Turn of the Tide? Women and Television

Guest Post by Laura Moore

Last Monday night the hotly anticipated ninth season premiere of Two and a Half Men aired on CBS. Normally, shows that are entering their ninth season have long since passed their creative peaks and are limping out one last season for syndication profits. However, this premiere was different because it was the first episode to air since Charlie Sheen’s spectacular public meltdown and subsequent firing last spring, and the debut episode of his replacement, Ashton Kutcher. Tuesday morning the overnight ratings came out, and they were HUGE. Over 28 million viewers, and a 10.7 ratings share in the 18-49 demographic. For those unfamiliar with ratings, those numbers are staggering, and larger than the past three seasons of American Idol, long the number one rated show on television. But for all the headlines Men’s ratings are generating, another story is getting shoved under the rug.

Airing immediately after Two and a Half Men, the new sitcom 2 Broke Girls premiered to nearly 20 million viewers and a 7.1 share, easily becoming the second most watched show Monday night, and is on track to become the highest rated debut this television season. One could argue that 2 Broke Girls benefitted greatly from its lead in, but numbers are numbers, and those 20 million people could have easily changed the channel once Men rang in its final credits. Instead, they decided to stay tuned to what was reportedly CBS’s highest scoring pilot among test audiences, and what was listed by several critics as one of the best new shows of the season. More importantly, 2 Broke Girls is at the forefront of what industry insiders are calling the year of female domination on broadcast television.

Of the 24 new shows to debut this fall, 14 are centered on a female character, compared to 7 that are centered on male characters, and of those, the majority of these men are struggling to determine what it means to be a man in a television landscape dominated by strong women. Even more telling are the behind the scenes statistics: six out of the ten new sitcoms were created by women, and the creators of ABC’s Revenge only got the go ahead once they changed their lead character to a women. Furthermore, viewership statistics show that women account for up to 65% of primetime viewing, meaning that advertisers are starting to demand shows that will deliver large female audiences. Looking at this season’s line up of new shows, it would appear that the television industry is finally delivering.

Television isn’t the only industry getting on the female bandwagon; Hollywood is starting to take notice as well. The summer season of Hollywood blockbusters has just ended, and in a season dominated by male superheroes, Bridesmaids has emerged has the underdog winner of the summer. Made on a budget of $32 million, written by two women, and starring a pitch perfect ensemble of women, Bridesmaids has now pulled in over $280 million worldwide, beating out a lot of other blockbuster juggernauts at the box office in turns of profits vs. budget.

While Bridesmaids was the story of the beginning of the season, then The Help was the story of the end of the season. Debuting in August in second place behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help went on to win the next three weekends at the box office, eventually pulling in over $150 million on a $25 million budget. This is all the more impressive given that August is the month that has commonly been known as the wasteland of summer movies, where films go to die.

So do these successes signal a turn of the tide? Only time will tell, but the immediate future looks promising. What’s Your Number? another female driven and written R-rated comedy is set to be released next week, and reports are that in the wake of Bridesmaids’ success, Hollywood producers are being inundated with scripts both written by and featuring women. Moreover, it is telling that the highest rated comedy on TV has put a heartbroken computer geek in the place of TV’s ultimate womanizing manwhore. Although the history of television tells us that over half of all new shows to debut in any given season will eventually fail, the odds are for once squarely in favor of women. One can only hope that this trend will continue, so we can finally arrive at a point where characters of either sex have equal opportunity to flourish and a television season can be judged solely on its artistic merits instead of the gender behind it.

For more information on women’s progress in media, look into the following organizations; both offer weekly newsletter updates.







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