Upfronts 2011: Playboy Bunnies, Broadway, Vodka and Girls Girls Girls

The networks have announced their fall season pick-ups and cancellations, and it’s looking like despite being mildly excluded from the movies, women are coming up roses on the teevee:

Girls Rule: With few exceptions (see Fox’s Awake, CBS’Person of Interest, Fox’s The Finder), women tend to dominate the new crop of network shows. The bulk of these freshman offerings not only cater to female-skewing audiences, but also have women inhabiting their lead roles. There are the ensemble dramas, including Playboy, Pan Am, NBC’s Smash and ABC’s Good Christian Belles, as well as the female-led comedies, including Fox’s The New Girl, NBC’sWhitney, Up All Night and Are You There Vodka?. Still other dramas, including Prime Suspect and ABC’s Scandal, revolve around female stars.

NBC’s Bob Greenblatt, who we love because he is responsible for ushering in all that lady and gay-friendly content on Showtime (he’s won a GLAAD award for his efforts), had this to say about the female-friendly line-up:

“We know that it’s easier to get women to watch television… We do have a lot of female stars. But I don’t think that means that men are going to turn away. I think we’ve got a lot of balance in spite of what it may look like.”

So, what’s worth getting excited about
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On NBC, Amber Heard, allegedly the most beautiful lesbian in the whole wide world (I prefer Shane), is starring in The Playboy Club, which appears to feature a lot of good-looking women in Playboy Bunny outfits canoodling with wealthy men and getting involved in Intrigue and Drama.


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Also taking us back to a time period when it was okay to blatantly objectify women (please note: this isn’t a complaint, it’s an observation) is ABC’s one-hour Sunday night drama Pan Am, starring Christina Ricci and a bunch of people I’ve never heard of:

In this modern world, air travel represents the height of luxury and Pan Am is the biggest name in the business. The planes are glamorous, the pilots are rock stars and the stewardesses are the most desirable women in the world. Not only are these flyboys and girls young and good looking, but to represent Pan Am they also have to be educated, cultured and refined. They’re trained to handle everything from in-air emergencies to unwanted advances – all without rumpling their pristine uniforms or mussing their hair. There’s Dean (Jonah Lotan) – a cocky, charismatic and ambitious new pilot – the first of a new breed not trained in the war. On the sly against company policy, he’s dating Bridget, a stunning beauty with a mysterious past. A rebellious bohemian, Maggie (Christina Ricci) turns into a buttoned up professional for work so she can see the world. Rounding out the crew are flirtatious Collette (Karine Vanasse), the adventurous Kate (Kelli Garner) and, finally, Laura (Margot Robbie) – Kate’s beauty queen younger sister, a runaway bride, who recently fled a life of domestic boredom to take to the skies.


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I’m most looking forward to Smash , and I’m saying that because it involves singing & dancing, which as you should know, are my two favorite elements of otherwise unremarkable television programs:

“Smash” is a musical drama that celebrates the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater as it follows a cross-section of dreamers and schemers who all have one common desire — to be a “Smash.” The series centers on a desire to create a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe — written by the successful songwriting duo of Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing)… a rivalry soon forms for the lead role between a youthful, inexperienced Midwestern beauty (Katharine McPhee) — who is trying to find fame in the big city against all odds — and stage veteran (Megan Hilty), who’s determined to leave the chorus line and finally get her big break. A tenacious producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston) discovers the “Marilyn” project and jumps on board with a brilliant director (Jack Davenport) — whose talent is matched by his cunning and egocentric amorality.

It’s directed by Michael Mayer, the guy who won a Tony for directing Spring Awakening and also directed American Idiot on Broadway. Check out Kate Clinton at the beginning!

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Chelsea Handler, of whom apparently many of you are fans, is debuting her sitcom Are You There Vodka, it’s Me Chelsea starring Laura Prepon as Chelsea Handler. In this preview, Chelsea sort-of half kisses a butch flannel-clad lesbian in prison played by Coach Bestie.

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Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph and Christina Applegate have a new one-camera sitcom about BABIES called Up All Night. If you’re a lesbian, you’ll like this, because lesbians love babies. Almost as much as they love sea mammals but not quite.

