Tuesday, August 29, 2017

It's all about the shoes

I was listening to a podcast recently (remarkably, not my own), and they were interviewing a comedy writer I know and greatly respect, Claudia Lonow. She has created four sitcoms that got on the air, all with women leads.

She was discussing the pilot development process and made a very interesting statement. I’m paraphrasing, but they were talking about network interference and notes. She said, “If you really want to get a lot of notes, write a pilot with a woman lead.

Her point was that male leads can get away with a lot more than female leads. Men can slide by with all kinds of boorish, stupid behavior but women doing a lot of the same things are viewed as unlikable and unacceptable.

I hadn’t thought about it, but she’s probably right.

When David Isaacs, Robin Schiff, and I created ALMOST PERFECT our star was a strong female lead (Nancy Travis) and we received very few notes. But that was a different era. It was also when MURPHY BROWN ruled the ratings. Female leads in sitcoms back then were generally stand up comedians. Good luck telling Roseanne or Brett Butler what to do without getting a Coke can thrown at your head (or being called an Asshat).

But as I look at the current landscape, Claudia might well have a point. At least on the network side. I sincerely doubt the writers of VEEP or KIMMY SCHMIDT or BROAD CITY get many notes on their leads’ behavior. And even on the network side, there’s MOM but that’s a Chuck Lorre show. CBS is not going to poke that bear. (And I suspect the show is better for it.)  

In terms of character likeability, I do think there’s a double-standard. A male boss can be firm and viewed as an effective leader. A comparable woman boss is a bitch. I’ve observed focus groups where members had strong dislikes for women characters because they didn’t like their shoes.

It’s really bullshit and it’s really unfair.   And these networks are just hurting themselves.   Remember that KIMMY SCHMIDT was originally developed for NBC with Tina Fey involved and they still passed on it.  

You do see a lot more network sitcoms these days with male leads. Claudia said that one network mentioned they also developed a number of shows with female leads but they didn’t make the grade. It was those damn shoes!

Here’s what networks don’t understand: Audiences may like Matt LeBlanc but they love Lucy.


McAlvie said...

Hmmmm ... maybe they SHOULD give notes on shows with male leads. Take the Kevin James show. I like Kevin James, and I watched his old show pretty regularly. But the new one ... well, let's just say that replacing the wife wasn't the fix it needed. Was it James, or was it the writers? I don't know. But I do know that my first thought when I heard they were getting rid of the wife and bringing in Remini was, "Are they going to explain that by having the wife divorce him on the grounds that he's a lazy, self-centered jerk?"

If you want an audience for your show, you have to make the characters someone viewers actually like spending time with.

blinky said...

Networks are ghost ships. I can't think of a network show I want to watch except the Simpsons.
Even Chuck Lorre has a Netflix sitcom about a Cannabis dispensary that would never air on the networks. It has profanity, pot smoking and a grey haired, tough woman lead.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Networks aren't *completely* ghost ships. I like MOM, SUPERSTORE, and THE GOOD PLACE, among comedies. I can't think of any dramas offhand, though.

Ken, when you get a moment (and I know this is a tough and busy time for you), it would be great if you could link to that podcast. I - and probably some others - would like to hear it.


The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken, I thought you might enjoy this interview with Steve Stone about his playing and broadcasting days: http://jewishbaseballmuseum.com/spotlight-story/qa-steve-stone-incredible-lifetime-baseball-no-32-meant-much/?platform=hootsuite

Michael said...

Friday question: When you and your partners developed ALMOST PERFECT, did you have Nancy Travis in mind from the beginning or did you audition other actresses before choosing her to star?

Andy Rose said...

And who were the focus group members complaining about a woman's shoes? I'm going to guess there wasn't a single Y chromosome among them.

Barry Traylor said...

The Double Standard never seems to go away does it. What a shame.

ADmin said...

"Named one of the BEST 25 BLOGS by TIME Magazine." WHAT? Top 24 at the very least!

Rock Golf said...

Claudia Lonow?
Is that the former teen actress who played Michele Lee's daughter for about a decade on Knots Landing?
IMDb.com indicates "Yes", and as a bonus, she wrote her own biog for the site, which I quote below:

Claudia Lonow started her career as an actress, playing Michele Lee's chubby, loud-mouthed teenage daughter on "Knots Landing." Favorite episodes include: the one where she has kidney failure and is saved by Donna Mills's kidney; the one where she runs away with the town murderer, "Chip," and drives her mother to drugs; and the one where she almost loses her virginity, but instead winds up donning clown make up and singing "Put On A Happy Face" with her mom.

Lonow's next career was waitressing. She did stand up comedy for a while, working across the country and doing some television. When she gave her best joke to Sarah Silverman, and Silverman killed with it, a writer was born.

Her television-writing career took off when she wrote a semi-autobiographical spec pilot about a former nighttime soap opera television actress who gets sent to rehab, called "Rude Awakening." Showtime bought the show, which ran for 55 episodes. Lonow has been creating and writing television ever since: "Good Girls Don't" for Oxygen; "Accidentally On Purpose" for CBS and "How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)" for ABC. Lonow completed directing her first short film, (which she also co-wrote) entitled, "Bummed."

Filippo said...

I think the problem underlined by Lonow about woman leads doesn't concern powerful characters, but loser characters.
You can't have a woman who's like Jim Orenthal or Homer Simpson. A woman can't stand to lose face too much. They wouldn't love her anymore.
Take Liz Lemon. She goes to exremes with poop troubles and date awkwardness, but she's stimo a talented producer on her show.
You can never have a woman lead who can sink very low, I think is what Lonow meant.

Pat Reeder said...

I don't work in television, but I did work for a while in industrial and home entertainment video. I still remember a casting session for one video I wrote where an actress who gave far and away the best audition was rejected because the suits in charge didn't like the way her hair was styled that day. On the other hand, they also rejected a male actor who gave by far the best reading because they didn't like the tie he wore that day. I argued hard for both of them, to no avail.

So is the problem systemic sexism, or is it just that executives in general are idiots?