Sunday, September 18, 2011

TV: The backlash whines 'poor men'

Last week, NBC debuted a hit-and-a-miss double dose of sitcoms. One of the two, Up All Night, is fresh, warm and engaging. The other is problematic at best.


Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph star in Up All Night which revolves around new parents (Applegate and Arnett) adjusting to their daughter Amy. Arnett's a stay-at-home father and Applegate works for talk show star Ava (Rudolph). The writing is rather lukewarm in the first three episodes; however, the performances put the show over. Paired with it last week was Free Agents which bombed.

Free Agents' seven character cast is led by Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn. Among the reasons it's struggling because it's not in front of a studio audience. Whenever we bring up how that's effecting timing, someone always wants to insist, "Comedy films don't have soundtracks." No, but they have directors. Good ones have directors with vision. If you don't have the studio laughter to explain where the laugh is and to impose the timing on the cast, you better be able to emphasize the laugh with the camera. As with too many TV shows, on Free Agents, there's no thought going into the camera work other than, "Who is speaking! Get that person on camera!" Repeating, if the studio audience isn't present to help set the rhythm of the show, you better be doing it with camera work. If you're not, your comedy is unsure and the audience is left confused.

And that explains why the show's struggling with funny but it doesn't explain why it is so loathed. We heard about reviews, lines from some were quoted to us. No offense to Azaria or Hahn but we say "good." And what no one wants to vocalize is that the show's flopping for the same reason that Will Arnett's last sitcom flopped. In February's "TV: Another failed sitcom from Fox," we explained that Running Wilde was looking backward, a throwback, that refused to utilize its female star and that it was throwing the whole thing off. Here we are again with a show supposedly featuring a male and female lead -- Free Agents finds Azaria and Hahn's characters, who work together, falling into bed repeatedly with them swearing each time was the last. And yet, Hahn's seldom allowed to be funny and, like Kerri Russell's character, is denied a life of her own. The show has one other female among the seven regular characters and she's on to be "hot," to say one or two lines twice an episode and to get out of the way so the 'men' can talk. And while Azaria is yacking to everyone in the cast, Hahn really speaks to no one but Azaria -- despite the fact that all seven work together. Women have no power in this show despite the idiotic claims by Rosen.

Think our take is wrong? Here's the executive producer of Free Agents, Todd Holland, explaining what the show is about, "Manliness is under assault. That's the premise."

"It's living in the past and trying to pretend to be the present," a sitcom producer told us about Free Agents and we not only agree with that assessment, we'd apply it to NPR these days.

It wasn't a good week for NPR. The most obvious failure was Jackie Northam's All Things Considered report in which she blamed Americans for the lack of Iraq and Afghanistan War coverage -- because support for the wars has decreased, Jackie insisted, the wars are no longer covered. Last time we checked, support for unemployment was at 0% among Americans but that hasn't driven that news story off the air or front pages. It takes a lot of nerve and a lot of stupid to blame Americans for what news outlets decide to cover and decide not to cover.

But NPR can't stop trafficking in crack pot theories these days.

Case in point, Hanna Rosin.

Rosin's been peddling her crap all over public radio in the last days. She wrote a bad article in 2010 entitled "The End of Men" (for The Atlantic, a notoriously sexist magazine) and she's now in the process of turning it into a bad book. To promote her book, she's shown up on NPR and PRI to insist that this fall season is "the end of men" on TV.

On NPR, she yacked away with Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation and neither worried too much about facts or reality.

A CBS exec (unnamed) was quoted in a June Wall Street Journal article saying he had heard 20 pitches that referenced Rosen's article. Please note, because Rosen and Conan didn't, 20 shows were not picked by CBS. Further note, CBS has a long, long history of killing off female led shows. This is known industry wide and if you're attempting to sell them on a show with a woman, you bring in anything you can to show there is "buzz" on the topic.

In 2010, Rosen's wrote a trend story. "Trend stories" are light on facts and heavy on cautionary tales -- especially for women. Rosen's gumbo of a 'thesis' is that men are effected more by the recession than are women and that men feel emasculated as a result and that TV is portraying this and showing "alpha power" women dominating men. And, of course, that it's due to her article. She will insist that "women are still doing better at work than men." Rate of pay and other issues, apparently, be damned.

