Year 2 Recap & A Look Ahead
Loyal listeners, it’s been quite a year! In this special installment of Advanced TV Herstory, we’re going to look back at podcast archives – shows created since last summer. We’re doing this for two big reasons. Okay three. First, whether or not you listen to a lot of podcasts, there may be some episodes from this year that you just didn’t get to. I’ll explain why I chose them and hint a bit about the story.
Second, subcategories and formats are important to how I present this information – there are reasons why you’ve never encountered another podcast like Advanced TV Herstory.
And third, we really like to talk about TV and the women who’ve contributed so much to it for 6 decades. Talking about it is fun and important. Every episode touches on feminist issues that are relevant today – but were championed decades ago by women in and of TV. But no one talks about them consistently. Sad.
For me, the biggest highlights were the tremendous feedback received from listeners and fun, professional engagement with people who I interviewed – via remote technology. I hope you’ve enjoyed a smoother audio experience due in part to the masterful work of audio technician David Brown and our use of a hot-shot microphone. Positively fancy.
But as we look to our third year, know my pledge to you remains exploring stories that dig deep into TV shows that featured memorable women characters or were produced, written or directed by talented women, as well as the occasional soap box stand that raises the roof on representation and financial disparities in the industry. While these gaps exist in every profession, they’re negative impact is magnified – because if our girls and teens don’t see women as smart, valued contributors – they have a very hard time seeing themselves in that light.
In return, I will only ask this of you. Whether you subscribe or listen infrequently, you’re in a unique position to recommend this podcast and discuss these topics with others – most likely the women in your life. Because each installment is rated clean, it’s appropriate listening for people of all ages and with technology, can be accessed in ways that don’t require numerous clicks and downloads. Please think about the women in your life who would enjoy not only reliving some of the best TV they ever watched, but hearing perspective about why there are valuable lessons to be discussed. This is the power of technology.
Okay, let’s talk TV.
In a lifetime of watching television, the calendar year includes few seasonal milestones that transcend dramas and comedies. While 40 years ago, shows occasionally tossed in an Easter episode – Brady Bunch and The Waltons come to mind – Halloween and Christmas/Hanukkah are the two most likely holidays to warrant special episodes. Advanced TV Herstory hasn’t found a Halloween episode that is a stand-out example of women in or of TV. If one immediately comes to mind, shoot me a note!
This year I selected the 1970 Christmas episode of the beloved Bewitched, starring Elizabeth Montgomery. Actually, Montgomery not only starred in the show – and had great hair – but she and her husband also produced it. It’s called “A Sister’s Love,” has a great backstory of how it came to be aired and most importantly, was a child’s view of race. The character Tabitha, Samantha’s daughter, has inherited her mother’s witch DNA. Tabitha also has an African-American friend who is the daughter of work colleagues of her father. Remember the ad agency of McMahon and Tate? Dads wearing suits, wives preparing dinners to nurture business relationships. The special episode with a special introduction by Montgomery, is incredibly relevant, sweet and rare. It aired on TV only once and can be found on Dailymotion.com – Google Bewitched “A Sister’s Love.” Watch it and you’ll agree with me that episode captured the meaning not just of Christmas, but of Peace on Earth. Or listen to the podcast. Or do both. Please.
Holidays. That’s sort of it. Sitcoms – the longer running ones at least – tend to dabble in other holidays and themes too. Thanksgiving, New Year’s. Mother’s Day isn’t so much the plot of any show as it is an opportunity for American culture wonks to discuss the great moms of TV. It’s a predictable list you see on Facebook each May.
Count on Advanced TV Herstory to look beyond the predictable. This year with a tribute to Florence Henderson who played the American mom known the world over, Carol Brady, we walked right past the smile and entertainment magazine pablum. There was more to this woman that the entertainment media really wanted to explore, which I’ll just say did us ALL a disservice. Americans have no idea of the cultural impact of The Brady Bunch – both in our own 50 states but as it’s aired in hundreds of countries. Henderson knew. And now she and her Wessonality are gone. Rest in peace good woman.
