Totally Rational Prediction: Women Will Rule Cable TV in 2013

What Women Really Think
Jan. 2 2013 2:40 PM

Totally Rational Prediction: Women Will Rule Cable TV in 2013

The Americans
Keri Russell as a Russian spy in The Americans

Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn.

The new year always brings new hope, but I'm even more hopeful than normal this Jan. 2 about the 2013 television landscape. Could this finally be the year that, after more than a decade of prestige cable television dedicated to the anxieties of amoral, middle-aged men, women finally get their shot at star billing, both in front of the camera and behind it?

Women have always done well on cable comedies. Showtime built its brand on Weeds' drug dealer Nancy Botwin and The Big C's cancer patient Cathy Jamison. And this month, HBO is pairing up the Brooklyn twentysomethings of Girls with the midlife crisis of Enlightened's Amy Jellicoe. But female leads have always lagged behind in dramas. Homeland was a breakout in part because of its novel decision to make its main character a woman with a full sexual, mental, and professional life, rather than hitching female stars and stories to male main characters like Mad Men's Don Draper.

Advertisement

Now, it seems like the balance is about to shift. On Jan. 30, FX will premiere its drama The Americans, which features Keri Russell as a steely Soviet spy living and working deep undercover in suburban Washington, D.C. in 1981 under the alias Elizabeth Jennings. FX is also remaking The Bridge, originally a Danish and Swedish collaboration about the police forces of those two countries investigating the death of a woman whose body is found on the border between them: Diane Kruger will play the American detective, paired with Demian Bichir as Mexico's investigator. And then there's Showtime's upcoming Masters of Sex, a dramatization of the collaboration between sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson that's at least being billed as a star-making moment for Lizzy Caplan. These are all unusual opportunities for women to step into territory that's traditionally been dominated by men—for Kruger to take the role of top cop defined in this era of television by the men of The Wire or The Shield, for Caplan to be a visionary on a new frontier, like Al Swearengen was in Deadwood, or Walter White is in his meth kingdom on Breaking Bad.

It's no mistake that some of these roles were created by women. Michelle Ashford, who worked on the miniseries The Pacific and John Adams, is the creator of Masters of Sex. Meredith Stiehm, who created Cold Case and has been one of the lead writers on Homeland, is heading up The Bridge. And they're not only giving good roles to women. It's Ann Biderman, the creator of Southland, who cooked up Ray Donovan, the story of a Los Angeles fixer, that's actually part of Showtime's attempt to move away from a slate of shows dominated by female characters. (Imagine that!) Giving more women a chance to create their own shows isn't just about getting parity in roles. It's a chance to bring in new perspectives that can revitalize the tropes of the Golden Age of TV for men and women alike.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?