When Philip Morris introduced its Virginia Slims cigarette brand in 1968, a time when cigarette advertising dominated primetime television, women were the target audience and they were acknowledged with the combo song/slogan, "You've Come A Long Way, Baby."
Way past the cigarette ad ban of 1971, the television medium has come a longer way in its depiction and employment of girls and women. Many more females create, produce and direct primetime shows than ever. Women anchor or co-anchor national and local newscasts, do play-by-play on games and host sports shows. And in the last few years, wives have collaborated with their husbands, or their children, on such series as The Good Wife and Blue Bloods on CBS, Memphis Beat on TNT, The League from FX and Being Human on Syfy.
The people and organizations behind a new venture called Healthy Media recognize these achievements, yet see much more progress to be had. According to data provided by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, formed last decade by the Oscar-winning actress, only 27 percent of speaking parts on TV and films belong to women, even though women make up half the U.S. population. Also, male TV and film characters outnumber females as many as five-to-one in group scenes. Healthy Media, involving Davis' organization, Girl Scouts of the USA, the National Association of Broadcasters, National Cable Television Association and The Creative Coalition, want to equalize these stats, plus encourage more realistic, positive female role models on TV. To do so, Healthy Media has formed a commission "for positive images of women and girls," to come up with a blueprint for actions. Former Federal Communications Commissioner Deborah Tate is one of the co-chairs; members include executives from Time Warner Cable, Scripps Networks, A&E, Univision, Women in Cable, Alliance for Women in Media, PBS and BET. The commission held its first meeting last week, and more meetings are planned for late summer and fall.
With all the talent gathered for this effort, you wish you could be a fly on the wall and hear what Healthy Media has in mind. For now, this fly has three suggestions for whatever action plan gets created. All three have a common denominator: increase the number of women in position to bring those realistic roles to life.
First, lower or eliminate what barriers out there prevent women to create and produce programming, whether through the major studios or independent production companies. Especially barriers impacting women of color. One more time, let's point out that among 20-plus new scripted primetime series coming up this fall or winter, not one from CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW has lead actors of color--unacceptable. ABC has two, one being Kerry Washington in Scandal, created by a writer/executive producer of color. The odds of more would be better if more women of color had decision-making power.
Second, develop ways for women to fashion the next generation of TV by running their own networks or production companies, or creating 3D or interactive TV content, or launching video telephony applications. These women are out there and stand ready to make this generation happen. They will if the development comes with investments from venture capital, angel/super angel organizations and incubators. All these organizations have the dollars to spend on new company growth. Incubators like TechStars, Y Combinator and 500 Startups also have the resources to provide start-ups with the mentoring and counseling they need to succeed. Right now, with few exceptions, the VC, angel and incubator communities are blowing off TV efforts. They might reconsider if Healthy Media's backers aim a full-scale advocacy campaign at them.
Here's a good starting point: NAB and NCTA are quartered in Washington, D.C., which so happens to be the home of the National Venture Capital Association, that field's principal trade mouthpiece. What about NAB and NCTA dropping by NVCA in the near future for a dialogue, with Davis and Tate also attending? Don't forget to include Oprah Winfrey, now that she's in full command of her network, as well as Springboard, the enterprise that has raised millions of dollars for promising women-led ventures. Where television imagery is concerned, Healthy Media is on target. Let's observe if they can score via a higher level of this medium's ownership among women.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
Simon Applebaum is host/producer of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio/podcast-distributed program about the TV scene. The program runs live at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific time, over www.blogtalkradio.com, with replays 24/7 at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Podcasts are available for downloads at www.ITunes.com and other Web sites arranged by Sonibyte. Have a question or reaction? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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