Women of the night remain a driving force for ABC
by Ed Bark on August 8th 2011 at 8:43 pm
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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Desperate Housewives will be over after the upcoming season, but there's no recession in the numbers of women gainfully employed in lead roles on ABC. Particularly in series of a more or less serious nature.
All four of the network's new fall season dramas -- Charlie's Angels, Pan Am, Revenge and Once Upon a Time -- are fronted by females, with men mostly served as side dishes. One can say pretty much the same of three returning series -- Private Practice, Body of Proof and Grey's Anatomy -- although Patrick Dempsey's "Dr. McDreamy" certainly has drawn considerable attention in the latter drama. And coming in midseason is Good Christian Belles, in which women also call the shots.
ABC entertainment president Paul Lee agrees that this is very much by design.
"Oh absolutely," he said Sunday in answer to a question from locatetv.com. "We are known for creating storytelling with empowered women. Empowered women is definitely a theme of the network. It's one of the reasons why we do so well (in the ratings) with affluent women."
"Empowered" is one way of putting it. But aren't the women in Charlie's Angels and Pan Am (set in 1963) closer to being retro sex objects than liberated ladies? Their stars, of course, don't think so. They've got their talking points down.
"There is sort of this misconception," said Christina Ricci, who plays a stewardess in Pan Am. "In reality, the job allowed these women to have a freedom that they weren't really given in a regular sort of role in life at that time. They did have to pass through certain 'girdle checks' and grooming checks . . . But they then were allowed to travel freely and see the world and to be in charge of their own lives."
Former Pan Am employee Nancy Hult Ganis, now co-executive producer of the Pan Am series, noted that two of the "biggest feminists in the women's movement" -- including former NOW president Patricia Ireland -- used to fly high with the airline.
"They still have great memories of that time, and loved the adventures," she said.
At a following interview session for Charlie's Angels, co-star Annie Ilonzeh picked up the empowerment baton.
"I've always wanted to do something high octane, action, rolling around," said Ilonzeh, who plays Angel Kate Prince. "Just being a huge tomboy, I guess, but also being able to empower myself as a woman, having that physical and mental toughness. For me that's really important, to be able to embrace that and show young women, young girls and men, and everyone."
Minka Kelly, cast as Angel Eve French after playing a high school cheerleader on NBC's acclaimed Friday Night Lights, dutifully said that the new Charlie's Angels is also about being part of a family.
"Along with the eye candy and it all being so fun to watch, there's also a lot of depth and emotion," she contended.
Leonard Goldberg, who created Charlie's Angels with the late Aaron Spelling, likewise has an executive producer credit on ABC's new version. He blames NBC with sticking the "jiggle" tag on the original series.
"We were very successful with our shows, and the other networks always tried to find ways to discourage us," he said. The show exploded nonetheless, partly on the strength of the late Farrah Fawcett's iconic swimsuit poster and an evocative Time magazine cover of all three Angels.
"A lot of publications, The New York Times included, gave us very bad reviews," Goldberg recalled. "But as soon as the show hit, they were very quick to put us on the cover of everything they could find."
This fall's Charlie's Angels isn't likely to fare much better with reviewers, judging from conversations with a number of writers on "press tour."
Not that it's likely to matter all that much. Most people don't buy Playboy for the articles. Nor are they likely to watch Charlie's Angels -- or Pan Am -- for the empowerment.