The recession and the so-called recovery have not been kind to women. Rachel Sandler (Feminist Majority) explains reality:

While the recession was particularly tough on men, the economic "recovery" has been extremely unkind to women. Since the recession officially ended in June 2009, women have lost 345,000 jobs and counting. The job gap between women and men is now 1.5 million, with women’s unemployment rate growing while men’s declines. Simply put, the jobs that have been created since the recession are for men, and the jobs disproportionately held by women are in jeopardy. Already, women lost nearly three-quarters of the public sector jobs that have been cut.

Those are facts that Hanna can't handle and possibly that's due to the fact that they involve numbers?

She tells Neal Conan, "I, in fact, recently watched an episode of Lucy and Ricky where they switched places and she goes to work and he stays at home. And the whole thing just seemed like such a farce, you know, such comedy that nobody could possibly imagine happening in the real world. But you realize, you know, only these 30 years later, it's fairly common."

Hey, remember when I Love Lucy stopped production 30 years ago today? Back in 1981?

By Rosen's 'facts,' that's when it happened. (The show ceased production in the fifties.)

Last month, we were noting Lucille Ball's 100th birthday and using it to reflect on the difference, 60 years later, in opportunities for women in broadcast TV. We noted that in 1951, women were only leads (or hosts) in 9 prime time programs. And this fall, we noted, that number had risen to 25 which we didn't see reason to applaud. The number seemed tiny especially when the networks are offering 97 programs. (We cover broadcast TV here.)

But Rosen would have you believe women are taking over television this season -- working women -- a classification she frowns on. She states, "The difference now, as I say, is, in a lot of these, there are these alpha female characters, you know, these women at the office or the wife who's kind of eating these men for lunch." And what of the "mancession" (a term she appears to claim credit for)?

She says while women are "alpha female characters," mean are portrayed as weak, "But all sorts of, you know, bumbling of the husband taking care of the baby, the wife is kind of a big shot at work, those kinds of things that happen. The husband can't find his way around a supermarket. The wife never gets home from work. He's staying at home whimpering, wondering what to do with the baby, sad, alone, depressed, that kind of thing - playing videogames, mostly. "

Maya Rudolph's Ava, she will insist, is that alpha power female while speaking to Conan. At The Atlantic, she will write Rudolph's character "is the embodiment of supreme female power."

Really? We've seen four episodes and we're not seeing that. The only episode that's aired, the one she's referencing, features Applegate returning to work to find Ava in her office, weepy and gorging on a cake (stress eating) while lamenting what has become of her show.

That's a power female? That's an alpha female?

Throughout the episode, she will have an intense and needy desire for her best friend (Applegate) and that's a power female?

Maya's delightful in the role but who the hell would mistake it for a power female?

Time and again, it appears the person most threatened by working women is, in fact, Hanna Rosen.

She will declare that the six sitcoms this fall are "White, White, White." Moments later on Neal's show, the issue of Maya Rudolph will be raised and though Hanna Rosen has now been caught in an obvious lie that demonstrates how shoddy her research was, she and Neal will both try to offer up excuses for why Maya Rudolph doesn't count as a person of color. (We found that especially amusing, but then we know Maya.) Near the end of the excuses, they would insist that Maya is doing a bit. No, she's not. She had a small role in the unaired pilot. NBC liked the show and they liked Maya. They insisted her role be upgraded. She is now one of the three leads of the show.

Will Arnett also doesn't fit Rosen's theories despite the fact that all the activities she listed -- can't buy cheese, etc. - were just Will's character in the first episode of Up All Night. Will hasn't lost his job. He was an attorney. He quit his job when they agreed one of them needed to stay home with their daughter.

That is never noted by Rosen. Not in any of her many interviews last week or in her writing. Trend stories are fact free.

And TV stories all the more so. Most famously, in the nineties Newsweek wanted to do a story about 'kinky' sex making it on the airwaves. Ooooh. Scandal. So they wrote about, among other things, Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry's Friends character) handcuffing a woman. Are you scratching your head? Think of when Chandler had the affair with Rachel's boss (played by Alison La Placa). Remember, they were messing around in her office? Remember he had his pants off? Remember she got called out of the office and to make sure he stayed, she handcuffed him?

