It’s a golden age for women on cable TV

Last night I returned from the Television Critics Assocation summer press tour in Los Angeles, where I spent five days trapped at the Beverly Hilton attending press conferences from what seemed to be almost every single network on cable television. Throughout all those press conferences, one theme seemed to crop up repeatedly: If you’re a mature actress (as in, over 30) who wants to play a complex, strong woman, get a job on cable.

On TNT’s Saving Grace, Holly Hunter plays an Oklahoma City police detective who hits bottom when she almost kills someone by driving drunk, then begins getting advice from an unconventional angel named Earl (Leon Rippy).


Laura San Giacomo and Holly Hunter of Saving Grace

When asked why we’re experiencing such a golden age for female characters on cable, Hunter theorized: "I actually believe that it’s probably because of cable.
It probably really and truly is that cable has kind of
changed the landscape, semi-permanently, at least, because
it’s a money maker, and it happens to be … made for less money. And so risks
can be greater because less cash is at risk. It’s not in
competition with network. So every single thing about it
adds up to the people who were wanting to take some chances,
are given the opportunity."

Laura San Giacomo plays a criminalist on Saving Grace, and suggested, "I
wonder if there’s a whole generation of female executives
that have come up, that want to see more stories about women
their own age." Saving Grace premieres Monday, July 23, at 10 p.m. ET.

On USA’s In Plain Sight, about a female U.S. Marshal played by Mary McCormack, Lesley Ann Warren plays Jinx, the lead character’s mother. She suggested:

"Women are — whether they are in positions of authority or power or
… actors or creative people, you
know, want and are demanding that … women
be looked at as whole human beings with a lot to say and
a lot of accomplishment and capability." In Plain Sight premieres in early 2008.


Warren (left) and McCormack kid around at TCA

Glenn Close plays Patty Hewes, a ball-busting New York attorney, on FX’s Damages.

"For me the whole interest [in this character]
was the gender, that this person was a woman at the head
of her own law firm in a very, very high-powered,
male-dominated world," said Close. "And I can’t say that I know
exactly every step of how she got to where she got to,
but I know she has a lot of war stories."


Glenn Close at TCA

Todd A. Kessler, executive producer of Damages, gave props to the network execs for giving them free rein to create such a complicated woman. "I think
that a huge reason Glenn [Kessler, executive producer], Daniel [Zellman, executive producer] and I came together to
do this show and put this together with a woman at the
lead was the feeling that we could go to a place like FX
with John Landgraf and Nick Grad and Matt Cherniss, who
were the three people that we pitched the show to," he said.

"And
in the room, John Landgraf just very clearly embraced
the idea, and there were no obstacles. It wasn’t like, ‘Well, we loved the show, but do you think you could
make the Patty character a man in his mid-30s?’ There
was none of that retooling going on. … For us, the jumping-off
point was being able to go to a place like FX and have
this idea embraced." Damages premieres Tuesday, July 24 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

Mary-Louise Parker, who plays a pot-dealing suburbanite on Showtime’s Weeds, said that part of the reason for this golden age may be the fact that more high-caliber actresses are available now.

"I think there are a lot of
actresses who are interested in doing television … who may previously wouldn’t have been
interested now are all about my age, Patricia Arquette and
Kyra [Sedgwick], and I think people are writing for that," Parker said. "I
think Patricia is superb, and I think someone wrote
something for her caliber of actress. I think that’s what
people are doing to attract certain actresses over — who
aren’t quite in their 20s anymore." Weeds premieres Monday, Aug. 13, at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

"It seems like TV is pushing itself
or has started to in the past 10 years," said Lili Taylor, who plays psychotherapist Anne Bellowes on Lifetime’s State of Mind. "And if it’s
pushing itself, it’s going to probably push itself off
in the realm of the feminine. And I think what happens
is when you have a formula, a lot of times the female
character is going to suffer because she’s going to
more fit into this formula, and it’s going to be a
little bit more two dimensional. But if it’s more
complicated, the female is going to be more complicated,
and I think that’s what might be what’s happening." State of Mind airs on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.

All I know is, my DVR is going to be working overtime this summer. Thank goodness I finally got one!

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