Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women's Movement since 1970

By Bonnie J. Dow | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Other Side of Postfeminism:
Maternal Feminism in Dr. Quinn,
Medicine Woman

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, an hour-long drama centering on the life of a woman doctor in the frontier town of Colorado Springs in the late 1860s, debuted as a midseason replacement on CBS in January of 1993. It was an immediate success, boasting the highest "TVQ" rating of any television program in recent history.1 The success of Dr. Quinn took industry pundits by surprise; they had predicted that it was doomed to fail. It was a so-called "soft" drama geared to family viewing, it was a period piece set in the old West, and, perhaps most damaging, it depended upon a female lead ( Carter, 1993; Kilday, 1993). These characteristics are, for example, exactly opposite those of NYPD Blue, the other big success story of 1993. Even worse, CBS scheduled the drama on Saturday, a graveyard slot for prime-time network television because programmers and advertisers are convinced the audience defects to cable.

Dr. Quinn's surprising success, and its ability to attract precisely the kind of audiences that advertisers on network television yearn for-- women between eighteen and forty-nine--has attracted relatively little attention from the popular press. Critics do not see the drama as particularly complex or interesting, and most have dismissed it. They have called it historically inaccurate and melodramatic ( Stein, 1993), attacked it for its "political correctness" and "anachronistic moralizing" ( Kilday, 1993, p. 108; see also Kaufman, 1993), and one critic has labeled it "frontier hooey" (quoted in Schindehette, 1993, p. 74). Reviewers seem to agree that the program is neither "true to the form [of the western] nor true to the time [it depicts]" (quoted in Kilday, 1993, p. 108).

Such complaints take notice of a number of unusual elements for a historical western: black and Native American primary characters, and

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