Evening the Score in Prime Time: The Relationship between Behind-the-Scenes Women and On-Screen Portrayals in the 2002-2003 Season
Lauzen, Martha M., Dozier, David M., Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media
According to director Martha Coolidge, "gender, being a woman, affects everything" (Gregory, 2002, p. 132). Her perspective, as well as those of others, have been colorfully archived in a spate of recent trade books focusing on women's experiences in Hollywood (Abramowitz, 2000; Gregory, 2002; Seger, 1996; Steenland, 1990). Filled with first-person accounts, these books recount the desire and determination of women working behind the scenes to tell stories about members of their own gender on the screen. A small body of academic research supports these anecdotal stories by documenting the relationship between the employment of behind-the-scenes women and greater numbers of female characters in prime-time television (Glascock, 2001; Lauzen & Dozier, 1999).
Not all women in creative production roles hold a singular sensibility regarding the creation of televisual females. However, one might expect women's conception of what constitutes an interesting or appealing portrayal of females to differ from conceptions of males working behind the scenes. (1) Limited research suggests that women working behind the scenes may act to even the score for female characters in prime-time television, with fewer stereotypically male traits and more female characteristics portrayed across genders when women work behind the scenes (Lauzen & Dozier, 2002). Using a sample of situation comedies and dramas airing on the six broadcast networks during the 2002-2003 season, this study extends that research to examine how the employment of behind-the-scenes women may be related to occupational power, leadership status, goal-directed behaviors, and effectiveness in achieving those goals among male and female characters.
By understanding the behind-the-scenes/on-screen relationship, greater understanding of gendered media messages is gained. Ample research using passive and active audience models documents the overall role these messages play in reinforcing existing gender expectations and stereotypes (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1986; Gunter, 1986; Heide, 1995). More specifically, media portrayals that underrepresent and/or misrepresent females in positions of power and leadership may have real-life consequences for girls and women. Studies of media use and sex-role socialization reveal that televisual portrayals influence children's notions of appropriate occupational expectations and choices (Durkin, 1985; Morgan, 1982). Further, organizational research has found that when even small, seemingly insignificant biases are repeated over time and on individuals, they can have significant consequences (Eagly & Karau, 2002). According to Eagly and Karau (2002, p. 589), "slight prejudice that is consistently acted on greatly reduces women's chances of rising to high-level positions in organizations." Media portrayals of women may contribute to and reinforce these biases against women, making it more difficult for women to assume positions of power and leadership and be accepted (Eagly & Karau, 2002).
Behind-the-Scenes Individuals and On-Screen Portrayals
Explanations for television content range from the unique nature of the television business (DiMaggio, 1977; W. T. Bielby & D. D. Bielby, 1992) to the hegemony of decision makers (Gitlin, 1987). DiMaggio (1977), and more recently W. T. Bielby and D. D. Bielby (1992), distinguished the television and other "culture" industries from more traditional organizational structures. These researchers noted that established writer-producers broker the relationship between commercial interests (e.g., the networks, advertisers) and creative interests. These brokers negotiate the ongoing demands of making a program appealing to demographically attractive viewers and more artistic concerns. While M. G. Cantor and J. M. Cantor (1992) suggest that these individuals are "caught in the middle" (p. 72) of competing and sometimes contradictory interests, they and others acknowledge that brokers must often favor commercial over creative interests (W. T. Bielby & D. D. Bielby, 1994). At the end of the 2002-2003 prime-time season, high-profile broker David E. Kelley dismissed the majority of his cast from The Practice when the network cut his budget by $6.5 million per episode. Kelley reported taking the action as a result of "economic and creative realities" (Johnson, 2003, p. 4).
Lauzen and Dozier (2001) also outlined a mode] of television production balancing artistic and business influences. Their model places an elastic creative sphere at the core of production. Within this space, creators of entertainment content make a wide range of creative and aesthetic decisions with regard to story, plot, characters, and production values. The creative sphere is contested space in which behind-the-scenes individuals seek to expand the range and scope of their creative vision and the commercial forces of television seek to restrict it. Those individuals with an accumulation of credits and prior successes are able to expand their power in the contested space, since others perceive them as successfully navigating uncertain territory (Faulkner & Anderson, 1987; Gitlin, 1983). However, when creative individuals are unable to reduce uncertainty about the market, other individuals such as network or studio executives attempt to constrain them through story notes and other restrictive measures (Moerk, 1999).
Within this framework, the subjective and often biased nature of behind-the-scenes employment practices is noteworthy. As D. D. Bielby and W. T. Bielby (2001) noted, the industry has no widely agreed upon formula for certain commercial success and evaluation criteria are often numerous and contradictory. Further, variables such as age and gender may influence an individual's employability and earnings. The researchers found that "among writers who have been equally successful over the short term, those who are younger and relatively new to the industry are much more likely to sustain career momentum than are older and more experienced writers" (p. 407).
Women's social dissimilarity to the majority of those working behind the scenes is likely to put them at a "continuous disadvantage" (W. T. Bielby & D. D. Bielby, 1992). In their research of 6,935 writers employed between 1982 and 1990, W. T. Bielby and D. D. Bielby (1992) found "the contributions of women writers are uniformly devalued across career stages ... the barriers faced by women writers begin at entry into the industry and pose a constant source of disadvantage over the course of their careers" (p. 368). The researchers noted that in the highly uncertain business of television, male writers are perceived as better-known quantities and thus as lower-risk hires than female writers. They suggested that the brokered nature of the business and the use of short-term contracts exacerbate these practices.
As a result, women are less likely than their male counterparts to find employment in the behind-the-scenes world of prime time (Lauzen & Dozier, 1999, 2002; Lauzen, Dozier, & Hicks, 2001). Women are less likely to accumulate the credits and contacts necessary to enact the broker role or enter the elastic sphere of influence. However, prior research has suggested that when programs employed women in pivotal positions such as writer, creator, or executive producer, the creative product was different. Somewhat remarkably, the employment of just a single woman creator or writer on a situation comedy or drama was associated with significantly different on-screen portrayals of both female and male characters when compared to programs with …
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Publication information: Article title: Evening the Score in Prime Time: The Relationship between Behind-the-Scenes Women and On-Screen Portrayals in the 2002-2003 Season. Contributors: Lauzen, Martha M. - Author, Dozier, David M. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. Volume: 48. Issue: 3 Publication date: September 2004. Page number: 484+. © 2009 Broadcast Education Association. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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