Yeah, you remember.

But Newsweek didn't get it right and when called out on the error, a Newsweek editor declared, "It's only TV."

So accuracy doesn't matter when it's TV?

That's an interesting and, yes, slippery slope to go down. Reporting on TV doesn't require accuracy? And when those habits are ingrained and taken elsewhere what do we do? We're thinking of an entertainment feature writer who not only is currently in a war zone, he's heading up his paper's news desk there.

Accuracy always matters. Regardless of what you cover, you are supposed to strive towards accuracy.

Hanna Rosen missed that memo and, oh, so much more.

But Rosen can't lie alone, she needs help.

So at The Atlantic, she writes "For an analysis of the corresponding wave of young powerful lady shows, see this story in Slate." Yes, folks, it is a circle jerk so we'll assume non-feminist women ("lady shows"?), unlike feminist women, do suffer from penis envy until someone demonstrates otherwise. Why else would they be involved in a circle jerk to begin with?

Rosen's circle jerk takes you to Slate's Jessica Grose who whacks away insisting:

According to the Wall Street Journal, Work It was explicitly inspired by Hanna Rosin's Atlantic magazine essay "The End of Men," and the other two seem at least implicitly influenced (here's Rosin's take on these shows at the Atlantic's website). All have the same premise: Male economic dominance is over and it's the women's turn now.

Unlike Jessie and Hanny, we know the people behind Work It. We spoke to them. They've never read Rosen's article. It inspired nothing. And that link (under "inspired") goes to a Wall St. Journal article from March of this year, one that not only doesn't assert that the program was influenced -- implicitly or otherwise -- by Rosen's article, it also doesn't even mention Work It.

The article that mentions Rosen's article and the program Work It is from June and was written by Amy Chozick.

However, it doesn't credit Rosen's article in any way, shape or form for the sitcom:

"We're showing how guys are growing and maturing and evolving by listening to women more than they traditionally have," says "Friends" writer Ted Cohen, who executive produces the new sitcom "Work It." The show, about two St. Louis men who get laid off at a Pontiac dealership and must dress like women in order to get a job selling pharmaceuticals, will premiere on ABC in midseason.

When Mr. Cohen and his partner Andrew Reich pitched the show to Warner Bros. Television, which produces it, they brandished numbers showing a decline in manufacturing and construction jobs and an increase in nursing and teaching. Males account for around 75% of the 2008 decline in employment. In 1970 married women contributed 2% to 6% of their families' household income, compared with as much as 36% in 2007, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

"This isn't just a recession we're in, it's a man-cession," a character in "Work It" laments.

Again, no one with the show claims to have read Rosen's bad article from 2010.

When not linking to friends like Jessica Grose who are willing to make false boasts for Rosen, Hanna Rosen makes them for herself, "My original story was a mix of sociology, statistics, and reporting, so I never considered its sitcom potential. In fact, I must confess, I thought the sitcom was mostly dead. But apparently all the old genre needed was a new kitchen-sink configuration to breathe new life into it. In this generation of sitcoms, the wives are working double shifts or getting promotions while the men sit around confused."

Yet another lie. The "Death of the Sitcom" was a popular topic that we repeatedly took on when we started covering TV here, nearly seven years ago. Though it doesn't make Rosen look like a savior to point this out, the reality is that the sitcom was reborn about three years ago and the rebirth was noted in the media (which usually cited Parks and Recreation and Modern Family as the sitcoms leading the way). Now Rosen wants to show up and claim she's re-birthed the sitcom?

Vanity, thy name is Hanna Rosen.

And it's her vanity, her belief that she's so above the material she's covering that trips her up repeatedly.

For example, no one asked her to cover TV or sitcoms. There was no draft Rosen petition for that. She made the decision to. Having made the decision she should have her facts correct.

She needs prompting in interviews just to get the title of TV longest running sitcom -- the sitcom that's been in the news all summer long -- Two and a Half Men correct.

