Recently, Ed Bernero sat down for an interview with Deadline Hollywood Daily, and was quite candid about how the business runs. Go ahead, read the whole thing, you won't find a more thoughtful and candid assessment of TV as a business and as as creative process. But Bernero had some strong things to say about TV's gender problem:
DH: When you look at the CBS lineup, I guess it’s the network that seems to have a lock on crime with the multiple CSI’s and Criminal Minds – but it’s controlled by two women, Nina Tassler and Nancy Tellem. And my understanding is that they are looking for more shows that have more female appeal. I just wondered what the deal is.
EB: That’s a point I’ve thought about a lot in developing over the last few years. Let’s see if I can say this without ending my development career. It’s very female, development. Development staffs are almost all female. It’s not that easy to get a male skewed show through development.
EB: Most of the network television audience now is primarily women, but I think that’s because the shows are developed to appeal to women. I don’t know that there are too many shows that appeal to guys anymore. I’m not sure why that is, but I think that it may have something to do with the fact that most development staffs are women. I know it’s the case at CBS. I know it’s the case at ABC. Not that these are not brilliant women, but there’s a completely different sensibility in men and women, in what men watch and what women watch. Part of the erosion of network television is that men watch sports – there’s not that much on for them. There are not shows that have male themes. That’s all I want to say about that.
DH: And yet at CBS, besides the crime shows even the popular comedies are male-oriented, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
EB: But Two and a Half Men is not male-oriented, it’s made to appeal to women. Charlie Sheen is playing a bad boy who can be changed…
DH: It’s got a lot of jokes that my husband likes.
EB: But it’s safe.
DH: What is male oriented?
EB: For example, almost all dramas are families, they are work families – ER is a good example, Criminal Minds is a good example. We have a character who is the mother, a character who is the father, a brother and a sister, we have the younger brother that everybody protects, we have the cute cousin…it’s very much a family, and I think that very much appeals to women.
You don’t see loners anymore, you don’t see a Mannix or a Rockford Files or something where it’s a tough guy standing against the world. It doesn’t appeal to women. Guys like a guy who stands up for right, and the Hawaii Five-0 that we were going to write, the issue was sort of like living up to your father, being a cop in a world where your father was a great cop, that’s really a male theme. Women don’t really compete with their mothers; men compete with their fathers. I know I had gotten into many conversations where people didn’t understand why it was important that the character be in competition with his father…men compete with their fathers.
DH: Men compete with everybody. Everything’s a competition.
EB: Right. Two and a Half Men is an example. Those two don’t really compete with each other. It’s not really two brothers living with each other, because two brothers living together don’t get along that well.
DH: Aren’t they like The Odd Couple?
EB: But The Odd Couple is different, because in the 1970s, the "Odd Couple" didn’t like each other. They competed with each other in ways that these two don’t. Because at the base of it all, they [Two and Half Men’s characters] really love each other.
DH: More like My Two Dads.
EB: It’s a subtle thing, but it’s very female-centered. Now, I don’t mean to say that I don’t love doing shows that women like – women like Criminal Minds, and women weren’t supposed to like this show. Our core audience is 35-40 year old women, who I think are an amazing audience. It didn’t surprise me at all, when you put on the show where those women are the primary targets of these monsters, and you put on a show where our team saves women from them every week, I don’t know how this couldn’t appeal to them.
DH: And women are very interested in character, as opposed to what you’re saying -- that sometimes men just like a straight-on hero who does it right.
EB: Yes, I think it’s extremely difficult to get a male themed show on television.
DH: The people who are running the networks are men, but the so-called creative executives, that whole level is mostly female.
EB: If you say this, make sure that you say that I’m not necessarily saying that’s bad…
DH: Just that it’s true.
EB: The TV audience is primarily female, so it’s not a bad thing…
DH: But if you have something that works on that male level, it’s hard to get it through.
EB: What gets made that’s considered for men – it’s really just T&A stuff. It’s not stuff than any guy I know really wants to watch, you know, the stuff with jiggling boobs and all that. Something with real sort of male themes and male strength and things I want to watch in a drama….
