This past Sunday, PBS aired its first segment of a four-part series called America in Primetime, which is all about television — its history, its characters, its growth.
The first segment was “The Independent Woman,” which was about the pressures that real women have faced, which translates into what female characters face. The entire episode is available to watch on the PBS website, so you can still watch it in its entirety. Interviewees include Julianna Margulies, Archie Panjabi, Elisabeth Moss, Patricia Heaton, Roseanne Barr, Diablo Cody, Mary Tyler Moore and many, many more. The discussions range from broader ideas about how women’s roles have changed in the home and at work from the 1950s through present day, and wow, how times have changed. When you look back at how Lucy Ricardo was spanked by Ricky if she disobeyed him by trying to participate in show business and then compare it to Alicia on The Good Wife or Roseanne, it’s clear that women’s lib really did alter everything. As many of the women state in one way or another, women today are much less concerned about what other people expect her to be and more set on being true to herself.
The discussions on “The Independent Woman” don’t include any about sexuality outside of the hetero-normative realm, except for a brief mention that Kalinda will flirt with whoever she needs to to get her job done and Shonda Rimes saying Grey’s Anatomy is really a “love story” about Meredith and Cristina. (She means friendship, though.) In fact, homosexuality is only mentioned in regards to men in the entire series, most notably about the gay dads on Modern Family and David from Six Feet Under, as spoken about by the show’s creator Alan Ball and actor Michael C. Hall. That’s on an episode titled “The Misfits,” which is all about the different kinds of characters TV is home to. (Think Kramer from Seinfeld or Dwight from The Office.) And while out Nurse Jackie creators Linda Wallem and Linda Brixius are frequently used as commentators throughout the series, there is very little lesbian visibility.
With television having such a rich history, it’s difficult to include everything in a span of four hours. But America in Primetime served as a reminder that, despite our immense progress in being represented, much less represented fairly, we’re still only a small part of that history. This means we have to work that much harder to be part of the present and future.
America in Primetime gives a lot of insight as to what some of your favorite actors, TV writers and creators have had informing their own work and some behind-the-scenes info on what networks have asked of them, so it’s certainly worth watching. But if you’re hoping to hear any discussions on women who are something other than straight, you’ll probably have to wait another 60 years.
America in Primetime airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on PBS. Next week: “Man of the House.”