What an idiot.

That's before we get to Holland Taylor's character of Evelyn on the show. We have many problems with that show and have noted that repeatedly over the years, but we understood what was before us. She wrongly writes that Charlie Sheen's character treats Holland Taylor's "like a senile idiot."

Did she ever actually watch the show?

First off, Charlie and Alan Harper treat their mother the same way.

Second, they don't see her as senile (nor is the character). They also don't see her as an idiot.

They see her as the devil, they see her as a witch. There's even an episode where Alan's being hexed by a witch who refuses to leave but bolts the second she sees Evelyn. Both sons fear their mother and run from her every chance they get. Charlie leaves with a male lifeguard who, after saving his life, shows up because he thought they shared a spark and maybe they could talk about it over coffee? Faced with staying in the house with his mother or going out on a date with a man, Charlie heads out for coffee with the lifeguard.

Things like that happen over and over. The sons do not see their mother as senile or as powerless. They make references to what she allegedly did to their father and how they fear she might do it to them as well. Maybe Rosen distorts Taylor's character so much because what Evelyn does is supposed to be "emasculation" and what Rosen is proposing is that this is the new theme for TV this year?

Of course it would sell on NPR. That's where women made up only 18% of Terry Gross' guests in 2010. That's where, from April through August, women accounted for only 34% of Diane Rehm's guests. It's where, last week, a man interviewing a woman whose business had gone under, an 85-year-old woman, cut her off when her voice broke and asked to speak to a man.

And asked to speak to a man.

Journalism, for those wondering, is supposed to exist for the moments that would follow that woman's voice cracking. It is not supposed to run from them, to fear them or to ignore them. Those are the powerful moments of reporting. Unless you're NPR's Morning Edition.

It's on NPR where Terry Gross brings on TV and film critics. All men. But it's not just Terry, now is it? Over the summer, Morning Edition decided it was time to review Oprah's new channel. If you thought a woman would be assigned that task, you forgot how sexist NPR is.

That's how you got a commentary from a man which included, "This may be the most harrowing assignment I have ever tackled for NPR: spending a day watching Oprah Winfrey's new cable channel. [. . .] I consider myself a confident guy, but it's a little scary to enter a world where my concerns are among the least considered in the universe. OWN is aimed directly at women. It's a world of swimsuit dos and don'ts, lunch with the girls and makeovers."

In the 1970s that would have been considered patronizing and sexist and that's before we get to the man's knuckle dragging efforts in his cooking remarks.

Rosen and her crack pot theories are helped by that sort of garbage.

But when you do the work yourself, what you find is, on Free Agents, women have no power. There are only two women in the case. Hahn is in many scenes. Then there is token "hot girl" who comes on every now and then. Hot Girl has to listen to Azaria practice opening lines (he'll be wing-manning later that night at a bar and he needs practice) and respond to them. She makes it clear none would work for her.

Apparently a "power female" is now, according to Rosen, a woman who doesn't look at a pudgy man over 20 years older than her who is a sad sack and not attractive and immediately flop on her back and spread her legs.

And that brings us to the fall's actual theme. T&A. For all of Rosen's caterwauling about six sitcoms (three hours of TV), three hour long dramas are serving up solid T&A: "They Called Us Stews Then" on Pan Am, the bunnies of Playboy (about the Playboy Club) and, yes, the return of Charlie's Angels.

Rosen ignores those programs, acts as though they don't exist, despite the fact that the networks have spent more money on them than they have on the sitcoms.

Susan Faludi's wonderful Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women remains a ground breaking book three decades later. But as much we love the book, we really wish that the actions of Rosen and others didn't indicate that we might need a part two from Faludi on this topic. Maybe we won't. For all her attacks and distortions, Rosen is just a gas bag and we'll argue that more of an impression was made with Up All Night. And we'll remember that as the episode was winding down, we got Maya singing a rock classic -- and one written and originally sung by a woman, Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen."

Please note, our original, that we worked two & half hours on was lost. We were already partying (and drinking) when we got a call informing us that we needed to recreate our piece. If there are errors, we're not surprised. Please e-mail us at and Ty will correct any factual error.
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