Monday, August 23, 2010

How Female Oriented Is Network TV?

Just how female oriented is network TV? Very. Almost all shows are oriented towards women, and almost none are oriented towards men. Don't believe me? Look below.

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.

DH: Interesting.

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

ShowWomen/Men 18-49
Family Guy0.68
Cleveland Show0.71
Dateline NBC1.00
Til Death1.00
Rules Of Engagement1.04
Minute to Win It1.06
60 Minutes1.07
Two And A Half Men1.19
Big Bang Theory1.19
How I Met Your Mother1.21
Accidentally On Purpose1.21
Celebrity Apprentice1.22
30 Rock1.27
Modern Family1.28
CSI: Miami1.29
The Middle1.31
Old Christine1.38
Survivor: Heroes v. Villians1.40
FlashForward 1.46
Criminal Minds1.57
Extreme Makeover Home Edition1.62
American Idol - Tues1.64
Marriage Ref1.64
The Good Wife1.65
American Idol - Wed1.67
Law & Order1.73
Law & Order:SVU1.84
Cougar Town1.89
The Vampire Diaries2.00
The Biggest Loser2.06
Desperate Housewives2.19
DWTS Tues2.36
Brothers & Sisters2.43
One Tree Hill2.50
DWTS Mon2.64
Private Practice2.71
Gossip Girl2.83
Fly Girls3.00
High Society3.00
Grey's Anatomy3.18
America's Next Top Model

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.


MDB said...

Excellent analysis Whiskey. One question (and a little devil's advocate playing here): if the broadcast networks are sitting on a time bomb (and I agree with you that they are), would their parent companies even care?

For example, ABC should be considered one of the prime "time bomb" networks given its heavy female audience skew, but would parent company Disney care or worry? Disney also owns ESPN, so maybe their rationale is that ABC can be their "female" vehicle and ESPN can be their "male" vehicle (precluding the need for appealing to men on ABC).

Of course, the idea of adding some male-appealing shows on ABC (and build up and grow both vehicle's audiences instead of further fragmenting) appears to be above Disney execs' pay scales.

Jason said...

Who cares? So men spend less time watching network TV, one of the most mind-numbing and passive forms of entertainment ever invented. Even video games are better for your brain. Never mind just hanging out with friends, or getting in some actual physical activity.

This is hardly a crisis. In fact, it's one of the most encouraging things I've ever heard.

dana said...

the passive imbibing of fiction is for women and children anyway. the only reason men ever consumed fiction was lack of alternatives

men don't watch "dramas" and such anymore because there are now tiers of channels devoted to FACTs, the military, science, national geo channels. channels devoted to sports and home improvement channels where men can learn real skills to really accomplish things in their real houses and surroundings. there are also ACTIVWE forms of fiction now--aka video games.

Whiskey said...

MDB -- My guess is that the revenues from ESPN won't cover the fairly high debt payments due if something happens to "blow up" Disney revenues. I.E. if Disney Channel, Disney XD, ABC Family Channel, Lifetime, and so on all lose the pay-per-subscriber revenues in "ala carte" Cable/Satellite payment schemes (i.e. consumers only pay for the channels they want) then substantial portions of their revenue base simply evaporate. Or, the ad market could simply disappear in a double-dip recession. TV depends a lot on car manufacturers and if that spending is reduced they are hosed.

Jason/Dana -- What you say is true, but the lack of a "wide" common culture provides little binding to a people who move around a lot, have few deep and rooted ties to churches, communities, or even families, and thus little explanation of how men and women are supposed to act. Without a common culture accepted by everyone, America (and the West) seems like Gene Hackman at the end of "Night Moves" ... wounded, desperate, at the helm of a boat moving in circles, aimlessly.

dana said...

the future will be one of microcultures by choice--really like it is now--Goths, WoW players, libertarians, sports team fans

perhaps all leading to the distributed republics envisioned by neal stephenson in the wake of USGs inevitable collapse in snow crash

Whiskey said...

