Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jennifer Pozner on NBC's The Today Show

I just caught Jennifer Pozner, Executive Director of Women in Media and News, author of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV, and our friend (name drop!), on NBC's The Today Show this morning. Don't ask me what I was doing up early enough on a Saturday to watch that (I DVR'd it!)

New network market research findings are causing producers to claim that women want to see lots of tough women in violent action and crime dramas. Jennifer made the point that what women really want to see is complex, strong female characters who are self-defined and have agency... and it just so happens that the only time we can find that on TV is in violent action and crime dramas. (More info:

Here's a partial transcript of the segment:

So the new fall TV line up definitely emphasizes the woman as the action hero. That's not anything new, we saw that with Charlie's Angels, Cagney and Lacey, some of these other crime fighting shows of decades past. But what do you think it is about women now that we're ready for that reemergence of the female action hero?
Well I think that we've always been ready for female action heroes and even more to the point we've always been ready for strong, fully defined, self-defined women with agency on television. And unfortunately too often we don't get that in terms of what we're given for female characters. We see the put-upon mom who's always gorgeous but sort of harried by her schlubby obnoxious husband like on According to Jim or King of Queens. We see the women who are protrayed as shallow, egotistical dimwit bimbos fighting amongst themselves for the lone Y chromosome in their midsts.
Like Desperate Housewives...
Well even on the Bachelor or Flavor of Love. So basically what women are looking for are strong, independent, fully-defined characters who stand up for themselves and others. It's too bad that they're only given that option in action roles.
What about the notion that women really do like the blood and the violence and they want to see other women a part of all of that, is there any truth to that?
Well I think that there's a slightly -- this was all sort of based on market research recently that the networks did and I think that there's a crisis of vision, a crisis of creativity in the interpretation of that research, of those focus groups. If they had asked the real questions of these women they were talking to -- 18-34 year old women -- they would've found that, yes, they want strong, they want the adrenaline rush, they want women like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena Warrior Princess who protect themselves and save the world, but they want witty women, they want interesting women, they want intelligent women. It's not about the blood. It's about the fully-fleshed out idea that women can be anything they want to be.
Interesting that you mentioned witty and smart and independent, because then you have the other genre of Reality TV where you have the Housewives series, where you see these strong women but they're catty and it's just... sometimes it's... as a woman it's embarrassing to watch because it feels like such a stereotype.
Oh absolutely.
And yet, are women watching?
You know that's interesting. Michael Hirschorn, the former executive over at VH1, the brainchild behind shows like Flavor of Love and A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, not exactly your high brow fare, said that if women didnt want these shows they wouldn't be made. But what's really true... that's just a shallow justification for what networks want to put on the air. These shows, the reality shows, cost upwards of... basically it can cost less than 75% less to make a reality show than a scripted program. So it's not what women want to see, it's what networks want us to want to see because it's really cheap to make. Then you get all the product placement embedded sponsorship cash and it's a party. It doesn't mean that women are being represented in any kind of realistic way.
And speaking of maybe more the genre that we're hoping to see the independent strong women -- you know NBC's got two shows out, one of them is Chase and Undercovers, what do you think the networks need to do to get women hooked for all the right reasons perhaps on these types of shows?
Well, they should do what Joss Whedon does in his programs, with... for example, take Buffy the Vampire Slayer... female characters that rely on each other and use their strength and their wit and their physical toughness to defend thesmeslves, to defend other women and other people. And they shouldn't do these sort of rape, incest, torture-of-the-week fetishization types of plotlines like on the procedurals. They should focus on women using their skill and their toughness and their negotiation to problem-solve.
All the things we clearly possess.

We certainly hope someone over at the network offices was watching... and paying attention.

Buy Jennifer's book: Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV

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