On View : 'She TV': Comic Role Reversals

Jennifer Glimpse is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer

The game show's called "What Do Women Want?" and the male contestant, Bob, is having trouble with the ground rules. So female host Jinx Mandell gives him a hint.

"Women want to be able to want what they want, but--and this is important, Bob--they don't want to have to want it if they don't want to."

Bob, who thought he had a handle on what women wanted, is still bewildered. "What about being assertive in a man's world, being a superwoman?" he asks.

Jinx Mandell shakes her head compassionately. "I'm sorry, Bob. Those were the old rules."

"What Do Women Want?" is a game-show parody from ABC's new summer series "She TV." And Bobs everywhere take note: This new female-slanted comedy hour is out to break a few of the old rules itself.

"She TV," which begins a six-week outing Tuesday in the "NYPD Blue" time slot, was conceived by Caryn Mandabach, president of the Carsey-Werner Co. ("Grace Under Fire," "Roseanne" and "The Cosby Show"). It is sketch comedy in the tradition of "Saturday Night Live" and "In Living Color," but the distinction here is that the cast is predominantly female.

"When we look at the TV landscape, we look around at what's not there," says Mandabach. "It was pretty obvious to me that there were a lot of funny women out there who weren't being used. They just weren't getting the good, juicy comedy things to do."

Mandabach brought together former "Saturday Night Live" writers Bonnie and Terry Turner and "Laugh-In" creator George Schlatter to executive produce. The venture floundered and died at Fox, but when ABC took an interest the project revived.

"We originally saw this as a theater presentation last December," says Alan Sternfeld, ABC senior vice president of program planning and scheduling. "It frankly knocked our socks off."

The cast of "She TV," five women and three men, is largely unknown. Many of them come from ensemble comedy groups such as the Groundlings and Second City.

"We looked at a lot of people," says Schlatter. "We were looking for magic. You don't go out and look for Goldie Hawn. Goldie Hawn comes in and you just know it when you see it."

"What we found, the more we searched, was that there were women out there whose spin (on things) was really, really, smart," says executive producer Bonnie Turner. "We found five women who are incredibly interesting, really fun, and bring really unique voices to the show."

Linda Wallem, both a performer and a staff writer on the show, says "She TV" is like a dream come true.

"We've had to act like the guys we used to work for," says Wallem. "When we'd be at a pitch table, the guys would pretty much run it and you'd have to join the boys club and ya-da ya-da and now and then get a joke in there. Now all of a sudden with this female show, the roles are reversed."

Nick Bakay, also a writer and performer, agrees that sketch comedy has long been male-dominated.

"There's just a certain kind of humor you associate with those kind of boys' club writing staffs that is most of what you see," says Bakay.

But what distinguishes a female comedic sensibility? Linda Wallem says it's style. "Women tend not to be so wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am in their comedy approach. It's tennis as opposed to football. It's more of a reveal and a discovery rather than a male boom-boom-boom kind of thing."

The Turners emphasize, however, that "She TV" is hard comedy. It's got "an attitude and a bit of an edge," says Terry.

Bakay agrees. "My fears coming in were that female comedy's going to be soft ... but I've been really pleased that some of the wilder, more aggressive stuff has been green-lighted enthusiastically."

The show's producers say "She TV" is not a feminist show nor even a political show. And while the comedy comes from a woman's point of view, they don't suggest that it reflects every woman's point of view.

"You can't promise that everything in this show is going to be the definitive statement on women in the '90s because there is no definitive statement," says Schlatter.

While the show's obvious appeal is to women, the show's producers hope men will tune in too.

"I think for years women have sat in their living rooms or in theaters and laughed at male comedy and I don't know why men wouldn't be able to do the same thing," says Bonnie Turner. "We're not talking about bridal showers and PMS. We're talking about life."

"She TV" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC for six weeks.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World