Shonda Rhimes, Tina Fey & More Women in Television: 7 Interesting Revelations from 'Stealing the Show'

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Tina Fey, Shonda Rhimes
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Women are leading a new “golden age” of television. 

In Stealing the Show: How Women are Revolutionizing Television, which was released on Tuesday, journalist and television critic Joy Press analyzes the evolution of television roles for women both behind and in front of the camera. 

Press celebrates the “extraordinary women responsible for an upheaval in pop culture,” and reveals how shows like I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show opened the door for Murphy Brown and Roseanne. The latter sitcoms, in turn, cleared a path for 30 Rock, Gilmore Girls, The Mindy Project, Orange Is the New Black, and Shonda Rhimes' “prime-time empire,” which includes Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to get Away with Murder.

The challenges for women of color are not overlooked, as Press points out that "trying to carve a path through prime time" was exponentially harder for "trailblazing women of color" such as Living Single and Half & Half creator Yvette Lee Bowser and Mara Brock Akil, who created Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane

Check below for more interesting revelations from Stealing the Show.

1.) Murphy Brown is a "brazenly feminist" series, but Candice Bergen wasn't the only person in mind for the lead role. Heather Locklear was favored among network executives, although show creator Diane English wanted Bergen, who saw the role as “an opportunity to tap into her bawdiest self.”

2.) Roseanne broke ground with its depiction of a lower-middle-class family dynamic marred by a hodgepodge of highs and lows. According to former staff writer and Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, the sitcom went “completely haywire” after Roseanne Barr ended her relationship with ex-husband Tom Arnold in 1994.

3.) It’s a good thing that Lauren Graham didn’t listen to early opinions about Gilmore Girls. In the book, Press writes that some of Graham’s “actor friends” warned her that playing a mom on television was a career death trap. Luckily, Graham accepted the role of free-spirited single mother Lorelai Gilmore on the cult TV show.

4.) Shonda Rhimes “feminized” television roles in the medical, political and legal professions, while showcasing racial and gender diversity. In the beginning, Grey's Anatomy slipped under the radar because the ABC executives were more focused on Desperate Housewivesand Lost. The lack of "attention" allowed Rhimes to create Grey's with "no pressure whatsoever."

5.) Network censorship is responsible for the birth of “vajayjay.”ABC wouldn’t allow Rhimes to air the word “vagina” (although the word “penis” was approved) on Grey’s Anatomy, so she commissioned her writing team to come up with a “nonsense” word in its place.

6.) Liz Lemon is the "anti-Carrie Bradshaw." Tina Fey’s 30 Rock protagonist offers an alternate reality of being a single woman in New York City.

Fey, who was the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live (described in the book as a “tough” environment for women at the time), premiered 30 Rock in 2006 and was initially worried that her breakout series would be overshadowed by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sorkin's series ended up getting canceled in 2007. 

7.) Orange Is the New Black hits a lot of different marks. The nearly all-female cast and crew behind the seemingly fearless Netflix series has given a platform to LGBTQ characters, along with tackling drug addiction, sexual assault, and prison rights. In season four, OINTB addressed the Black Lives Matter movement with the death of Poussey Washington, played by Samira Wiley, in one of the more memorable and emotional moments on the show. 

OINTB star Natasha Lyonne admits in the book that working on the series forced her to “abandon” the notion that she doesn’t get along with other women. “There were so many of us and we were all different and yet there is enough space for all of us,” Lyonne explained.

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