TV's heroines open the Emmy Awards. (ABC)Sunday night's Emmy Awards opened with TV's leading ladies saving the day. In a sketch that kicked of the industry's biggest awards show, Kathy Bates, Martha Plimpton, Christina Hendricks, Zooey Deschanel, Mindy Kaling, Julia Louis Dreyfuss and a naked, cake-eating Lena Dunham, took turns punching host Jimmy Kimmel's face back into form, after some botched botox injections. Then Ellen Degeneres lent him a pair fo pants to wear on stage.
It may have been an act, but it wasn't far from the truth. Women are saving TV from itself. In a climate where networks are scrambling to keep viewers engaged in televised programming, women are the new heroes of small-screen entertainment, providing fresh, innovative content that crosses gender boundaries.
Two of the highest rated new comedies to debut last season-The New Girl and Two Broke Girls---were created by women, and star down-to-earth, low-drama female characters. At the same time, the year's top performers have also been women. Julia Louis Dreyfuss in Veep, Lena Dunham in Girls, Emmy winner Claire Danes in Homeland.
At Sunday's awards Danes' series derailed Mad Men's Emmy streak by winning the award best dramatic series, along with three others. The fact that a show about a modern-day female CIA officer has pushed aside the a series philandering, retro-sexist creative director, is a sign of the times.
Single working women are so hot right now. Really.
A decade ago, working class men with disproportionately attractive wives ran the sitcom turf. Shows like the King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond and According to Jim, revolved around Average Joes who spent most of their time at home with their families, and hiding their charmingly gluttonous behavoir from exasperated wives.
These days, the behavior is still charmingly gluttonous-see Liz Lemon's cheese obsession and Lena Dunham's naked cake exploits-but the family, the house and the Joe are all gone. Instead, it's a Jane, and her family is comprised of roommates and co-workers.
With Americans working longer hours than ever, women filling the jobs that men once had, couples putting off marriage and families redefining the term "nuclear," a televised gender gap is closing.
Male and female characters these days, they're not so different. On The New Girl, Jes's male roommates are the ones who cry over break-ups, engage in cat-fights and get their feelings hurt. On The Mindy Project, Kaling's main character, a doctor, has quickies with her bimbo co-worker just because it feels good. And on 30 Rock, Liz Lemon shares a lot of the same passions as '90s patriarch Al Bundy. They're both overworked, under-groomed TV-a-holics who hate having sex with their partners.
If the past few years of programming has taught us anything, it's that women are just as good at playing the part of the lovable underdog as men--or maybe even better. This fall's new prime-time line-up features 14 titles that reference women, and only eight that reference men, according to Slate. Compare that to thirty years ago when Remington Steele and Knight Rider were two of the 20 prime-time titles referencing, targeting, and revolving around men. It's a sign that women-led shows aren't just appealing to women anymore.
It's also a sign of the growing number of women behind the scenes in the industry, and their evolving approach to success. Within the male-dominated entertainment industry women increasingly seeing each other as partners rather than threats. Tina Fey, a proponent of "throwing the rope down," helped ferry the success of Amy Poehler's Parks and Rec. The New Girl creator Liz Merriweather and her "power posse" of female writer/director friends have trumpeted each other's careers. Chelsea Handler's own talk show, meanwhile, has been a platform for fellow comedian Whitney Cummings, creator of Two Broke Girls. And Lena Dunham, the only woman to be nominated for both directing and writing Emmys-was championed by the late great Nora Ephron. Behind-the-scenes at networks it's still a man's game, but every time a woman pries the door open, she ushers her worthiest friends in too. It's a good-will formula that translates on screen as well as it does off.
A highlight of Sunday's Emmy Awards was surprise scripted bit by nominee Amy Poehler and winner Julia Louis Dreyfuss, who accepted her award by (not-so) accidentally reading Poehler's acceptance speech. It was funny, sure, but it was also a way of saying we're all in this together and we don't take these awards as seriously as the men handing them out.
The most popular TV characters have always been underdogs--think Ralph Kramden, Homer Simpson. What they lack in power, they make up for in community.At a time when the "99 percent" feel slighted by the "1 percent", and television executives are struggling to connect with disenfranchised viewers, it's a message that resonates with everyone.