Yes. Hollywood got a little too excited after the success of Bridesmaids and just decided it had to have at least three-female focused shows with female creators per network. Some were quite good (New Girl and Suburgatory have gotten solid reviews and have established fan bases) but the really bad ones were really, really bad (Whitney and Are You There, Chelsea? come to mind.) But Two And A Half Men creator co-creator Lee Aronsohn’s sexist commentsabout there being too many female-driven comedies on television went way too far and they were wrong. According to The Hollywood Reporter’s Etan Vlessing when asked about the rise of female comedies on network television, he said “Enough ladies. I get it. You have periods … we’re approaching peak vagina on television, the point of labia saturation.” Women on TV are nowhere near their peak.
There are so many things wrong with this statement. First, we are no where near “peak vagina” on television or in films. Bridesmaids, unfortunately, has become the benchmark for showing how funny women are and that they can write a movie and make a ton of money off of it. It is unfortunate because women were always funny, they just hadn’t gotten the credit for it at this level. The success of that film then helped get more comedies, created by and starring women, on the air. But like every trend, it takes time to get it right. And I don’t see how we can be anywhere near “saturation.” There have been comedies about men doing stupid things and talking about their men problems for decades. Some were hits (The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, The Big Bang Theory, Happy Days, Beavis & Butthead, Seinfeld, Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm), some were misses (The Single Guy, According to Jim. Gary Unmarried, Cavemen, Men Behaving Badly, How to be A Gentleman.) But no where have we ever said we have reached the saturation point with comedies about men. There are a whole bunch of new ones coming too (Men at Work is one) and no one has said diddly. And may I remind you, it was a man who created the epic failure of a show that was Working it.
Women are ruling Hollywood now, especially women in comedy, so there was bound to be some backlash. But the fact that it is coming from the creator of a show that was a huge hit but is now probably heading for its demise is a little sad. THR states that Aronsohn “applauded” women like Whitney Cummings, Chelsea Handler and Tina Fey for “securing a voice to discuss formerly taboo subjects on TV,” but then he made his saturation comments. So basically he is happy they secured the voice but now wants them to muffle it. Cummings and Handler should be applauded for their work even if their shows do face cancellation (no one would ever cancel Queen Tina.) I spoke with one professional stand-up comedian who is one of the only female writers for a late-night talk show who agreed that these women should absolutely be given credit for being pioneers.
But though we are starting to get more power in the entertainment industry, our numbers are actually still significantly low. As of last August, the number of women both in front of and behind the camera was on the decline. Women comprised 15% of writers on the prime-time dramas, comedies and reality shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW, down from 29% in the 2009-10 season, according to the report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. In the directing ranks, it found, 11% were women, compared with 16% the previous year. As for on screen, women accounted for 41% of all characters, a decline of 2% from the 2007-08 season when female characters accounted for a historical high of 43% of characters. We’ve definitely seen an increase in female writers and characters since then but that is far from dominating. It’s not much better with films either. only 7% of the top 250 top-grossing films released in 2010 were directed by women, 10% were written by women and 24% were produced by women.
So his comments were also inaccurate. He then went on to defend Two & Half Men saying that he was not going to apologize for the portrayal of women on his series. The light women are portrayed on in that show is usually of the bimbo and big-boobed kind and nothing much more. “Screw it… We’re centering the show on two very damaged men. What makes men damaged? Sorry, it’s women. I never got my heart broken by a man,” he said in his keynote address at a conference on television in Toronto recently. Whoa. Defending the characters on Two And A Half Men by saying they are not even full men because of women? Sounds like this guy may just have a problem with women in general.
But back to my earlier point. We are nowhere near saturation of “lady sitcoms.” Chelsea and Whitney may not make it to a sophomore season (though neither have been officially cancelled yet) but Chelsea Handler and Whitney Cummings are not going anywhere (they both have other shows.) Women are going to make more comedic television shows and comedies. A lot of them will be misses but a lot will be hits too. In fact, this month Lena Dunham’s Girls will premiere on HBO. The level of buzz this show is already getting is amazing. New York Magazine’s Emily Nussbaum declared that Girls is the “ballsiest show on TV. Much of television calls itself revolutionary. Lena Dunham’s upcoming series may actually be.” When was the last time Two And A Half Men was called revolutionary? Oh, that’s right. Never.