Not so very long ago, the classified ads for employment were broken into categories by gender. Much has changed since then, with women finding themselves in positions where they can have leadership roles ranging from CEOs of businesses to Heads of State. With the role of a leader comes power and influence, and with power comes responsibility. In some instances, however, the notion of responsibility has been lost along the way.
The BravoTV network now has, to its’ credit, two women in very senior executive roles. Both of them are smart, savvy, well educated and have had incredibly successful careers. The Chairman of NBC Universal Entertainment & Digital Networks & Integrated Media – now that’s a title one might find tough to put on a business card – is Lauren Zalaznick. Her second in command is Frances Berwick, President of Bravo & Style Media.
Ms. Berwick has a Master’s degree from Edinburgh University and, before settling in at Bravo, 15 years ago, she worked in varying positions in British media. Ms. Zalaznick has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, majoring in English Literature and pre-Med. Prior to her work with BravoTV, she truly bounced around the entertainment industry – cutting her teeth as an actress, movie producer and a member of the production team at VH-1.
I can only imagine how difficult it was for both of these women to climb to such heights in an industry which has seen very few female executives. What they have done since arriving at the top is what bothers me. They had an opportunity and simply squandered it.
Bravo, as a network, began in 1980 as a place where viewers could find programming that offered performing arts as well as international, classic and independent films. Admittedly, these programs were not ratings’ grabbers, and ratings mean advertising, and advertising means money. The network had more than its share of stops and starts until new blood was brought in to change its entire point of view. In 2003, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” aired, and Bravo had a new following and a new direction.
Soon it was followed by “Project Runway”, “Top Chef” and the phenomenon of the “Real Housewives” franchise. Starting in Orange County, California, then branching out to New Jersey, New York City, Atlanta, Beverly Hills, Washington, D.C. and Miami, viewers anticipated that they were about to peer into the lives of wealthy, sophisticated, well connected and stylish women. It sounded, on its face, like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” had met the Loud family from the 1973 documentary “An American Family”. Now we know that this isn’t the case at all.
What has actually been served up to us is a very unnerving bunch of women who have no limits as to their boorish behaviors. They throw things – from drinks to tables to Andy Cohen – they pull hair, curse, lie, steal, commit fraud and generally just gang up on each other in their quest to have the most camera time. It doesn’t matter if you are friends, family members or mere acquaintances. No one and nothing is off limits. They are like tornadoes with their paths of destruction, willing to humiliate themselves and others. Basically, they come across as “Jersey Shore” with better shoes, Botox and breast implants.
Andy Cohen, the Senior Vice President for Original Programming & Development for Bravo, has taken a lot of heat from viewers and bloggers for his part in all of this. I think Mr. Cohen is not all that relevant. He is the public persona, the front man, even the court jester if you will. He seems to both despise and fear the women of the Housewives’ shows. He is, however, doing the job he has been told to do.
The bottom line, and that is all that matters here, both figuratively and literally, is that two women are running this circus. They have produced record setting profits for NBC, GE and Bravo in particular. That is the most important thing for any company, and it is why these two female execs have been promoted to their prominence. They also accomplished this, in no small part, by portraying women as fools and adolescents while encouraging and rewarding aberrant behavior.
This is why I think about how they, and others, have missed their responsibilities and abilities to influence. I wanted to believe that women at the top would understand that they had the responsibility to show other women in a favorable light and the power to influence those portrayals. Just how much do you have to sell of yourself to get the title and the corner office? We expected to see a little more “champagne wishes and caviar dreams”. What we got was schoolyard bullies in Mahnolos and Louboutins.