Depending upon what your day looked like in the 70s, 80s, 90s or Aughts, your knowledge of daytime TV may be iffy. There’s big D Daytime – which is the more sophisticated word for serial dramas that aired on TV since Day One – sprung from the loins of radio. This year we reveled in great conversation about Daytime dramas – we? I spent a fantastic morning in an exhausting conversation with someone who loves TV as much as I do, Dr. Elana Levine from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Levine is currently writing a comprehensive tome – it’s a tome - on Daytime Dramas – particularly their impact on major societal issues like birth control, abortion, rape, interracial relationships and the like. The timing of our visit was near the passing of two iconic daytime showrunners – Claire Labine and Agnes Nixon. These women were showrunners before the role existed, and they gave us the big important shows like Ryan’s Hope and All My Children respectively. Levine shared her experience of visiting Nixon a few years back.
But we all know that the daytime TV landscape has changed mightily in 60 years – some for the good – is there anything more escapist than watching reruns of Match Game 74? And some for the not-so-good.
Advanced TV Herstory owes a debt to the many cultural, gender and media studies professors and students who listen and contribute. Joining Dr. Levine in the probe for societal meaning of what gets aired during the day on TV were my guests Drs. Kathalene Razzano and Loubna Skalli. Their topic and book – Vulture Culture: The Politics and Pedagogy of Daytime Television Talk Shows. They, along with their colleague Christine Quail, researched and digested (how many Tums were consumed during their research period is not known) the spectacle of rowdy-audience talk shows. You know the ones – Maury Povich and Jenny Jones to name two but also the Judge shows, where two sides mixed it up in a TV set courtroom and received a lecture from a judge. All these shows involved women and as we now get close to 20 years of hindsight from this genre’s heyday, the misogyny and subliminal messaging will make you want to take action – any action. The podcast installment provides yet another example of TV-bred toxicity that’s polarized our country.
Perhaps in another life, I’d have become a professor of media or cultural studies. But with a background in communications, public relations and leadership, I believe there’s power in discussing and sharing the best work from this field. So if you’re a professor or student at any stage of research who wants to talk women in and of TV – send me a note. Your research is passion and research are welcome here! Because in academia, the new mantra should be publish, PODCAST or perish.
Regular listeners know that all too often, in creating context, the backstory or explaining the significance of an event in TV Herstory, we need to set the benchmarks – usually from the 70s, usually to include the fight for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and the implementation of Title IX. Another is the Supreme Court decision of Roe Vs. Wade, which secured a woman’s reproductive rights. Since TV networks are overwhelming run by men, it’s no surprise that there’ve been few attempts to incorporate a woman’s right to self-determination – her right to make her own medical decisions – into TV plots. When any issue about women’s health becomes a plot twist, watch for the trope. Things get pretty condescending pretty quickly. But aren’t you amazed that we, women, are still largely defaulted to for the uncompensated care of our aged and young, making life and death decisions for them – but not for ourselves. No, we haven’t advanced on this nearly as much as we think we have.
But this year, Advanced TV Herstory looked in depth at two depictions. China Beach – the TV series that aired 1988 to 1991 – the one about the U.S. medical unit set in Vietnam starring Dana Delaney and Marg Helgenberger. War through the eyes of women. Our installment entitled China Beach Tackles the Topic is my way of avoiding the trolls to bring you a bit of understanding about this seminal episode. Ricki Lake in Season Two plays an aide worker facing an unplanned pregnancy. The plot was rich and philosophical. It was one of Helgenberger’s most raw performances. She AND her character found their voice in that episode, and the installment gives you a lot to think about.
To understand the rationale behind ensuring, through legal means, a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body is to know the story of Romper Room’s Miss Sherri. Romper Room was a national TV show for pre-school baby boomers that began in the early 60s. Miss Sherri hosted the show that aired in the Arizona markets and really, she wasn’t a Miss. She was a mother of four who early in her pregnancy with child number 5, took the powerful drug Thalidomide with the understanding it would ease her morning sickness. Weeks later, she learned her fetus’ was experience gross malformation due to the drug.
