Skip to comments.TV provides poor signal for Hillary
Posted on 07/23/2007 9:07:20 AM PDT by COUNTrecount
When Hollywood producer Rod Lurie created fictional president Mackenzie Allen in 2005 for the show Commander in Chief he made no mistake about one of his goals: tilling the soil of popular culture so that it would soon be easier for a real woman to take root in a nonfiction Oval Office.
CBS News had no such goal in 2006 when it gave Katie Couric the anchors chair once occupied by Walter Cronkite. But it was a vivid example of the glass ceiling being shattered in one of societys most prestigious platforms.
So will television be a leading indicator of politics in 2008? Hillary Rodham Clinton had better hope not. The ratings of both the struggling CBS Evening News and the now-canceled ABC drama Commander in Chief call into question one of the premises of Clintons political strategy: that women are eager to reward role models who break down gender barriers.
On TV, at least, it hasnt happened.
An analysis of ratings by Nielsen Media Research for Politico showed that competitors to the Evening News and Commander in Chief scored better with female viewers. The results undermine calculations by ABC and CBS that placing accomplished women in roles traditionally owned by men would be a ratings hit because of the number of female viewers drawn to one of their own.
In particular, white women--a key swing bloc Clintons campaign says it intends to focus on should she win the nomination--responded with a shrug to both Couric and Commander in Chief.
Efforts to extrapolate political implications from Hollywood studio sets and network news desks should perhaps be taken cum grano salis. But some commentators say the experiences of Couric and Geena Davis, who played the president on the ABC drama, do indeed offer a cautionary tale for Clinton.
You cant simply plug a woman into a drama, a sitcom, or an anchor position and expect women are going to watch it, says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. The same is true for a female candidate. The presence of a woman does not make women vote or watch just because its a woman.
Polling also underscores the complexity of the gender dynamic for Clinton.
Clinton wins roughly the same number of male voters as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the Democratic primary race, according to a variety of surveys. But she wins Democratic women nearly 2-to-1 over Obama, who remains her closest challenger.
But the support she expects to win from Democratic women in the primaries does not necessarily translate to big benefits in a general election. In a hypothetical matchup against former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Gallup Organization found women favoring Clinton by a modest margin, 53 percent to 47 percent.
But Giuliani had a 16 percent lead over Clinton among male votersa margin larger than President Bushs lead over Democrats Al Gore and John F. Kerry in the previous two presidential elections.
Given the historic nature of having a female Democrat running against a socially liberal Catholic Republican, it is remarkable how similar it appears the results would be to the 2004 election in which two white males representing the mainstream politics of the two parties faced off, a mid-June Gallup Poll report found.
Most notably, it appears Clinton would run no stronger among women than Kerry did in 2004--or, for that matter, than Al Gore did when running against Bush in 2000.
These numbers suggest a lesson Hollywood has already learned the hard way: that symbolism alone goes only so far in influencing public opinion.
Lurie, the creator and executive producer of Commander in Chief, is strikingly direct that from the first episode of the show he hoped Hollywood could be a lever for changing Washington.
Those of us who were intimately involved in the show did have the agenda of trying to get a woman in the White House, not necessarily Hillary Clinton but any woman, he says. What we liked was that the audience kept hearing the term Madame President. But not that many people heard the term, especially once it left the air after 19 episodes.
Six in 10 white viewers of Commander in Chief were women for the season from September 2005 to August 2006, according to Nielsen data. Yet the Fox competitor in the same time slot, House, the story of an anti-social maverick male doctor, earned 1.6 million more white female viewers. More black and Hispanic women also watched House.
Courics experience is similar. From Aug. 28, 2006, shortly before Courics debut, to June 10, 2007, both NBC and ABC, under male anchors, had more female viewers, white women especially, Nielsen found.
Like both shows, Clinton has tailored her campaign style in a variety of explicit and subtle ways to draw women. She announced her run for the presidency in a living room, asked voters to join her for a conversation, and offers herself as a mother with a Midwestern upbringing.
In a similar vein, Courics broadcast initially featured more conversational segments, and aimed to project her trademark big-sister warmth in the broadcasts concluding comments.