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And down in “I can’t believe stupid shows like this are getting made” we have ABC’s “Work It,” in which a man named “Lee” is compelled by some force, I suppose the opposite of the patriarchy, to dress like a woman in order to get a job. Good thing he gets a job too because he was feeling very emasculated by his working wife’s desire for him to do things like grocery shop and get a prostate exam.

This high-concept comedy centers on two unrepentant guy’s guys who, unable to find work, dress as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps. Not only do they pull it off, but they might just learn to be better men in the process.

He recruits his friend Angel to do the same — I mean — honestly really I can’t even. ISN’T GENDER HILARIOUS? AREN’T WOMEN WEIRD?  The pilot script is chock-full of zingers about pocketbooks/purses and other lady-business. Here’s one from when Angel decides to join Lee in his new enterprise:

ANGEL: You know what, I quit. I’m going to go work with my friend here.
MANAGER: As what? A transvestite prostitute?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!! I can’t wait ’til they have a scene about Lee going to the bathroom dressed as a woman, that’ll be HILARIOUS!

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Another frontrunner for “shows I will def hate” include this Zooey Deschanel vehicle New Girl on FOX (in the coveted post-GLEE spot), wherein Zoey plays a QUIRKY woman with WEIRD INTERESTS who requires a band of roommate frat boys to help her rein in that WILD personality to actually acquire a man.

There’s also some new drama/suspense shows that look promising, like NBC’s Awake, which co-stars BD Wong (gay) and Cherry Jones (gay) about a detective who finds himself living a double life after his wife is killed in a car crash and his mind creates a world where his wife is still alive.

On CBS, Michael Patrick King of Sex and the City is writing “Two Broke Girls,” about “two 22-year-old women (Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs) who tackle life in New York as they try to make their dreams come true.” Whitney Cummings, who will also have her own show called Whitney on NBC, is producing the show.

The CW is making another vampire show called The Secret Circle, starring a lady, based on a book series by Vampire Diaries author L.J Smith and co-written by Kevin Williamson.  Rachel Bilson is working with The OC crew on Heart of Dixie, about a woman who “inherits a medical practice in a small Southern town inhabited by eccentrics.” Sarah Michelle Geller has a suspense show on the network as well.

Looking over all of the network show descriptions, however, I’m reminded of how desperately sitcoms cling to gender roles as a primary source of humor/plot! It’s so lazy!

Tim Allen’s new ABC sitcom, Last Man Standing, is defined as “a guy fighting for his manhood in a world increasingly dominated by women” and tag-lined “Today it’s a woman’s world, and this man’s man is on a mission to get men back to their rightful place in society.”

ABC’s Man-Up is described as such: “Three modern men try to get in touch with their inner tough guys and redefine what it means to be a “real man” in this funny and relatable comedy… Will and his friends find themselves wondering — in a world of Axe ads and manscaping — what does it really mean to be a guy anymore?”

I suppose Two & A Half Men has proven people still find this hilarious. I suppose this is why I enjoy shows like Arrested Development, Moden Family and The Office but otherwise can’t bear to sit through 95% of sitcoms. The Office and shows like it pull jokes from every corner in the room, push for inventive quirky humor and rely on fleshed-out, complicated, fallible characters to drive story forward, rather than a series of jokes about how men can’t read shopping lists. I appreciate that.

Are you looking forward to any of these riveting programs?

Avatar of Riese

Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1744 articles for us.

59 Comments

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    Despite its annoyingly long title I plan to watch Are You There Vodka, it’s Me Chelsea. Mostly because Lucy, Tom’s ex-girlfriend, from Parks and Rec is in it and truth be told that’s enough for me.

    Also, Up All Night. I don’t care about babies but I live a Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph appreciation life. Plus, Christina Applegate never hurts. And it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I spotted Dylan from Modern Family in that clip. I think that was him anyway. Hard to tell when he’s not singing about doing it underneath the moonlight.

    Excited about Two Broke Girls because One Broke Girl is the title of my yet to be produced one woman show.

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    I’m not a big fan of babies, but I do like Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph, so I may try that one.
    The playboy one looks possibly intriguing, like Mad Men plus murder kind of? AMBER HEARD. Yeah. Actually I was kind of hoping the main handsome guy would turn out to be gay at the end of the trailer or something, wouldn’t that be awesome? Like he has to show up to the club and pretend to be into ladybunnies but he’s actually gay. I’d watch the shit out of a period show about gay characters.
    …Mind wandering into awesome homogay tv fantasies…
    Um. Pan Am I might try?
    God I hate laugh tracks, any tv show with a laugh track I just cannot deal with.
    I might watch the Kat Dennings CBS one purely for Kat Dennings, she owns a piece of my heart.
    Also LOLOLOL MEN R SO OPPRESSED TEEVEE LOLOLOL. Riiiiiight.