Her whole story – decisions that at that time were not hers to make – they were everyone else’s – hospital administrators, her employers, a judge – are told in a Made for TV movie A Private Matter – starring Sissy Spacek. No one got rich off of making that movie. Listen to the podcast. Understand how real life is often real news. Hug your mom or your kids. If you’re alone right now, reassure your uterus or its former home that you’ve got this. You are in charge.
No topic is off-limits or too sensitive for Advanced TV Herstory. However, as a white American baby boomer with an advanced degree, I know my limits. That’s why I was thrilled to host two young woman who are podcasters in search of meaning on TV. Liz and Steph of “Let Go, Let Flo” are guests of my installment “A Podcast About Girlfriends!” the series that ran 2000 to 2008.
Some people shy away from politics, but TV is filled with political thought and influence. It’s just dominated by men in real life AND on TV. On look at the work of the United State Senate this year shows us that women represent diverse thought in the male-dominated world of policymaking. But statistics about representation in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress remind us just how much work has to be done - just in the area of getting women interested in running let along elected. Where do we get our role models?
As last year’s presidential race occupied headlines, we revisited Geena Davis’ 2005-2006 one season of Commander in Chief. There’s an in depth look at Rosie O’Donnell’s use of her voice and position to defend others and finally, we show how the TV show Maude – TV’s first feminist played by the incomparable Bea Arthur, challenged the status quo of the early 70s. We’ve also talked about political reporting with TV writer Susan Silver and more recently, delved into the early careers of Barbara Walters, Lesley Stahl and Connie Chung, who were the first women to gain national TV prominence as reporters because of Watergate.
Why were their careers important? Because women had never reported serious news – like politics – before on national TV. They were relegated to the Women’s Beat. Watergate – a 2 year long scandal that resulted in President Nixon’s resignation - had so many reporters chasing so many stories, that the women’s beat – fashion, household trends, feel good stories – there was no time for it. And aren’t we the lucky ones that these three built illustrious careers that have been recorded in print and video? These women – then and now – are the models for teenagers and journalism students.
There’s no ready place on TV for us to learn about the women in and of TV. If you’ve listened to a single episode, you’ve heard me rattle off lists of video segments available on YouTube. Emmy TV Legends has a channel on YouTube and it’s the most comprehensive archive of important conversations available. So between Emmy TV Legends and the Biography channel and Behind the Music on MTV and random interviews posted by regular people, I’m amazed at the stuff about women’s lives that just never reaches the eye or ear.
Thus, career profiles are really important to fulfilling Advanced TV Herstory’s mission. Because Shari Lewis had a tremendous impact on children’s television and was as successful at reinvention as Madonna and died way too young of uterine cancer. Fellow podcaster Dwight Hurst – who is a mental health practitioner and works with kids – and I talk about how Shari connected with kids and parents. Shari Lewis created a big deal footprint in TV Herstory, even if I’m the only one to say it. Nod yes if you agree.
Marlene Forte is one of the few working actresses I’ve interviewed. You might wonder what a woman entering what we hope is a rapid rise in her career can contribute to TV herstory. Cuban-born Marlene has endured a career of being the “extra” in many, many dramas and sitcoms – usually the weeping Latina mother of a dead child. Her characters are powerless, her lines few – a norm that’s gone unchallenged for decades. The powerless Latina. That’s changing for Marlene and I’m grateful that she described how and why in our interview.
Some of our strongest female characters in series from the 70s and 80s uttered words written by TV writers April Smith and Susan Silver. It was an honor to interview both, listen to their stories and get a real-world understanding of the creative process – as it was employed – back then. Both have turned to writing books. You’ll find the Susan Silver book chat listed as her book title, Hot Pants in Hollywood.
