But in the long run, I’m afraid it will prove to be forgettable fun.

DailyNewsMix:Best Political News and Gossip is Cook Report; Glenn Close, Holly Hunter and CCH Pounder Make Jujitsu of Labels; Even “Faux” Acupuncture Helps Hot Flashes

DuffySo where’s the real political scoop? Political junkies have long relied on the Cook Political Report when looking for horse-race reporting on national elections. Cook’s name alone is sort of the election wonk’s  equivalent to Yoda, as CBS News Bob Schieffer explains: “The pharaoh had Joseph. The Greeks had the Oracle at Delphi.  Washington has Charlie Cook.”

Working the Cook magic these days is 46-year-old senior editor Jennifer Duffy, who’s been at this now for more than 20 years:

Jennifer has 22 years of experience in campaign politics, the last
20 of which have focused on non-partisan political analysis. In 1985,
she served as Press Secretary for the National Republican Senatorial
Committee; she joined The Cook Political Report in 1988 as its
first Assistant Editor. While continuing to work as the Report’s
contributing editor, Jennifer also was a senior account executive with
Hill and Knowlton Public Affairs Worldwide and an associate with the
lobbying firm of Cassidy & Associates.

In today’s  Senate Roundtable from Salon, Duffy and her former colleague Amy Walter discuss 2008 Senate races (overall a bleak picture for Republicans) and are unanimous in naming the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent.

It’s pretty easy. I doubt we’ll disagree that Mary Landrieu [of
Louisiana] is No. 1 for Democrats and that John Sununu is the top most
vulnerable Republican incumbent.

Schaller: Is there any disagreement there, Jennifer and Nathan?

Duffy: Not at all. Mary Landrieu is No. 1 through 5.

You bet I’m tough. Commenting on a recent MSNBC segment on “threatening” TV women like Glenn Close and Holly Hunter, Afterellen blogger Carolinagirl writes that in his companion essay on the Web, writer Stuart Levine eflects the cultural prejudices he’s trying to describe:

The article mentions several shows helmed by women and highlights
the fact that their characters are frequently referred to as a
“cutthroat, backstabber, liar and, of course, bitch.” But rather than
ask himself why that is or form his own opinion on the subject, Levine
repeatedly avoids having to offer his own thoughts, allowing the actors
in these roles to take the reigns for him:

“It bothers [Glenn] Close [Damages]
that men who use the same tactics as Hewes can be described as
calculating, sophisticated and laser-like in their focus, while women
in the same position are referred to with negative language.’ Notice that it doesn’t seem to bother him at all — only Close.

Going back to the article, though, Newsmix found it kind of sly, letting Close, Holly Hunter and the Shield’s CCH Pounder provide the smart analysis.  Close tells Levine she marvels in turning the labels around:

kind of language is prevalent for women in positions of power,” Close
told msnbc.com. “They’re labeled bitches, spinsters, sexless. It’s
still out there. There have been all kinds of studies that women are
more attractive if they’re self-effacing and non-aggressive. Under
those circumstances, I love playing this character.”

Pounder then supplies an offhand, solid breakdown of the power relationships involved:

“When women appear to be taking positions that previously represented a
man’s domain, men have to do everything, and I mean everything, to keep
those women in their place,” Pounder explained. “It’s a struggle to
keep the long-held tradition that it’s a man’s world alive, so the word
‘bitch’ is just a minor part of the many putdowns and undermining of
women that goes on.”

Here’s a taste of Close’s Patty Hewes, in a clip of the Damages pilot:

Read more

Monday Night TV Makes It Girls Night In: TNT, The Closer and Saving Grace

July 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Television

By Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen

Patricia_yarberry_allen_2a USA’s TNT has really changed my behavior.  I haven’t watched anything on television since the Democratic presidential debates, but I could not wait to curl up in bed to watch the season premieres of The Closer followed by the awe inspiring Saving Grace.

Someone in the Suit department at this network has a clue that women over 40 do want to watch humans like themselves be the star, be real, be flawed but be capable, be interesting, be determined, but be the ones who know how to kick ass when the crisis hits.

Kyra Sedgwick, 42, is the owner of a Golden Globe for her fascinating portrayal of Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, a Southern bred woman who breaks all those stereotypes.  She has a fiancé, she is indecisive about relationships, commitment and change, but none of that gets in the way of the focus, the development and follow-up of the “How was this crime committed, that’s where I start, How?”  Last night’s premiere was just what I wanted to see.  My girl, Brenda, always conflicted but determined, nailing the bad guy every episode.

I have become a fan of the Holly Hunter character, Detective Grace Hanadarto, somewhat reluctantly.  I mean, she looks her age, 50, and she was so in my face as the star of Saving Grace that I was initially put off.  It is hard to watch self destruction, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and impulsivity, risk taking, the inability to sustain an intimate relationship and that nothing left to lose feeling that leaps out of the small screen. I mean flawed is one thing, but Detective Grace Hanadarto is way out of that box,

I almost did not watch the premiere of Saving Grace last night.  I am a doctor and I had just lived through one of those days in my work life where there were too many sad stories.  I wanted Sleepless in Seattle if you want to know my dirty little secret.

  I would have missed what is so often absent from television drama if I had not decided to give this gripping drama another chance. In this start of the season episode we learn that Grace had been sexually molested by Father Murphy beginning at the age of nine along with many other boys and girls in her neighborhood parish.  He had taken her childhood away; he had taken her capacity to trust away, he had left her empty and angry and truly with nothing left to lose. But Grace does have the ability to love those in her new family, her work family and her childhood friends.  When she finds that Father Murphy is retired and living in another state, she tracks him down and brings him back, ultimately to justice and not for personal vengeance.  It was television drama at more than its best. 

So, for this season of The Closer and Saving Grace, I am off duty and out of reach from 9pm to 11pm every Monday night.  Now that millions of women with money to spend on goods and services advertised on these shows are addicted to Monday night Girl Drama, maybe, the Suits on the other networks will get a clue.