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NBC's 'must-she TV' marking a trend among Big Three

Brooke Shields November 4, 1997
Web posted at: 5:01 p.m. EST (2201 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- NBC may have instituted "Must-She TV" on Monday nights as an antidote to the Monday night football games airing on rival ABC, but the trend toward female-driven prime time shows isn't exclusive to NBC.

Today, there are more than 15 woman-driven prime time shows on all the networks, leading some TV analysts to declare 1997 the year of the woman.

"They are everywhere," said TV Guide's Mark Schwed. "And they're doctors, they're lawyers, they're princess warriors. They're everything, and the best thing of all is apparently you don't have to be a 20-year-old model anymore" to get a leading role.

Brett Butler

While many women-led sitcoms are still headed by the young and the beautiful -- prime examples being Fox's "Ally McBeal," the WB phenom "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and NBC's "Caroline in the City" -- many others are not.

"Cybill," "Murphy Brown" and "Touched by an Angel" on CBS, and NBC's "Veronica's Closet," serve as proof that older women can also get a piece of today's prime time pie.

In some cases, the women's lineup is also going to lengths to explore serious women's issues. For example, the veteran team of Candace Bergen and Diane English hopes to attract female viewers with this season's "Murphy Brown" storyline about breast cancer.

"We're pushing ourselves not to shy away from what's real and dramatic, and yet some of the best comedy comes out of those situations," said English, who serves as executive consultant for the program.

The shows also offer their stars new opportunities behind the cameras. Ellen DeGeneres is taking a more involved role in her show following her groundbreaking coming-out episode.

Cybill Shepard

"I don't think I could do the show if I didn't have creative control," she said of her self-named show on ABC. "I think my character is stronger than it's ever been, because she knows who she is."

And Anna Maria Horsford, the star of "Amen," now has input behind the camera. Speaking about her recent role in directing an episode of UPN's "Good News," she said, "You do need a woman's touch sometimes to get the other perspective."

As president of The Carsey Werner Co., Caryn Mandabach helps provide that other perspective, overseeing shows like "Cybill" and "Grace Under Fire."

However, Mandabach says, there is still room to round out women's portrayals on TV.

"It's good that there are a lot of women on television, because a lot of women watch television," she said. "It's not so good that the portrayals of women are a bit -- not stereotypical, but there's a bit of sameness about them. There's no diversity or not enough diversity about the portrayals of women."

Mary Tyler Moore, one of the pioneers of leading women's roles on TV, agreed. "I'm not sure that the writers always do justice to the women," she said.

Diversity or no, Nielsen ratings confirm that shows driven by funny, young, and successful women are holding their own, and capturing the viewership of just that same kind of woman -- the type advertisers hope to reach.

Correspondent Gloria Hillard contributed to this report.


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