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Men at Work? In the Ongoing #MeToo Wave, Not so Much and Not Surprisingly So
August 25, 2018  | By Ed Bark  | 2 comments

For decade upon decade, television networks maled it in, mostly with white men.

Soon the payback will be fast and even furious, although the here and now is already making its mark with more diversity than ever before in the programs being offered either conventionally or via kingpin streamers such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

Still, the #MeToo movement hadn’t quite hit its stride yet when many of the new shows coming this fall were in development late last year. As recent announcements show, series showcasing and starring women will be coming in waves during the next year or so. In many of them, men seem to be either beside the point or in clearly secondary roles. It’s going to be one big course correction from the days when George Clooney, Don Johnson, and Tom Selleck kept getting more at-bats when their pilots weren’t picked up, or their series were short-lived. They eventually found their ways into ER, Miami Vice, and Magnum, P.I.

But white men can’t keep jumping to the head of the line anymore. Were Clooney, Johnson, and Selleck breaking in today, they might well be lost amid a shuffle of women and men of many hues whose casting is now a priority. CBS’ new Thomas Magnum will be played by a Latino (Jay Hernandez) this fall, with his Higgins a martial arts expert played by a Welsh actress (Perdita Weeks, right).

“If you’re going to do it in 2018, you need a strong female voice,” Magnum’s new executive producer, Peter Lenkov, told TV writers at the recently concluded Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills.

This is only the beginning, as is the newly titled Miss America Competition, which will air Sept. 9 on ABC without any swimsuits in sight. Former Miss America Gretchen Carlson, now chair of the Miss America board of trustees, is the former Fox News Channel personality who was instrumental in getting founder Roger Ailes to resign under pressure after she accused him of sexual harassment.  

“We are no longer a pageant,” Carlson said in announcing the “sweeping changes” last June. “Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment.”

Whether the former pageant’s dormant ratings will get any better remains to be seen. And it’s highly doubtful that any form of Miss America competition would have a place in two new women-of-action series announced this summer.

***Freeform’s Motherland is “set in an alternate America where witches ended their persecution 300 years ago by cutting a deal with the U.S. government to fight for their country,” according to publicity materials. “In this world, the traditional roles of gender and power are flipped with the more dominant women on the front lines fighting looming terrorist threats.”

***FX’s Y, adapted from a DC Comics series, finds Oscar-winner Diane Lane maneuvering in a “post-apocalyptic world in which a cataclysmic event has decimated every male mammal save for one lone human. The new world order of women will explore gender, race, class, and survival.”

***AMC’s six-hour The Little Drummer Girl, scheduled to run on successive nights this November, likewise features a woman of action in an adaptation of the same-named John Le Carre novel. Florence Pugh (right) stars as Charlie, “a fiery activist and idealist” turned double agent.

***Showtime has the newly announced Queen Fur, which is paced by Lily Mae Harrington as a “curvy, sexy, unapologetic high school dropout who is finding her womanhood.” The network’s programming president, Gary Levine, terms it a “uniquely twisted female empowerment story.”

***Also empowered by Showtime is Amanda de Cadenet, who’s been signed to host a half-hour weekly news magazine show with her name in the title. Publicity materials say it will explore America’s “current social, sexual, cultural and political issues, seen through de Cadenet’s sharp, feminist lens.”

***TNT will be keeping Niecy Nash (right) doubly busy with a late night show titled Naked with Niecy Nash. Already starring in the network’s Claws, Nash is expected to “serve up a tall glass of humor, advice, and one-of-a-kind ‘Niecy-isms’ on all things love, sex, romance, and relationships.”

***TNT isn’t nearly finished. Its planned new series Constance is touted as a “fun, darkly humorous, veneer-stripping story about one woman’s refusal to fade into obsolescence” as an ex-beauty queen turned small-town bureaucrat. And Beast Mode is inspired by the life of Ann Wolfe,” a “legendary boxing trainer with a kill-or-be-killed mentality.”

There’s no casting yet for either series, but TNT’s vice president of original programming, Sarah Aubrey, says she’s bullish on these dramas about “complicated, empowered women.”

***The CW network, already home to Supergirl and other DC Comics heroes, will strike again sometime next year with Batwoman, in which Ruby Rose has been cast as the openly gay title character. Times have markedly changed in this instance. The original Batwoman was created by DC in the 1950s to quell any concerns that Batman might be gay. After being shelved for decades, Batwoman returned in 2006 as a lesbian.

***Meanwhile, the epitome of female empowerment, producer Shonda Rhimes (right, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, etc.), has announced the first eight projects she has in store under her new, exclusive deal with Netflix.

Five of them are adapted from articles or books by women, and another goes behind the scenes of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s “re-imagining” of The Nutcracker with “an inclusive cast of all ages.” There’s also the “darkly comedic” Sunshine Scouts, in which a “rag-tag group” of teen girls strive to survive “an apocalyptic disaster.” 

***Feminist icon and lightning rod Jane Fonda will be profiled Sept. 24th on HBO in Jane Fonda In Five Acts. The two-hour and 15-minute film, produced and directed by former American Masters maestro Susan Lacy, will be culled from 21 hours of interviews with Fonda.

***Fonda also will be one of the ten guests on Netflix’s Norm Macdonald Has a Show (Sept. 14), which seems like an odd, almost out-of-body fit with its lead role for an aging Caucasian male. Not only that, old Macdonald will have only two other women on his 10-episode show -- Judge Judy Sheindlin and Drew Barrymore. He’ll also talk to former Saturday Night Live colleagues Chevy Chase, David Spade and Lorne Michaels, fellow late-nighter David and Michael Keaton, M. Night Shyamalan and Billy Joe Shaver. 

There’s lately not a lot of this going around, though. Television long has been a copycat medium. And the #MeToo movement currently is stirring the drink, with Macdonald’s show being close to an out and out aberration. Many a white male TV star has either shamed himself into oblivion or fallen several rungs in the prevailing pecking order. It had to happen, and it has, after the likes of Clooney, Johnson, Selleck and many of their peers or predecessors paraded unchecked while few thought twice about it.

This doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, mean that able, talented white men deserve to be passed over in the same manner that women and people of color once were. But for now, there’s clearly an overdue reckoning at hand. What remains to be seen is whether the tidal wave of #MeToo-influenced shows can resist being overtly polemical or preachy. Because whatever your race or gender, who really wants that?

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Superior post, keep up with this exceptional work. It's nice to know that this topic is being also covered on this web site so cheers for taking the time to discuss this! Thanks again and again!
Jan 28, 2023   |  Reply
Frankly, I'm left shaking my head about your last sentence. "What remains to be seen is whether the tidal wave of #MeToo-influenced shows can resist being overtly polemical or preachy. Because whatever your race or gender, who really wants that?" It's like you are judging the "tidal wave" of women/POC shows based ONLY on their press releases which (of COURSE) are going to sound preachy. I would love to see commentary a little more nuanced on this topic. Shonda Rimes has been around for QUITE a while, after all and is somewhat of a known quantity (i.e. she has been including women & POC without being preachy). The success of The Miss America Competition vs Pageant is NOT going to rest entirely on ratings, but its focus on things other than the swimsuit & outer body (or not, we'll see). And frankly, if Clooney, Johnson and Selleck had to deal with a greater variety of competition based on talent, we might have had better TV in the 80's-in terms of stars (and maybe even scripts).
Aug 27, 2018   |  Reply
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