I would certainly hope not. Lack of a unified culture means lack of a unified nation, making the US weak and easy pickings for more fecund neighbors eying productive real estate (this is basically the story of the fall of the Roman Empire in the West). There are many people who would like to live in current US territory and run things. It would not be especially pleasant if they had their way, for the current occupants.

And a nation is more than just a convenient grouping of folks. You don't have to subscribe to "Blut und Boden" per the NSDAP to figure that tremendous sacrifice, in preservation of the current people and social arrangement, requires common language, myths, beliefs, ethnicity, and culture.

The inherent weakness in Celtic peoples as the Romans (and Carthiginians and Greeks before them) pushed Westward was lack of a common culture, divisive tribalness, a feature found in Ireland today (less so in Scotland). Being divided into micro-cultures is fine and dandy until you have a guy like Caesar, who slaughtered a million Gauls in conquering them.

rickl said...

I haven't watched network TV in years, and after Election Night 2008 I quit watching TV news as well (even Fox). Nowadays about the only thing I watch on TV is baseball, plus a little football. I can get all the news, opinion, and analysis I want from the internet and talk radio. Plenty of entertainment, too.

dana: One genre of fiction that appeals mainly to men is science fiction. I don't read it much myself, though. I prefer nonfiction.

sharpcool said...

Notice how Ed Bernero gingerly dances around on eggshells for pointing out simple facts.

"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."

A man is afraid to even speak about female dominated television for fear of losing his job. An absurd state of affairs. This is the problem in a nutshell.

"Televsion is female dominated, bu bu bu but I promise I'm not saying it's a bad thing! Don't hurt me please! I'm just pointing out an objective truth that's all. I'm not saying it's bad. Alright? Okay what we're we saying?"

I can't stand how we can't criticize anything that has to do with women. It's sickening how cowardly men have become. I'm not even blaming him really, it's the environment he's caught up in. But men in the public sphere really need to start taking a stand. Easy for me to say behind my keyboard, but still.

The Caveman said...

Some chick was showing me on her laptop how she could get all of the TV shows online though some application I don't know what it was. I told her that I never watch television and don't even own one anymore. The interesting thing was how she could not fathom, could not comprehend the idea of never watching TV. It was like telling a fish I don't breath water or a vampire that I don't drink blood. She could not wrap her mind around the idea of life without TV. It was telling how much of a lock the networks have over women.

Elusive Wapiti said...

What I found interesting was that the fare that did make it through development to be presented to the male audience was the jiggly if the only thing that men wanted to watch was girls on trampolines or something.

This appears to suggest quite a bit about the women who control tv programming and their fundamental opinions of who men are and what they like.

Sad really, that their opinion of men is so two-dimensional.

Like SharpCool, I too noted that the Begnero was running for cover with any mention of a topic that might inflame his female colleagues or his mangina bosses.

Speaks a lot about what he thinks of them...and about how those women act.

Anonymous said...

killer post whiskey.


Astute Commenters said...

@Elusive Wapiti said... "What I found interesting was that the fare that did make it through development to be presented to the male audience was the jiggly type."

I noticed that some time back. Shows that are a caricature of "what men want to watch." Do they not notice how badly they're failing?

Do you criticize them more for being unable to sell sex, or for trying to sell shallow titillation in a fixed timeslot in this age of targeted on-demand internet porn?


Doing The DC Bob by Fred Reed.

"In Washington, it's everywhere, like God and mendacity: The DC Bob. As people talk, in fern bars, in eateries, on the sidewalk, an incorrect thought occurs – something that might upset Them. You know who They are: The racial, sexual, religious, and political groups that One Doesn't Offend, the ideas and policies one mustn't mention, the simple observations of fact that one may not make. We all know where trouble lies. And we are careful."

There's no date on it, but I first read it some years back. Needless to say, read the whole thing.

