Sunday, June 24, 2007

Too much Eostragen?

.... was something my agent said the other day [the male one] in response to what is wrong with British TV. Now I've never really thought about it in those terms before and I don't think I agree. I'm certainly not going off on a Sir Patrick Moore rant but it does give food for thought.

Jana Bennett - BBC Director of Vision [whatever the hell that is] Jane Tranter Controller BBC Fiction, Lucy Lumsden -Controller BBC Comedy. ITV Network Centre dominated by women. The Bill, Doctors, Casualty and a host of others exec produced and largely script edited by women.

In case anyone thinks I'm off on a mysoginistic screed I thought long and hard before posting this. Again let me say I don't think I agree, but it is something that perhaps should be discussed and the day I self censor on PC grounds is the day I quit blogging.

The main reason I don't think I agree, certainly as far as exec producers go, is I've dealt with some who have a lot more balls than some of their male counterparts. But at the same time I can't help wondering why it is that the young male audience is what the networks crave and yet make such a hash of attracting?

I think it is a fact that women tend to watch more drama than men. But is that because the drama being produced is more female-centric? Or is female-centric drama being produced because that is naturally the bigger audience? Would more male-centric drama entice male viewers back? Or have we stopped tuning in because our tiny minds are engrossed elsewhere in a cornucopia of distractions?

So many questions. But here's a point to ponder. In most sit- coms the male is portrayed as the bumbling buffoon and the female the stable voice of reason. And most sit-coms are written by males. Perhaps we are our own worst enemies?


Jaded and Cynical said...

That's a great question.

If you look at US TV, there are loads of shows that appeal very specifically to a young (and youngish) male audience. An obvious example is Entourage, which consists of 25 minutes of undiluted male fantasy (a bunch of guys hanging out with famous actors, chasing women and doing no work whatsover).

The UK broadcasters just don't compete in this area.

There is almost nothing on television here that a man under 60 could get excited about.

And that's why we all spend our money on box-sets of 24.

English Dave said...

And ITV buried it in a late night slot. The most exited I have been recently is when I came across an Entourage triple bill on ITV2.

I have series 1 box set. I will buy the others as and when.

Good Dog said...

I've worked with quite a few female producers in a previous profession.

Some were really on the case and great to work for, the others really needed to be taken out and beaten around the head and neck with a croquet mallet.

Anyway, had a long think about this myself before replying. When you talk about drama, does that include the soaps and the “ongoing dramas” (or whatever they call them) like Casualty or Holby City? Because I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of dramas with a strong female lead and can only come up with Prime Suspect and Silent Witness. Then again, I guess there are all the relationship dramas with attractive leads, both male and female which are probably more female-oriented.

Regarding sitcoms, particularly British sitcoms, isn’t it the fact that the male leads are bumbling buffoons because we have a tradition here of making the characters loveable losers?

I think one of the best female characters in sitcom is Elaine Benes, who’s just as mad as the rest of them.

Anonymous said...

You must also consider that as well as a large number of female executives there are also a fair number of gay men, who are overly attached to their mothers and love powerful female matriachal characters. (This is totally based on my experience, but I appreciate is a sweeping generalisation!)

I'm amazed that people didn't pick up on one of the aspects of Life on Mars, namely that it had a pair of balls on it. Why? Because it referenced a time when we had strong male leads, The Sweeney, The Professionals - all that boys own stuff. Life on Mars made it acceptable to be that way again.

I don't advocate a return to the 70's in which women are exclusively something to shag/rescue - however as always, the pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction.

I have some first-hand expereince of a show that came to be commisioned on the back of the request for a show which featured two strong female leads...

I think everyone on it wanted to be making something like the Shield - (now that has a pair) then they realised they couldn't because of an enforced policy of featuring the 2 'strong female leads' only....

English Dave said...

Good point about LOM. I've also been wracking my brains to come up with a male Head of Development. I don't think I've ever met one. I'm sure they are out there somewhere.

freebooter said...

Personally, I'm very pro women in the business, as long as they fancy me and are prepared to give notes in Agent Provocateur skimpies - is that so wrong???

Rob said...

I think TV execs aren't really looking for the blokey viewers.
Ultimate Force was a bit of fluff, but blokey fluff. The Unit from the US is now doing a much better version of the same thing really. But ITV still seemed intent on killing it when the ratings I saw for it were not exactly low.

Other than Life on Mars, it seems to have been an age since there was a new show where the guys actually want to be like the lead.
That's what I think is missing from the screens these days in UK programmes.

English Dave said...

