Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

by Patricia Yarberry Allen

I grew up with no television. In rural Kentucky, there was no way on the farm to get that moving image from the air into a box with a screen. As I grew older, 12 or so, I knew people who had televisions, but I must confess I was not impressed. Snow. Bzzz. Snow. I just didn’t get it.

I read instead. Insatiably. I was a 19th century girl who just happened to have a gas-driven buggy instead of a horse-driven one.

I am married to a man who knows everything about television and movies and music from the last half of the 20th century. He gets to amaze and astonish me with the most mundane trivia.

"Where were you?" he often asks me. "Working and reading," I reply.

He wakes up singing the theme song to some long ago television program. (I am Irish-American; we do not sing until late at night.)

"What are you singing?" I always ask. (Everyone needs a straight girl). "Surely you have heard of ‘blah blah blah.’ This was the best of the ‘blah blah blah’ and it lasted 15 years. Greatest ratings. ‘Blah blah blah.’"

I remain clueless.

My ignorance of television programs has caused more than one social faux pas. I once mistook a famous actor who starred in "The Man From Uncle" for a gynecologist from Queens.

Perhaps it is time to take a popular culture course at the New School. But if I do, hopefully the class will include contemporary television roles for women, because there is one show I can tell you everything about: "The Closer."

I drove two hours each way earlier this month to watch the premiere of the third season. I was far from alone: the premiere drew 8.8 million viewers, breaking all records already set by "The Closer" for being the most-watched basic cable series.

I acted like I was going to opening night at the Met, except that I had on jammies, not a ball gown. Phone calls were prohibited. So was talking. There are no interruptions once Kyra Sedgwick walks into the room.

Sedgwick, who turns 42 this August, plays Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson, an LAPD detective who oversees an all-male squad that investigates high-profile murder cases. Johnson is determined, creative, smart, intuitive and protective of her team. And she always gets the job done. Though the life of a doctor is much different than the life of a homicide detective, I understand how she thinks and how she works.

Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune does an excellent job of describing how Sedgwick turns Johnson into such a compelling and addictive character. And she discusses the influence Sedgwick’s success (a Golden Globe award and Emmy nomination) may have on roles for women:

Her win is meaningful, not just because it recognizes truly good work, but because it might represent a shifting of the tides for actresses of a certain age. For years now, mid career male actors have found a welcoming home on cable networks and have turned in compelling performances on everything from "The Sopranos" to "The Shield" to "Dexter" to "Monk."

Now, actresses such as Sedgwick, Glenn Close and Holly Hunter are getting their own moment in the sun this summer (see the list at the end of this article), as cable branches out from the male-centered formulas that have proved so successful.

"I think it’s hard to find real characters that you can relate to in a lot of the entertainment industry, whether it’s film or TV," said Sedgwick, 41. "Honestly, I can’t speak to whether or not that’s changing [for women]. I try to keep her real; that’s important to me. I feel committed to that for many reasons, not the least of which is that if you’re going to be in people’s living rooms, you should be someone they can relate to."

Johnson certainly is one of TV’s more memorable recent creations; her thick Georgia drawl may make suspects think she’s a sweet-talking Southern belle. But Johnson, who has a secret junk-food addiction she can’t quite shake, is a master manipulator in the interrogation room. She’s skilled at putting suspects at ease, only to go for their jugulars with her laser-focused intellect. Before they know it, even the most confident criminals have been expertly trapped in their own lies.

And what fun it is to watch them get caught.

Johnson’s tough, but she’s also very real. "She’s so flawed," Sedgwick recently told CBS. "She’s struggling through life, like all of us are. She’s very accessible in her flaws."

And, like so many of us over 40 in the 21st century, she is not certain that she can manage that commitment thing. Some of us resent the continued demands of a partner (no matter how delightful) and look wistfully at the lives of our unpartnered girlfriends who can travel on a whim and eat potato chips in bed while watching "Sleepless in Seattle" for the 12th time. It is the little things that make us review commitment with a somewhat jaundiced eye.

The whole package is what makes Johnson such an effective and essential role model. We need more television characters who reflect the complexity of our own lives and who can bring to life both our personal and public successes and failures. 

Of course, then I may start watching a lot more TV.

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  • Laura Sillerman July 5, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Of course, Dr. Pat would find the character who is the whole package just as she is.
    This is a great “review” and a great promotion at the same time and let us not forget that Sedgwick has Kevin Bacon as her real life husband, and the father of her children. Finding a place for herself in the world where her life partner is such an icon must have presented challenges all their own.

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