Is there some hard-fast rule or unheard-of decree which dictates that while it’s perfectly acceptable for female book characters to be frumpy or have a uni-brow or hips as wide as Texas, the same does not apply once that female book character jumps to the small screen? Do television producers honestly believe viewers (especially of the male persuasion) to be so shallow that they’d never watch a show where the lead female characters were anything but hot babes? Sadly, that seems to be the case.
Let’s examine the evidence, if you will. Some of the most memorable and popular male TV characters would never come close to being described as “beefcake material”. Take for instance Hugh Laurie, as Dr. Gregory House from the TV show House, the brilliant, albeit cynical narcissist who never met a razor he liked. Or how about Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo from the eponymous TV show, who looked like a bum off the streets with his frumpy raincoat, chomped-over cigar and clunker of a car constantly on the fritz. And who can forget the chubby, blue collar bigot, Archie Bunker from All in the Family or the infamous J.R. Ewing of Dallas fame and his creepy eyebrows that seemed to have lives all their own? Let’s face it. None of these guys would be considered in the least bit “hot” yet all of them go down in television history for having that special something that made them appealing to both men and women – enough so that viewers would tune in week after week just to watch them.
Alas, not so for women characters on TV, especially those who transitioned from the book pages to the small screen. Think of the bodacious Lynda Carter from the 70’s TV show Wonder Woman or the delectable Teri Hatcher from Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Would anyone have bothered watching Wonder Woman had Lynda Carter been a flat-chested, wide-hipped version of Fran Drescher, I wonder? And how about Michelle Maxwell from the TV show King & Maxwell? Rebecca Romijn looks like she stepped off the pages of Vogue – after sprinting her way across six city blocks in hot pursuit of an unsub before tackling the poor jerk to the ground. And let’s not forget everyone’s favorite crime-fighting duo of late, Rizzoli and Isles, characters adapted from the popular books by Tess Gerritsen. In Gerritsen’s books, Detective Jane Rizzoli has hair that’s often described as frizzy and she seems to favor wrinkled pantsuits more often than not. Flash forward to the small screen and you’ve got the beautiful willowy ex-model Angie Harmon playing her and the very pretty blonde Sasha Alexander playing the medical examiner, Dr. Maura Isles. In Gerritsen’s books, Maura Isles is a dark-haired, yet elegant no-nonsense dresser but on TV, the medical examiner regularly attends crime scenes wearing killer heels and the latest in designer duds. Are you freaking kidding me??
It seems to me that these female book characters are being made over to appeal to male viewers, no two ways about it. In other words, if the chick ain’t eye candy, she ain’t worth watching. Of course, I could be way off base here so comments from female viewers as well as any female coroners, female police detectives and women superheroes would be greatly appreciated!