DH: The things men want to be respected for…
EB: Yeah, sort of the things that appeal to us, the things we compete for. Macho in a different sense, the kind of things that we think makes us a man. It doesn’t really exist right now. I really don’t want it to seem that I think it’s a problem that women are in development, I don’t think it’s as problem at all, I just think it’s an interesting time that we’re in. And maybe long overdue – maybe television for a long time was made for men and it’s long overdue.
DH: I’m hearing the hero thing, how important that is to men, it’s not just about being understood in a touchy-feely way.
EB: No, not at all, it’s more about being misunderstood, but doing right anyway -- it’s Rockford and Mannix and all that kind of thing. Those kinds of icons don’t exist anymore. But I also love Glee. I watch it with my wife; I loved Desperate Housewives in the first couple of years. It’s not bad, it’s just something that I notice.
Bernero confirms the obvious, women dominate network TV's development process, even if network chiefs are male. This domination of the development process prevents most male-oriented shows from being put forward as pilots which are then picked up. Women want different things than men do, in dramas. Absent completely are the loners who do the right thing because it must be done, and instead are the constant families making TV a dull, bland mono-culture. This is why there is no Rockford Files, no Mannix, no Maverick, with competition and toughness. Indeed the TV audience is profoundly female, and it may be why the excellent "Life" failed to find an audience, featuring a tough hero, in competition with his father, who tried to do the right thing, even though or especially because it was difficult. Not even a strong female character could compensate for the lack of the female-friendly TV family, a staple among the prime-time crime time shows like CSI'en, or "the Mentalist" or the other procedurals.
In an April post, TV By The Numbers ran an analysis of the male-female skewness of the broadcast networks, as reported by Nielsen, for Sunday-Thursday (no Fri-Sat shows). The results are at the link, and the table below:
1.00 = equal ratings for men and women 18-49
Below 1.0 = more men
Above 1.0 = more women
|Rules Of Engagement||1.04|
|Minute to Win It||1.06|
|Two And A Half Men||1.19|
|Big Bang Theory||1.19|
|How I Met Your Mother||1.21|
|Accidentally On Purpose||1.21|
|Survivor: Heroes v. Villians||1.40|
|Extreme Makeover Home Edition||1.62|
|American Idol - Tues||1.64|
|The Good Wife||1.65|
|American Idol - Wed||1.67|
|Law & Order||1.73|
|Law & Order:SVU||1.84|
|The Vampire Diaries||2.00|
|The Biggest Loser||2.06|
|Brothers & Sisters||2.43|
|One Tree Hill||2.50|
|America's Next Top Model||3.50|
From the post itself:
Note: The list contains the ratio of the ratings for women 18-49 to men 18-49 for the airing of each show in the past week with several caveats: (1) I took the ratings for both repeats and original episodes. Maybe repeats have a different gender skew than originals for the same show, but going back over more than one week was too much work. (2) We only see gender information for shows broadcast on Sunday-Thursday, so no Friday or Saturday shows in the list. (3) This is a ratio of the gender ratings, not the number of men and women viewers. There are slightly more women 18-49 than men 18-49 in the TV population, but the difference is so small I didn’t bother going through an extra step.
There are a few surprises. American Idol is not as completely female skewing as you might imagine (likely families watch together, it is relatively innocuous). Castle has the same male-female skew (very girly) as "Vampire Diaries" and "Parenthood" and "Mercy." The various crime time prime-time procedurals are fairly female skewing. Apparently, almost no men at all will watch "America's Next Top Model," the girly-ness outweighing any scantily clad models. Only "the Simpsons" and "Family Guy" are fairly male skewing, with "Chuck" and "the Cleveland Show" having more male viewers percentage wise than "24" and "Fringe" (which barely have more male viewers than female ones). There are only three perfectly balanced shows (as many men as women watching).
But most of the shows, 57 out of 63, are either balanced (only three are) or are female skewing. Only 6 shows are male skewing, and two of those, "24" and "Fringe" are barely male skewing. TV is overwhelmingly skewed towards women, something simply watching the ads will tell anyone.
Broadcast networks are completely dependent on women, and even if they wanted to, lack the development people needed (i.e. straight men) to shepherd anything remotely interesting for men through development and into pilot and then production. If and when, advertisers decide they need to reach men, they will reduce (though of course not eliminate) spending on broadcast TV. This makes the networks, already operating on slim margins, sitting on a time bomb. Just waiting for it to go off.