Maybe you gave up during the soap opera about the stain on the dress of that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. Maybe you held out until the redhead of the Gray Lady published Are Men Necessary? and tittered in an interview with Ariel Levy that she suffers from a “fear of castrating.” But whatever the case, if you’re anything like me, you have long since quit reading Maureen Dowd. Indeed, plucking the paper from the doorstep on Wednesdays and Sundays, some of us keenly savor another opportunity to actively not read her column, with its signature spangled cynicism and cutting-edge approach to coherent thought.
But every now and then, a day rolls around when you can’t resist not not reading her, and yesterday was one of those. Headline: “Corsets, Cleavage, Fishnets.” Dateline: Hollywood. Peg: Fall TV. La Dowd here dwelt upon the babe fantasies being unveiled this week in Manhattan at the upfronts, the annual orgy of salesmanship and shellfish where the broadcast networks announce to advertisers their plans for the coming season. Hedging like a certified master gardener, she noted that the networks will be debuting a striking number of programs “by and about strong modern women.” Then sniffed at the Zeitgeist, proving all the more baffling for being almost onto something in discussing upcoming jigglefests such as ABC’s Charlie Angels remake and NBC’s The Playboy Club. “Hollywood,” Dowd wrote, “is a world ruled by men, and this season, amid economic anxieties, those men want to indulge in some retro fantasies about hot, subservient babes.”
Hmm. Huh. Interesting. Manning the red carpet today at the 2011/12 NBC Primetime Preview—held on the third floor of the Hilton New York, one floor up from a Yoga Journal conference—I read that quote to Amber Heard. Ms. Heard stars as the fluffiest bunny on The Playboy Club, which isa drama being sold as “sophisticated soap” set in early-’60s Chicago, an off-the-rack Mad Men with a cottontail. She found Dowd’s reasoning rather confused. “What’s the problem with being sexy?” she asked, perhaps unconsciously echoing Nigel Tufnel.
“Why is it subservient?” she continued. Amber is clearly a New Style Girl, post-feminist. She called out Gloria Steinem by name. Then she continued talking about Pilates and such with a reporter from Life & Style: “There’s nothing like a corset-waist cincher to make you want to diet!” The featured clips of The Playboy Club were too slight to indicate the quality of her work on the series, but I will observe that in The Informers, an adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis book, she demonstrates memorable talents for drugged-out writhing, zombielike prissing, and topless sunbathing in a spirit of apocalyptic anomie.
Dowd quotes an unnamed male TV producer coining a theory—”The Hendricks Syndrome”—to explain the new school of tele-va-va-voom: “All the big, corporate men saw Christina Hendricks play the bombshell secretary on Mad Men and fell in love. It’s a hot fudge sundae for men: a time when women were not allowed to get uppity or make demands.” Huh. Hmm. This is problematic, partly in its weird imputation of patriarchal longings, mostly because it sets a very high bar. It has been this reporter’s privilege, over the years, to have cast a close-range male gaze at the live flesh of numerous hot actresses. Mine eyes have seen the areolae of Paz de la Huerta, etc., etc. But a recent chance glimpse of Ms. Hendricks absently fiddling with the zipper of her cardigan confirmed that hers is a hotness apart. (Ms. Heard, by contrast, is merely very appealing, the second most maddening woman on NBC’s red carpet, a length and half behind Rashida Jones.) In any case, it is far from certain that a patriarchal longing to oppress someone who meets Hendricks’ physical description has anything to do with the matter in question.
But Heard is plenty hot enough to be the face and figure of the new NBC. The fourth-place network has been acquired by Comcast, also known as Kabletown in the self-parodic backstage universe of 30 Rock. With former programming exec Jeff Zucker having completed the job of driving the network into the ground and gone on to new challenges, the new main man at NBC Entertainment is Bob Greenblatt, who comes to the Peacock from Showtime, where his title was either President of Entertainment or EVP of T&A. He showed promising clips from Smash (a Spielberg-produced musical about a musical). He showcased a lustrously tough Maria Bello in clips from her Prime Suspect remake. The most important thing Greenblatt had to say about The Playboy Club was also the most obvious: It offers “cross-promotional opportunities with one of the biggest brands in the world.” I like that he didn’t promise that the show would be any good. Not important. What matters is that the kind of guy who works in ad buying is the kind of guy who’ll be into this show and that the lean and hungry Amber Heard was diligent about pressing the flesh at the afterparty.
And Greenblatt did not, by the way, pick up David E. Kelley’s heavily derided Wonder Woman. Dowd supposes that the series was too “embarrassingly breast-centric” to make it to air, as if American television had suddenly become shy about the crassitude that is its lifeblood.