Thoughtful Progressions & Making Comedy: The Fox Television TCA Winter 2011 Women’s Panel – Feature

The notion of the strong female structures greatly into the notion of the basis of new drama and comedic foils. While Courtney Cox progresses the comedy in dexterous areas on “Cougar Town”, Fox Television’s progression across multiple shows from “Modern Family” to “How I Met You Mother and even to “Glee” show the increasing possibilities.

The women of “Modern Family” in the guise of Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara first bring the structure to bear. Bowen indicates that the new trend of funny women exemplifies “the expectation that women can be attractive as well as funny”. She jokes that the progressive thought of males is to look at female and think “I’ve hit that!”. She thinks that all the Fox shows have been on this journey though she points out that Jane Lynch of “Glee” is a “fart fest”. She explains that “I have played the girlfriend role for years” and “the finger shaker” but admits in jest “that it is a relief to play a woman that you would like to do other than bang” which is “something very few women do” because “it is a scary river to cross”. Each year of a hit show is maintaining and evolving the alchemy. She explains that “funny is about finding a match” which “doesn’t go out of style” but indicates that “Modern Family” works “because of a format”. She dissects that “at the table reads, we play it as a multi-cam” but that “the writing is 99% and then the actors”.

Vergara, who plays Sophia, says that “some women find something in Ed [O’Neill]” who plays her older husband in “Modern Family”. She ruminates that she “never thought that I would be with an older guy” but “I can see it now”. The key for her is that “for a woman to be funny, you have to forget about being sexy”. She says “for me, they have no choice” and that is why “it is perfect for me”.

Changing the structure to “Glee” which again straddles the ideal like “Family” between humor and drama, two characters could not be more different than Lea Michele’s hopeful Rachel and Jane Lynch’s cunning Sue Sylvester. Michele speaks about her start on Broadway with “Spring Awakening” and that it was “coming off with blood, sweat and tears” though she wanted to just be “fun and outgoing” though she describes herself then as a “spastic kid”. What she truly loves about Rachel is that “she is innocent and young”. She idolized Gilda Radner “because I thought nobody on television looked like me and was gawky”. Every episode for her is “like doing one whole Broadway show” and always “requires going into the recording studio”. Alluding to their shooting schedule, she sums up the current episode they are filming now saying “on Fraterday, I was on a football field in Long Beach looking like Bette Midler in ‘Hocus Pocus’ singing ‘Thriller'”.

Lynch, using her trademark style, brings it back down to Earth stating “I was never seen as the girlfriend on anybody” adding that “I originally did roles that were written for men”. She cites Carol Burnett as her beacon, especially in her era, because as a performer Burnett was “unique”, “wacky” and “wasn’t the girlfriend type”. She concedes that she just did an episode for “Two & Half Men” three weeks prior. As to the celebrity quotient for “Glee”, Lynch declares “I remember ‘Friends’ at its peak when people were trying to do it” but adds “it had to reinvent itself” alluding to popularity as “a numbers game” and “chemical romance”.

Alyson Hannigan, initially known for her roles in the “American Pie” movies who has now graduated as part of the highly praised ensemble cast on “How I Met Your Mother”, speaks to the female point-of-view saying “out of 17 writers we have at least 7 female writers, and each year we get new women”. She cites Carol Burnett also as a big inspiration adding that, as a kid,”if I could make my mom laugh, I wouldn’t get in trouble”. The key with a unstable economy is “with everybody struggling, you just want to escape” continuing “I just don’t to sit down and watch another depressing procedural” because “it is like watching the news”. “Mother”, in many ways, is a “different animal” for her as a sitcom “since we don’t do it in front of a studio studio” so “we don’t know if it helps or hurts”. She does explain that “with single camera you can do much less”.

Martha Plimpton, formerly known for her more dramatic film roles, plays to her comedy sensibilities as Virginia in “Raising Hope”. She examines the changing gender roles beginning with the fact that “the traditional thing is that the guy is the star of the show from Jackie Gleason on with Audrey as his foil”. In simpler terms, she says “the woman is there to make a guy look like an ass”. She comments that “Roseanne changed that for a time” but highlights that “when a woman gets to take part in the comedy, it changes as she becomes part of the asanine storyline”. Using her character on “Hope” as an example, “she was a mother at 15” and “she was not expecting it” though she “would have objections if they gave me a cane”. Plimpton likes it because now she is part of fun adding “I don’t have to have my arms crossed saying ‘You boys!'” For her, the world is a “funny place” where “we can talk about it [here] but it won’t be that funny of a conversation”. For her, it is all about “who is the character?” which she equates to the fact that “she is smart but is not in on it because she has other things to” and “she has to pee alot”.