Film & Television

Fall’s New Series Line Up: But, Where Are the Women?

What a difference a year makes.

Last August, I wrote eagerly about television’s fall line-up and specifically called out eight new series with women in leading roles. In 2015, I previewed a number of new shows that centered around female heroes who were literally heroes, some complete with super powers.

So, when I prepared to write our fall preview story this year, I was cautiously optimistic.

Women have been at the forefront of some of the strongest network series in recent seasons — shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, The Good Wife (and now, The Good Fight), Madam Secretary, How to Get Away with Murder, and more. In fact, until I took a look at this fall’s new crop of titles, I would have argued that the small screen was more inclusive than the big. But, I would have spoken too soon. While there were more female-led series than I could cover last year, it was nearly impossible to find enough material for this story. And, it wasn’t my imagination.

According to IndieWire, last season there were 41 new shows, of which 20 had female leads. This year there are 36 new shows and only 11 have women in the leading role.

On ABC, Kyra Sedgwick stars in the new series Ten Days in the Valley. Sedgwick plays a single mother and the overworked producer of a television crime drama. Her work and home life collide when her young daughter is abducted in the middle of the night. The lead role was originally earmarked for Demi Moore, but Sedgwick, who last starred in TNT’s The Closer, seems a better choice. “Playing Jane Sadler is exactly the deep and emotionally charged role I was searching for in a series,” she enthused when the series was announced. The first ten episodes take place across the first ten days that the child is missing, which should give it the sort of near-real time tension viewers have craved since 24 premiered 16 years ago. Unfortunately, Ten Days in the Valley is currently scheduled against Madam Secretary, and may compete for the same audience.

Despite heading into its fourth season of the aforementioned DC drama (starring Téa Leoni, it will premiere Sunday October 8th), CBS doesn’t have a single new title with a woman in the lead role. Given that the network’s history includes I Love Lucy, The Carol Burnett Show, and Murphy Brown, that’s a shame.

NBC, on the other hand, will premiere Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders with the extraordinary Edie Falco starring as defense attorney Leslie Abramson. According to the network, this first in an anthology of dramatized real cases will cover the trial, the media circus, and “what really went down when the cameras stopped rolling.” Whether you can sympathize with Lyle and Erik Menendez or not, the show promises to be intense. Falco is a four-time Emmy winner (one for Nurse Jackie; three for her iconic mob wife Carmela in The Sopranos). She never disappoints.

Also on NBC, the hugely popular sit-com Will and Grace is getting a reboot with its original stars, including leading lady Debra Messing and the hilarious Megan Mullally. The cast had reunited prior to the 2016 election in a video supporting Hillary Clinton, and its instant social media popularity prompted discussion of a new series. The eighth season of the original wrapped up in 2006, but the show’s stars say that it feels as though they never left. (Of course, Emmy-winner Messing may be trying to forget her involvement with the ill-fated, much-maligned, and ironically-named musical series Smash.)

Like CBS, Fox doesn’t have any women-led new shows this fall. However, we can look forward to seeing the incredible Angela Bassett star in Ryan Murphy’s mid-season 9-1-1. The “procedural drama” will follow the lives and work of first responders: police, paramedics and firefighters. Bassett, who was nominated for an Oscar when she played Tina Turner in 2004’s What’s Love Got to Do with It (she lost to Holly Hunter for The Piano), has been powerful — if not downright terrifying — in several seasons of Murphy’s American Horror Story. In the new series, which should premiere this winter, she’ll be joined by Peter Krause.

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  • Leslie in Oregon August 30, 2017 at 3:05 am

    “Ten Days in the Valley is currently scheduled against Madam Secretary:” with so little on broadcast television that is worth watching, why are these two scheduled against each other? (In other words, why can’t both series, one promising and the other excellent) survive and thrive?)

  • Diane Dettmann August 29, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Alexandra, I agree the lack of strong female lead characters in the upcoming season is definitely grim news. Men tend to dominate in television, movies, politics and sports. Women in America, myself included, need to have strong female role models in the media. We may think “we’ve come along way baby” but we’ve got a long way to go! Thanks for keeping our eyes open to this ongoing issue.