Why Do Women's Talk Shows Still Assume Women Don't Work?

1Photo: Courtesy of ABC
Just a quick glance at today's talk-show landscape reveals that it's very much a man's world. Top billing (not to mention Internet fame) still goes to the late-night crew; the Jimmy Fallons, the Jay Lenos, and the Jon Stewarts. Not only do they get the most attention from celebrity guests, but they seem to rule pop culture, too. On any given morning, no one at the water cooler is debating the latest female CEO to appear on Katie Couric — they're cracking up over the latest Evolution of Mom Dancing skit.
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While women may seem to dominate the airwaves in sheer numbers — seriously, new programs are cropping up faster than Lean In circles — they're mostly still relegated to the ratings wasteland of daytime TV. This season alone saw the addition of four major women's talk shows (The Queen Latifah Show, The Kris Jenner Show, The Real, and Bethenny), which puts the current list almost in double digits. (It should be noted that men have been notoriously less successful at the daytime TV game — even the affable Anderson Cooper recently had his show axed.) When it comes to said ratings for daytime, the numbers don't lie. Ellen leads the pack, and still only draws about 8% of all viewers who watch TV during the day, and 11% of women who are watching, according to Deadline. The nighttime programming landscape is even worse, with Chelsea Lately as the only true female-hosted show in the genre.
Sally Jesse Raphael's show, Sally, arguably pioneered the women's talk-show genre. Its premiere in 1983 gave women a place in the entertainment landscape, and a new kind of forum for discussing relevant issues and finding help on everything from parenting strategies to sexual frustrations. She paved the way for other legendary shows like Oprah and The View, which delved into even more controversial or seemingly "taboo" topics — domestic violence and and female illnesses among them. Although it may not seem like it today, the advent of these shows was a big step forward, giving women a place in the discussion and a place to discuss. But, considering how far we've come in the past three decades, why have women's talk shows barely changed in that time?
Back in the early days, it made sense for programs like Oprah to screen early. Most of the issues these series covered were new to the zeitgeist, so one one expected primetime airing. But today, it feels insulting and backward for TV execs to assume that female viewers have nothing better to do at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday than sit in front of the tube. Women are out in the workplace in full force — in fact, according to Business Insider, we make up 46% of the workforce. There are 30 million more women with careers today than there were in 1984, yet it seems as though the entertainment industry has yet to catch up with the times. Any of the talk shows that are tackling important and relevant issues are missed by most women while they're at work, and conversely, many programs still target the Huggies ad audience exclusively. Personally, we would love to see content that caters to the life we're living, and more importantly, the direction we're all trying to go — at an hour when we're actually home (because let's be honest, our DVR can't keep up with that many hours of daily programming).
And, don't get us wrong, we're not here to get down on all talk shows. In fact, we'll admit to binge watching many an episode of Oprah and Ellen. But, it's easy for the market to feel saturated, and more often than we'd like, many of the shows feel the same. Ensemble casts, like on The View, The Talk, and the recently tested The Real, can easily delve into gossip territory and often end up feeling a little anti-feminist. Because controversy often boosts ratings, the hosts often talk over each other and exaggerate disagreements and cattiness, instead of forming the supportive, girl-power clan we'd like to see.
There are a lot of positives out there, however — we'll always have a soft spot for Katie Couric and everything she's done to pioneer the role of women in journalism. Her current project, Katie, does a good job of integrating entertainment and celebrity content with important topics like race and sexual assault (and we really appreciate the tagline "Talk That Matters"). We also have to give props to Chelsea Handler for breaking into the male-dominated world of late-night with vigor, humor, and a take-no-prisoners attitude. But these are the outliers, and content like this is most definitely not represented on network television during evening hours.
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And, here's the thing: We're not really asking for a complete overhaul of television today, but it's time for women's programming to finally match women's lives. The Internet is home to all sorts of content that pushes the conversation forward, and represents the wide variety of lifestyle choices that women today are making, so why can't that translate to TV? With the discussion around "having it all," "opting out," and "leaning in" coming to a boil, we need smart shows dedicated to what women actually want to talk about — and that provide real-world advice for the delicate balancing act many women are undertaking — instead of perpetuating old-school stereotypes and a false idea of our daily schedules and ideals.
And, we want to hear from you, too — tell us in the comments what you're loving or hating about talk shows today, and what you'd love to see when you turn on the tube after a long day.
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