How can Fred write openly about this? He expatriated to Mexico, as being a freer country.

pb said...

Re; America's Next Top Model

More men might consider watching it if the women were actually attractive to men. Too many anorexic or skinny girls on that show.

OhioStater said...

The most watched show in America is the Super Bowl, which I assume skews toward men. There is a reason NFL broadcast rights are so expensive.

Off topic, but fantasy football must be to beta males what video games are to omega males.

Anonymous said...

That's because runway models are basically walking hangers and tall thin bodies make clothes look best.

Anonymous said...

A nice post. However I would add that the reason ensemble casts on TV dramas are now the norm, and the lone characters less commmon, may have to do with the way most people do their jobs these days. Most people work in office jobs, and shows like CSI basically present office work, with the various types of people you will find in an office. White, Black, Man, Woman, Boss, Subordinate, Brain, Dummy, Extrovert, Introvert et al.

I think people learn how to function in an office partly by watching TV dramas. They identify with characters (the newbie, the boss, the aspiring young professional, the office mother, and so on.) Many dramas are really about office work and office hierarchies and relationships. The TV office might be doing slightly more interesting things than normal (e.g. forensic work) but it is still an office. And most people, particularly women, work in offices.

David Collard

pb said...

That's because runway models are basically walking hangers and tall thin bodies make clothes look best.

Crappy clothes maybe.

bitter clinger said...

The models are skinny and awkward because the fahion industry is run by homosexuals, for whom the ideal form is that of young teenage boys.

Dave said...

Whiskey, on why TV is boring if geared towards women:
"the constant families mak[e] TV a dull, bland mono-culture."

Whiskey, on why this is BAD NEWS.
"the lack of a "wide" common culture provides little binding to a people who move around a lot, have few deep and rooted ties to churches, communities, or even families, and thus little explanation of how men and women are supposed to act."

Females put on mono-cultural TV, which is boring, which is DOOM, because America needs... mono-cultural TV... to survive?

So, TV, could you please hurry up and greenlight more shows about loner vigilantes and less shows about families so that men and women can learn how to act? And remember that basic cable doesn't count for whatever reason.

Whiskey said...

Dave -- You don't get the point. The female centric shows leave men out.

THEY DON'T WATCH. That's why say, the NFL on basic cable (ESPN games on Monday Night) routinely pull in 15 million viewers or so, the Superbowl gets 100 million. In the late 1960's, with 100 million less people, we had the Beverly Hillbillies getting 60 million viewers. That's three times American Idol.

I would prefer a common culture appealing to men and women, each learning lessons they need to know about each other.

No, basic cable doesn't count, because shows like Burn Notice (8 million viewers max) are too few and far between. Most of basic cable is filled with female stuff like Mad Men, or Tru Blood, or Plain Sight, or Damages or Covert Affairs or Nurse Jackie and the like.

Dave said...

"The female centric shows leave men out. "

No, they skew female. Men watch.

"In the late 1960's, with 100 million less people, we had the Beverly Hillbillies getting 60 million viewers. That's three times American Idol."

Back then there were three channels, and now there are three hundred and DVDS and Tivo and the internet. That is the complete explanation of the disparity. Besides, Beverly Hillbillies was a family show.

"I would prefer a common culture appealing to men and women, each learning lessons they need to know about each other."

But you've just said that you don't believe this kind of show exists. Men and women want different things, etc.

"Most of basic cable is filled with female stuff like Mad Men, or Tru Blood, or Plain Sight, or Damages or Covert Affairs or Nurse Jackie and the like."

You need some Justified in your life, and Sons of Anarchy, stat. Plus, Terriers looks pretty good. And Mad Men rules.

Whiskey said...

Terriers does indeed look good. I will have to check out Justified.

Anonymous said...

"You need some Justified in your life, and Sons of Anarchy, stat. Plus, Terriers looks pretty good. And Mad Men rules. "

shit TV, shit soaps