Good point Rob. It's pretty hard to come up any current series with an aspirational male lead.

Phillip Barron said...

I've often thought that TV is missing the hero characters which seemed to domninate shows when I was a teenager (in the 80s).

That's why I'm happy to see Doctor Who back, no matter what my reservations are about the show, it's great to see a central, moral hero who stands up for what's right.

We've had a generation of kids grow up with nobody but footballers to idolise, it'll be interesting to see what happens to crime stats in the next few years.

Jaded and Cynical said...

But I think it's about more than just the nature of the lead characters.

A lot of US shows appeal in a broad way to the male sensibility.

The audiences for programmes like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos and 24 are probably overwhelmingly male. And there are no equivalent shows in the UK.

I watched a couple of back-to-back episodes of 24 last night (including the one where Jack took Ryan Chappelle to the railyard). It's brilliant, fast-paced, mindless, macho entertainment. And it would never get commissioned in this country.

And maybe as ED suggests, the problem is as simple as having too many women acting as gatekeepers.

English Dave said...

Again good point Phil. Despite the sexual politics Russell T brings to the table and which gets on my tits occassionally when it is done so overtly. Doc Who remains one of the few stand up guys we see on TV.

English Dave said...

Jaded, as I value my life can I state that I didn't suggest that. I just opened it up for discussion. lol

And some very interesting points have been brought forward. I've personally learned a lot from this discussion so thanks to all.

Zigster said...

Yep I agree everything seems to be aimed at women, although as a women I am not watching it, but I am not into what would be considered the standard girly progammes. I can not stand programmes like Big Brother, don't watch soaps either, what a waste of life. America certainly seems to have all the best shows at present. As for UK, Bring back Professionals, Minder, Sweeney. Now they were what I call entertainment, forget all this Pc stuff it is boring, middle of the road rubbish. The only programmes I currently watch are Prsion Break,House, Shark and sporting events. I am sure that it will all turn around and hopefully we'll have some more TV, where the characters do not tread so carefully all the time, worrying about hurting the audiences' feelings, and insulting groups of people. Fingers crossed, it happens soon, because I am living on old Videos and DVDS at present as the majority of programmes are cheaply made rubbish. Well certainly in the UK they are.

Anonymous said...

Oestrogen, surely.

All these writers, and not a pedant among them...


English Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I can't believe an agent said something so steeped in misyogyny.
It reminds me of a foul art college tutor I once had who believed women couldn't create anything or artistic merit because childbirth was their 'creative act'. Amazingly he was divorced.
I'm a writer who's still at the beginning of his career (episodes of 'doctors', a low budget feature shooting in september)so maybe I'm naive but if a story is original, well told AND chimes with a large audience it will succeed.
Yes, there are examples of great shows that were badly marketed (Firefly, Arrested Development and my all-time favourite, Freaks and Geeks) but to me this whole idea of making shows 'for men' or 'for women' is totally missing the point.

Take sci fi. Battlestar Galactica, Buffy and our own Doctor Who all feature strong women in key roles-and still pull in big audiences (and yes, I know Buffy ain't on TV anymore).
I really don't believe that men are put off by the 'oestrogen' given off by Starbuck, Buffy or Rose (and now Martha).
I think the agent who said that needs to overcome his fear of 51% of the earth's population. It's not 'a great question'. It's a fucking poisonous one.

david lemon said...

I can't believe an agent said something so steeped in ignorance, bitterness and downright misogyny. 'too much oestrogen' sheesh.
It reminds me of a foul art teacher I had who told me women can never creat great art because childbirth is their 'creative act'(amazingly, he was single).
Marketing a tv series plays a big part in its success, and yes, shows like 'sex in the city', 'desperate housewives' and the excellent 'weeds' probably appeal overall to women more than men, but to reduce shows to 'for women' or 'for men' will never produce the quality of writing needed to make a show that finds an audience and keeps it.
For some reason, it's the realm of sci fi/fantasy that seems to make shows in which women are allowed to break out of stereotypes.
I don't think the male viewers who tune in to watch the adventures of Buffy Summers, Starbuck or RoseTyler (and now Martha Jones) were worried because they were watching a woman defeat cylons or save the world. All we want as people are good stories well told that connect with us on an emotional level.

So no, in response to 'jaded and cynical' it isn't a 'great question'. It's a fucking posionous one.

English Dave said...

Just to be clear David the original comment was not about women breaking out of roles but more about the nature of the drama that is being comissioned.

No doubt if there was a preponderance of boysy drama on TV and the majority of the gatekeepers were male there would be a counter argument.

I for one am for a healthy balance.