A veteran cultural critic examines the rise of female-centric TV and the pioneering women showrunners behind their successes.
Groundbreaking female characters and their stories have become fixtures in American TV in recent years, but their presence hasn’t always been welcome. Press (War of the Words: 20 Years of Writing on Contemporary Literature, 2001, etc.)—former TV critic at the Village Voice and entertainment editor at Salon and the Los Angeles Times—draws from decades of interviews, research, and reporting to create a vibrant behind-the-scenes look at some of the most prominent women creatives in the industry and the role they played in bringing women-focused narratives to the forefront of modern TV and culture. She devotes the first chapter to Murphy Brown and the revolutionary sitcom’s creator, Diane English, one of the first female showrunners to prove that a woman could lead a successful show. English set an important precedent for future women showrunners and their unapologetically brazen TV heroines—Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, an industry trailblazer whose portrayal of unabashedly ambitious, sexually formidable, “unlikable” women of all different races, ethnicities, sexualities, and abilities transformed the TV landscape. Rhimes’ “color blind” casting helped her build her Shondaland TV empire and effectively normalized the idea that nonwhite, nonmales can be successful on-screen, behind-the-scenes, and in real life. In the most intriguing and intimate chapter, Press examines Transparent creator Jill Soloway, whose real life served as inspiration for her award-winning show about a family who recently learned that their parent is transgender. With a keen eye and a sharp writing style, the author presents the argument that, despite the limited power of TV and the current political backlash facing women, increased representation on-screen has the potential to inspire a cultural revolution not unlike the current revival of the feminist movement. The author also profiles Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, and Jenji Kohan, among others.
An urgent and entertaining history of the transformative powers of women in TV.