‘Nashville’ And Taking Women’s Television Seriously

I’ve turned into a total and utter Nashville junkie—fights about economic development and race and politics interspersed with singing is my version of network television Nirvana—so I was excited to read Willa Paskin’s interview with the show’s creator, Callie Khouri. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in their conversation, but I wanted to pull out this excerpt, which I found striking:

People who make TV also seem much more comfortable making shows for women than people making movies do.

Because you’re allowed. You’re allowed to make things for women on television and there’s not like … you don’t have to go through the humiliation of having made something directed at women. There it’s just accepted, whereas if it’s a feature, it’s like “So, talk to me about chick flicks.” It’s like … I don’t think you want to hear my opinion about this.

I want to hear your opinion! Even though it’s probably not very nice.

No, it’s not. I just think it’s insulting that if there is something with women in it, it’s relegated to this kind of trash heap. It doesn’t matter what it is, how good it is, if there is emotion in it, it’s immediately going to be talked down to. And I’m obviously irritated by that. Probably all women are. Certainly a lot of women filmmakers are.

I think there’s an extent to which this is true. But there’s also a certain overlap between programming aimed at women and shows that are considered “soapy” and melodramatic, two tones and methods of storytelling that I think tend to be considered less serious. That’s not to be said that soapiness can’t be done badly: putting children in danger, having plots gyrate wildly, and throwing new elements into the mix to generate emotion that a show isn’t earning are bad things that can be done by masculine-coded shows like Sons of Anarchy, too. But I don’t think, for example, that realism is inherently a better tone than well-executed archness or camp, and I’m not entirely sure that’s something that’s reflected in our consensus of what makes for great television.

But I do think in our past decade of television, violence gets more credence than romance (which is part of what makes Homeland‘s mix of the two so fascinating), business and war get taken more seriously than personal revelation. Nashville, I think, works in part because Khouri and her colleagues are using business and politics as tools to put pressure on deeply felt romantic relationships: they’ve added forces that lend a sense of scale to love. I do agree that it’s progress that you don’t have to humiliate a woman on television in order to let her win, and that women, like the awesome leads of Happy Endings, can be delightfully weird without being defeated or in need of reform. But I don’t think that means we’ve entirely won. When we’re at a point where sentiment is as prized as hardness and purely domestic stories are taken as seriously as explorations of public lives (not to mention better roles for women of color and women with bodies that deviate beyond the mean), then I think women’s television will be in a place both with its audience and in terms of critical acclaim that would make me happy.