TCA: 'Makers' on PBS puts women in their place -- in the sun

TCA: 'Makers' on PBS puts women in their place -- in the sun
Dyllan McGee, left, co-founder of the Makers initiative, with comedian Kathy Griffin, astronaut Peggy Whitson and author and former CIA operative Valerie Plame at a discussion of "Makers: Women Who Make America." (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

The Television Critics Ann. press tour in Pasadena ended on an upbeat note with PBS and its "Makers: Women Who Make America" documentary series.

The Makers initiative was founded by Dyllan McGee and features both the PBS television series as well as an online component in which hundreds of films about accomplished women are archived. There are plans to take the Makers initiative global by the end of the year.


This year will see the release of six new documentaries featuring women in space, Hollywood, politics, business, war and comedy.

Joining McGee on the panel promoting the series was outspoken comedian Kathy Griffin, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and exposed CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The women spoke at length about what it was like to break into vocations that were traditionally unwelcoming of women. They also said that the sexism they had encountered along the way was often subtle, which in many ways is the most insidious kind.

"When I joined the CIA, I didn't join thinking, 'I'm going to be a female spy.' I didn't grow up thinking that espionage was a viable career path," said Plame. "The CIA definitely was — and is — an old boys' club, even though now there are two women at the head of four directorates. But that doesn't mean everything magically changes. It takes time."

McGee knows that, and it's part of why she is so passionate about the project. She doesn't just revel in telling the stories of the female stars we have all heard of, she enjoys telling the tales of the unknown women who are changing things on a daily basis.

When she first began, she simply wanted to make a documentary on legendary feminist Gloria Steinem. But Steinem said no. She told McGee that she couldn't tell the story of the women's movement through the life of one woman.

"Little did I know that that 'no' would launch me on a quest to tell the greatest assemblage of women's stories ever told," said McGee.

Those stories matter to people of all walks of life. McGee is happy to report that 50% of the traffic coming to the Makers site comes from men. The site also boasts more than 16 million video views.

"It takes a lot of time for change to happen," Whitson said. "I was really lucky in my field as an astronaut. Once I was selected, after 10 years of trying, I felt that I would be fine after I demonstrated that I could do the job. I was the first female commander on the International Space Station."

Griffin cracked a lot of jokes but on a serious note said that even though she's mouthy and powerful, she has lost many jobs speaking out against sexism.


"The sexism in stand-up comedy is rampant, and anybody who says it isn't, isn't telling the truth," she said, adding that she often does interviews with radio DJs who introduce her by saying things like, "I don't normally find women funny, but this woman is really funny."

When they say things like that, she'll say, "Do you say to an African American, 'I think you're lazy and shiftless and don't want to work hard'?"

That's an interview ender, Griffin said with a laugh.

On a more mundane level, what does Plame think of the TV series "Homeland"?

"I think Claire Danes is amazing, but I think 'Homeland' has jumped the shark this season," she says. "You see things that make you roll your eyes, but it has to be entertainment, and it's certainly that."

Her biggest beefs:

"The fact that the character she plays is bipolar and nobody ever notices, and that they always use their cellphones inside headquarters. Your cellphone is like a tiny transmitter and GPS. That would never happen."