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    I’m a lawyer in a small southern town, basically because that’s where i could get a job. But why do people assume small southern towns are full of eccentrics? Its just that everyone knows everyone’s business, not that we are more eccentric than city folk. I mean, I assume. I’ve never actually lived in a big city, though I have lived big city(DC) adjacent. Anyway, I’m skeptical about Heart of Dixie, although if it goes the way of Northern Exposure, it might be alright.

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    Uh oh… I just watched the trailer for Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl (here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMULuNE8Kyw&feature=player_embedded) and… I… Well, I kinda loved it.

    I totally get why it’s hate-able. If I could bring back Chicago Code in exchange for New Girl, I would totally do it. However, that trailer seemed a little bit like my college experience (except that most of the time my guy friends were trying to help me get a girl, not a guy).

    Only time will tell whether it’ll be just up my alley for brain candy, just a guilty pleasure OR really atrocious.

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      it’s just so like, cliche, like the wild girl has to be tamed by men, she can’t possibly function on her own, she needs to HIDE HER REAL PERSONALITY if she wants to mate, and wear sexy clothing they pick out etc etc — I feel like i already saw it, it was a sandra bullock movie i think.

      apparently i go against the grain on ZD related projects, as I also disliked (500) Days of Summer. Maybe it’s her.

      you know the overall problem is that i want everything to be better than it is. things i do, things other people do. i just see a show like that and think, “why spend money on that stupid show when our public schools don’t even have arts education” like what is that show gonna do for anybody? teach them that if they’re weird and geeky BUT ACTUALLY BEAUTIFUL, maybe 3 dudes will help you pick some heels to go with your dress and remind you how to stop acting like yourself? FANTASTIC.

      also though i love the last scene in grease, when Olivia N-J is in that black thing and she’s like ‘whatcha talkin’ about, stud’ and then grinds a cigarette into the sand

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        Oh definitely, I watched the trailer and was unimpressed with the usual “put some glasses on a pretty, skinny white girl and now she is UNDATEABLE and QUIRKY and STRANGE”
        And you know she’s going to end up with one of the three guys by the end of the show, after a long drawn out plotline about her dating some jerk while the roommate is the “nice guy” who is always overlooked for “bad boys” even though he is also white and conventionally attractive and mid-20s-ish.

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        Oy, I agree with your reply. I really wasn’t as critical of the trailer as I could have been, given that at some level I found it relatable due to part of my college experience (admittedly, the other part of my college experience would have been seriously skeptical of my first comment).

        So, I’ve concluded two things:
        1. This will probably be the guilty pleasure that I’ll look for on Megavideo (because if I’m not watching it on Hulu or the TV, it doesn’t count).
        2. I really need to get back on the critical, questioning, eternal nonconformist saddle (I fell off it like a month ago, natch).

        Also, I just searched for movie makeovers and none of the ones I found beat Sandy’s. Unless Jean Grey’s Dark Phoenix situation counts as a makeover… No? Well, okay then.

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    wow Work It looked like a SNL skit, I mean are we sure this is for real? I also hate any show with a laugh track. Using a laugh track is a sure sign that the show is not funny.
    Smash looked amazing though.

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      They all look/sound like SNL skits. And/or 3rd rate “Mad Men” rip offs, probably pitched in 2007 but just airing because of the sluggish economy & time it took to “develop”
      them.

      Poor Amber Heard. Does Hollywood have her in some kind of purgatory where she has to be sexually objectified to the nth degree because she’s out? Whatever; I give it 6 episodes.

      Maureen Dowd, the NYT columnist, did an article where she quoted an anonymous studio exec on the trend and he said it was nostalgia for the days when women knew their place & weren’t uppity and drove themselves to the back street abortionist. I’m still wondering who said that, even if he was off the record. It seems too trollish & ignorant to be believed.

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        Exactly what I was thinking. “I was wondering when Mad Men was going to launch a shit-ton of imitators – look like the day is finally here!” I also guess it’s just another year before all the new shows are set in the ’20s, basking in the shadow of Boardwalk Empire.