But Couric has not attracted more female viewers, regardless of race, compared with when Dan Rather anchored the CBS Evening News three years earlier. In fact, slightly fewer women view Couric than Rather. Although all networks are hemorrhaging viewers, CBS had hoped Couric could at least serve as a tourniquet for the loss of women.
Whether Couric or Clinton, what were talking about is casting, says Howard Suber, a professor emeritus of film at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Suber and Lurie say that Courics poor ratings at CBS may have less to do with her gender than Courics persona being rather soft, as Lurie puts it.
Lurie notes that he attempted the opposite strategy in Commander in Chief. And indeed, the show did achieve strong ratings early on.
What early success the show enjoyed, Lurie believes, was based in emphasizing the strength of its main character. Davis, as President Allen, immediately established her national security bona fides in the shows title and script. We were trying to eliminate the concerns about a female president right off the bat, Lurie recalls.
He surmises that, This is why Hillary Clinton talks a little tougher, a little more jingoism and a little more militarism than the other Democratic candidates. She must hype her rhetoric because shes a woman.
In the pilot episode of Commander in Chief, the first executive act of President Allen was to send special forces into Nigeria to free a persecuted woman from execution. But some felt these compensatory gestures felt forced and overdone.
So much of the show was about her being a female president, not about her being president, says Marita Sturken, a cultural studies professor at New York University. Commander in Chiefs failure to win more women than its lead competitor reflects an ambivalence toward gender among the audience in a show that was consumed with gender, Sturken adds.
The show may have had other problems sustaining audience beyond gender politics. Davis never conveyed the gravitas of actresses such as Meryl Streep or Glenn Close, who once played a vice president.
To Clintons benefit, her demeanor may be closer in character to Close than Davis. Clinton will get another marker for comparison next fall, when actress Cherry Jones joins Fox drama 24 as its next president of the United States, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
UCLAs Suber predicts that Clintons success or failure, like that of Couric and Davis, will ultimately hinge less on gender identity than other factors, tangible and more ephemeral, that influence whether voters believe Clinton fits the part.
Its not that different from the discussion producers have when they are talking about casting actors, Suber says. Who is believable in a role? Well, what have they done? is always the first question. Everybody typecasts.
Whenever hillary is on the tv, I prefer a poor signal over HD.
What kind of man would vote for Hillary Clinton?
giggle and what kind of woman too.
“What early success the show enjoyed, Lurie believes, was based in emphasizing the strength of its main character. Davis, as President Allen, immediately established her national security bona fides in the shows title and script. We were trying to eliminate the concerns about a female president right off the bat, Lurie recalls.”
In my universe, a fictional female president of a television show doesn’t convince me that a female president is just okey-dokey (as the Hildabeast is known to say).
All of them are nuts. Flipping nuts!
Ugh—Rush talking now about the next season of 24...a woman president! Is this a network setup for Herself? Rush asks—will this president show cleavage?
I think the answer is that women either adore her or hate her and she them. Also look at how she treats her enemies - this is how she will treat men and anyone who crosses her.
A pussy, that’s who.
How much of the viewship was by right wingers looking for a reason to be pissed off at that little "love letter to Hillary"? (Raising first hand in the crowd. I watched two shows and wrote if off as pro-Hillary propaganda).
It’s not if a woman can become President, it’s which woman.”
If we could find somebody like Margaret Thatcher, it would be a good thing.
Whenever hillary is on the tv, I prefer a poor signal over HD.
Hmmm... Even HD couldn’t make her BEAUTIFUL!
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus
I still got one of those paper grocery sacks lying around... that could help~~!
IMO, it boils down to whether Hillary the female is more important to the voting public than Hillary the Harridan, the anti-Semite, the cop-hater, the Black Helicopter neophyte and wife of the perpetrator of Waco, who did nothing in the face of numerous terrorist attacks.
what a bunch of morons...the shows failed and CBS news is failing because of the characters. Commander in Chief wasn’t believable and Couric should have stayed on morning tv. If they had run with a Condaleeza Rice type commander in Chief....I think the public would have bought into it. Hillary’s failure will have everything to do with Hillary...nothing else.
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