Posts Tagged ‘ABC’

Shonda Rhimes, creator of TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, recently talked to NPR. According to Amanda Hess at Slate, one of the things she discussed was the challenge of getting Grey’s Anatomy on the air:

When NPR asked Rhimes if she helped “create the change” in representing complicated and diverse women on screen, Rhimes told the story of pitching the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy to ABC in 2005. Rhimes conceived of Grey’s as a racially diverse show featuring “smart women competing against one another” that she’d actually watch. But higher-ups at ABC had different ideas about what women really wanted. “A bunch of older guys told me that nobody was going to watch a show about a woman who had casual sex and threw a guy out the night before her first day of work—that that was completely unrealistic and that nobody wanted to know that woman,” Rhimes told NPR. “I remember sitting in that meeting and thinking, ‘Wow they don’t know anything about what’s going on in the world right now.’ ”

I’m not sure how the show was allowed to move forward at ABC without changes, but it apparently was and is now in its tenth season. Rimes doesn’t think those views would be expressed today, partly because of the success of Grey’s Anatomy:

“That kind of conversation would never happen now,” Rhimes told NPR. Executives are “no longer worried about whether or not the women are likeable.” It used to be that if you pitched a show with a female lead, “it was so rare [that] everyone wanted that person to be perfect, because she had to represent everybody.” White female characters, at least, are now allowed to be complex. Scandal‘s Olivia Pope, however, “is very rare because she’s an African-American woman,” Rhimes told NPR, “and everyone wants her to be perfect because she has to represent everyone.” The good news is that Rhimes now has the clout to reject that premise: “There’s a box you get put in. My goal is to blow that box wide open.”

Rhimes is speaking to a central challenge of breaking gender and race barriers on television: Because nonwhite, non-male leads represents a risk for a network, producers can put pressure on writers to play it safe in other ways. But characters that are designed to “represent” all women, or all black women, are guaranteed to be boring to pretty much everyone. Rhimes is successful enough now that she can call the shots. I’d be interested to hear how these diversity and likability conversations go with television creators who are not established powerhouses.

As Hess points out, it is great that Rhimes has enough clout to  do what she wants, but the underlying fear on the part of executives likely remains. As long as diversity on TV is rare there will be pressure to make diverse characters bland. When these shows fail the executives will likely point to the fact that the shows featured diverse characters, not their blandness, as the reason for this failure, reinforcing the idea that audiences don’t connect with diverse characters. Hopefully, shows like Scandal and Orange is the New Black will help break this cycle rather than remaining aberrations.

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The appeal of smoking escapes me but I know that lots of people, even smart people, have found comfort in the feeling of hot smoke clouding their lungs.  Since I’m not a smoker I rejoice every time a restaurant, campus, or city goes smoke free, making my visits both cleaner and clearer.  The movement toward smoke-free locations, though, highlights the fact that most places were once smoke-full, including the ad agencies and airlines of the 1960s.  Following the success of AMC’s Mad Men, which is set in the smoky ’60s, ABC is attempting to get a piece of the period pie this fall with its new show Pan Am.  One difference between the two, as related by this Entertainment Weekly article, is the fact that ABC’s Disney overlords won’t let smoking appear on Pan Am.

More interesting to me (though maybe not the woman sitting near me on my flight to Las Vegas last month who decried the lost days of smoking in metal tubes flying through the sky) is the fact that the lack of smoking is not the only anachronistic element of the show.  As EW states:

Ironically, the jet set drama from Nancy Hult Ganis, who was a former Pan Am stewardess, has already made plans to introduce an African American flight attendant sometime later this season even though the mile-high jobs were exclusively awarded to white women in the early days. The first black stewardess didn’t appear on a flight until the mid-60s, Schlamme admitted.

Of course, there is no intention of having multiple African American flight attendants.  It will be interesting to see if she is involved in any of the struggles that the early African American flight attendants surely experienced or if she will just be there to provide some contrast for the white cast members.

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Modern Family may be the best family comedy since Arrested Development, but last week’s episode, entitled “Good Cop Bad Dog,” reinforced some family roles that were anything but modern.  The episode centered on each of the six adult leads trying to break out of their normal roles to varying degrees.  At the heart of these adults were Phil and Claire, who were shown at the beginning of the episode taking on their normal roles.  Claire, the stay-at-home mom, was disciplining the children while Phil was attempting to keep things light.  Phil, it seems, gets to do all of the fun things with the kids while Claire is forced to be the serious parent who keeps their household running smoothly.  Understandably, Claire was not satisfied with this arrangement.

As a result of Claire’s dissatisfaction, Phil and Claire spent the majority of the episode outside of their normal roles.  Claire took their son and nephew on the go karting outing that Phil had planned and Phil stayed home with the daughters to ensure that their chores were done appropriately.  Both found it difficult to succeed outside of their normal roles.  On this point it is interesting to compare the behavior of these parents to the behavior that television parents would likely expect from their children.  Countless hours of TV have been devoted to parents encouraging their children not to give up on things that they are not immediately good at.  When Claire and Phil were not immediately good at stepping outside of their normal roles, however, they concluded that they should stick to what they know, allowing Phil to return to being the “fun dad” while Claire returned to being the “nagging mom.”

Obviously, television comedies are not necessarily going to be realistic (there was certainly nothing realistic about Arrested Development‘s Bluth family), but for a show entitled Modern Family that includes a same-sex couple with an adopted daughter, I don’t think that a little realism would be too much to ask.  The disconnect between the show’s title and its gender roles are particularly evident in light of a recent New York Magazine article written by Roseanne Barr, creator and star of Roseanne, a show that expertly blended realism with humor for most of its run.  Barr’s article focuses on the difficulty she had finding others to help her maintain that blend.  As a result of these efforts, she states:

I honestly think Roseanne is even more ahead of its time today, when Americans are, to use a technical term from classical economics, screwed. We had our fun; it was a sitcom. But it also wasn’t The Brady Bunch; the kids were wiseasses, and so were the parents. I and the mostly great writers in charge of crafting the show ­every week never forgot that we needed to make people laugh, but the struggle to survive, and to break taboos, was equally important. And that was my goal from the beginning.

It is clear from the article that the battles Barr fought to break those taboos took their toll.  This might be easier to accept if those taboos remained broken over 20 years later.

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The “Racial Sensitivity” episode of ABC’s Better Off Ted, which airs on Wednesday nights, offers a funny, if not particularly deep, examination of institutional racism.  Problems arise when the new motion-sensing system at Veridian Dynamics does not recognize African Americans.  Solutions include “Operation White Shadow,” in which Whites are hired at minimum wage to operate doors and lights.  Full episodes can be seen here.

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