        Honestly, though, I think Playboy Club is going to be a huge success. It seems like it’s giving most of it from the POV of the objectified women themselves, not just the men doing the objectifying – and it’s showing some of the negative sides of it. Not that it really excuses the glamorizing for me, but I think people are going to call it “original” and “edgy” and lap it all up. (Even though, you know, Gloria Steinem did an expose of Playboy years ago.)

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      If not that one, it’s gotta be the other one which is basically the same show, right?

      Luckily, one of those destiny-bound to wither and die, as always happens when two really similar shows come out at the same time (see: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip vs. 30 Rock), and I don’t think the other one is even going to pull that big of an audience, but it’ll probably get renewed a few times anyway. And all of us fans of Firefly and Freaks And Geeks will shake our fists at the heavens yet again.

      Unfortunately, the same is destined to happen with Playboy Club and Pan Am, and I think that people are going to find the Playboy thing more interesting and that will be the one that survives.

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    im totally gonna watch are you there vodka its me chelsea!! first off its donna ! from that 70s show… one of my many early gay crushes second off her roommate…. is like alot of lesbians i know third possible lesbian activity ?! yessss!!! :D

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    FYI: The Playboy Club has a lesbian character and a gay character. They are a closeted married couple who hang out in gay clubs and belong to a gay political group.

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    SMASH YES YES YES!!! Lesbian in a Playboy costume? VERY YES! Will Arnett? Yes! Laura Prepon? YE-oh…wait…that was the most obnoxious preview ever. Laugh-track fail.

    And I’ll probably watch New Girl because I have that annoying habit of always singing to myself. And dancing awkwardly. In public.

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    “Smash” looks great! “Up all night” looks funny, and I have always had a bit of a crush on Christina Appelgate since “don’t tell mom the babysitter’s dead”, so I’ll be watching that. Although “new girl” doesn’t look all that good, I’ll probably watch that too based on my love for zooey deschanel. Oh the things we put ourselves through for girls we’re crushing on.

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    On the one hand I love Amber Heard.

    On the other, I can’t take a show seriously that tries to have genuinely smoldering moments while one person is wearing bunny ears. If someone’s dressed like that, they’re either being a goofball or they’re playing a role that demands some objectification. Both of which can be hot, but neither fits the “I looked into your eyes and felt a connection” thing.

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      Yeah, bunny ears are just too silly for me. I can’t even just find a woman hot in them, it makes her look like a little girl. I have to try to look past the bunny ears. One of the many reasons why I have never understood the Playboy thing.

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    ‘Awake’ looks really good, ‘Smash’ has potential, and my inner LJ Smith-loving 14-year-old is flailing with glee about ‘The Secret Circle (which is about witches, actually, not vampires at all).

    Other than that, everything else looks like absolute shit. Why do the networks suck so badly? Why can’t they be like cable and be less horrible?

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    I would have watched Are You There Vodka? if it actually had Chelsea Handler in it. Otherwise it just looks stupid. DEFINITELY GONNA WATCH PAN AM HOWEVER. I might check out the Playboy thing but idk, I’m not really into creepy guys fondling girls in bunny costumes.

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    I don’t think Laura Prepon is right to play Chelsea, but I do think Chelsea Handler is hilarious. I might give it a try.

    I don’t think Work It is offensive because of the way it constrains gender as Reise seems to. I mostly think it’s an offensive portrayal of women, period: “Guy wants to pass for a woman. Guy makes airheaded comment about shopping and exhibits the IQ of a turnip. Women around him laugh. He successfully passes as a woman.” Ugh. Who is the audience for this? They treat women as if they are bimbos, and what guy really wants to watch two other guys dresses as women for a half hour? I guess the audience of this show is the women they portray on it — dumb ones.

    I hate everything Playboy so, so much. But that preview didn’t look bad. I mean, I liked the cinematography, style and the time period it’s ostensibly set in. Not a fan of the concept though.

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    there’s some show about i think army doctors in kandahar (relevant to my interests) and it has what looks like SPINNER FROM DEGRASSI

    which is one of my favorite things. i’ll be watching that just so i can squeal “SPINNER!!!!” every time he comes on and screeching some degrassi themed quote at the tv.

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