I really enjoyed researching the feisty backstory of Dinah Shore, who was far more than arm candy for Burt Reynolds. As a well-liked singer and “personality,” she literally stood at the door of all of her radio and TV variety shows, making sure that performers of color were welcomed and allowed entry. Yup, listen in to hear how she used her privilege to ensure airtime for Pearl Bailey and Mahalia Jackson.
There was more to Dinah Shore than ever she ever shared or allowed to have shared. Because she was of the generation – well let’s see… women were lucky to get what they were given, women became invisible after a certain age, women didn’t share either their personal stories or secrets to achievement. Lost, lost, lost. What I wouldn’t give for an hour of candor from Lucille Ball or Dinah Shore. Straight talk, knowing that women today need all the wisdom they can get. That desire fuels my efforts to obtain interviews with legends who ARE still alive. Stay tuned for the third year of Advanced TV Herstory.
Formats, categories, finding meaning in the work and words of others – all to bring to life – to audio – facts and perspectives that help us understand the representation of women in TV today. This is a category I simply call Influence. Actually it’s influence and influencers – the common thread you’ll find in these installments:
Influence of TV on fashion through the decades – from the early 60s to short skirts at work of Ally McBeal, fashion blogger Ann Rosenquist Fee and I rushed through photos of fashion trend setters and how women on TV influenced what was being sold at your local department store… or Target. Once upon a time, girls wore clothes their moms sewed from patterns. TV changed how fashion was sold and marketed to girls, building industries that have become incredibly influential and sophisticated in shaping our culture.
It was a thrill to interview feminism influencer, chronicler, advocate and publisher Melissa Silverstein. The installment Decade of Women in Hollywood was our chat about her 10 years of work, around the globe, tracking and reporting on the work around gender and pay gaps, box office stats – the business side of being a woman in the entertainment business not just in the U.S. but in all countries where movies and TV are a thing. Women in Hollywood is her powerhouse website.
A dozen years ago, author and student of TV Allison Klein penned the book What Would Murphy Brown Do? – a comprehensive look at the influence of TV (and vice versa) on culture. Lo and behold she’s attempting the impossible – to bring that analysis up to present day. She explained her reasons why in our interview installment which bears her book’s title.
Like I said, it’s been quite a year! And as I look at the year ahead, I only know that women need all the sustenance and support they can get. We’re outnumbered and out-resourced every day on TV. Our voices are marginalized or dismissed on news analysis panels. Reports indicate that sports coverage of women athletes has become more not less sexist and racist.
We don’t have an hour, let alone two full days of coverage across numerous channels every week, covering the actions of women in and of TV. Picture this… Two or three smart women sitting at the desk with screens and a telestrator. An hour dedicated to breaking down the reactions of Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Statistics, body language and context provided by Professor Hill herself.
Or an hour picking up where FX’s hit mini-series Feud – the one about the life-long competition between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis – left off. Give yourself a minute and think about the ways the media – from teen magazines to TMZ – feed on fake news that normalizes toxic relationships among women. Where can women go to have THAT kind of analysis and understanding?
Until such time as that sort of show reaches TV, rest assured you’ll find it here at Advanced TV Herstory. Subscribe on Google Play, iTunes and Otto Radio. Play it directly on Player FM, Libsyn or our podcast website – www.tvherstory.com. Your recommendations mean the world to me and helping someone – a new listener - master the easiest way for them to listen. It’s the greatest compliment. <sigh> If women ran the podcasting world…
Finally, here’s the deal. I’ve invited you to contact me and I mean it. Really, send me the name of the series or episode that opened your eyes or changed your life and why. Our Twitter handle is AT TVHerstory, our email firstname.lastname@example.org. As the third year of production begins, sure we’ve got a list of fun and important topics! But as we’ve experienced in this past year, no one knows what tomorrow will bring. We do know that women need to band together to educate, celebrate and fortify one another. Be a part of this important conversation!
This is why I podcast. I’m your host Cynthia Bemis Abrams