“We are known for creating storytelling with empowered women,” ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee said of his network at the Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday. He cited hits “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” as examples — along with new additions to the ABC schedule, “Charlie’s Angels,” a remake about the famous trio of butt-kicking women, and “Pan Am,” following flight attendants in the 1960s. Yet ABC’s fall schedule also includes the new comedies “Man Up!” and “Last Man Standing,” series that both attempt to address a perceived demasculinization of the American male.
So what gives? Why is the dissection of gender roles suddenly at the forefront of the network’s lineup?
“It’s the job of television, and has been since we started, to look at the plight of men, to look at the plight of women. And I think we look at it in very different ways,” Lee insists. “It’s our job to create television that questions how people feel in the world.”
Breaking down identity crisis on ABC
Here’s what the cast and creators of ABC’s new “empowered women” and “unmanly men” shows have to say about the message of their series:
‘Pan Am’ (Premieres Sept. 25)
“[Pan Am stewardess] was a coveted position at the time for young women,” says series creator Jack Orman. “They needed to be college educated. They needed to speak several languages, and they were really pioneers in a lot of ways.”
At the same time, a certain attractiveness was also part of the job. “The idea that they have to be subjected to girdle checks and weigh-ins I think adds a certain realism but also an interesting, dramatic twist to the show,” Orman adds.
‘Charlie’s Angels’ (Premieres Sept. 22)
ABC isn’t downplaying the sexy chicks with guns thing in their reboot of “Charlie’s Angels,” but they’re also trying to make the show more about the characters’ backstories and camaraderie as a team.
“Thing about ‘Charlie’s Angels’ is … obviously, they’re beautiful. They’re sexy. They have all of those qualities,” series creator Al Gough says of his cast, including Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor and Annie Ilonzeh. “But they also have to be warm and relatable,” he explains. “The idea [is] that this agency is a family, their family business is being detectives, and the family secrets are the drama that take us through week to week.”
‘Man Up!’ (Premieres Oct. 18)
Why is modern man soft? Blame war, says the creative team behind “Man Up!”.
“We are a generation that has a war, and we are just fortunate enough to have the luxury of other people volunteering and [fighting] for us so we can make a show about the silly antics of three guys in Ohio,” says executive producer Christopher Moynihan. “Our grandfathers and our fathers, they didn’t have the luxury of people volunteering to do it. They were drafted, and they were made to do it.”
Another contributor to this demasculinization, Moynihan says, is … hair gel?
“I think we’re starting to socialize and civilize men to the point where, you know, let’s be fair — there’s a lot of product in my hair right now that my father, at 38 years old, would never have had this much stuff in his hair,” he admits.
‘Last Man Standing’ (Premieres Oct. 11)
Tim Allen has taken the format of “Home Improvement” and tweaked it, starring as the father of three daughters (instead of boys) who works at a sporting goods company (instead of tool business) and is distraught that he is “the last real man in a woman’s world.” So how, exactly, does Allen define a manly man?
“Men need stuff to do. You have to have hobbies, and you should be able to fix stuff,” he says. “The women in my life like cooking. They like cooking for their men. And the men in my life like futzing around the house and being able to take care of a home. And when men lose this capacity to mortise and tenon with wood, we’re kind of left with nothing to do, like those big drone bees that get kicked out of the hive.”
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