Tuesday, May 16, 2006

From McBeal to McDreamy

By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
I hope the N.S.A. isn't tapping my phone at The Times, or tracing my calls, or whatever it calls its maniacal military-industrial civil liberties transgressions.

I'm not worried that it'll overhear meaty — or fishy — exchanges with sources at the Bush White House. I don't have any sources at the Bush White House. If I'm talking container problems, it's ice cream, not ports. If I mention Scooter, I'm merely making plans for a Saturday Vespa picnic.

Alas, I fret that Gen. Michael Hayden and Crazy Dick Cheney will not hear anything to make all their illegal snooping and Caine Mutiny-style hunting for leakers worthwhile.

Just consider how my transcript from yesterday morning would read:

Me calling my colleague Julie: "Hey, the transmission went out on the TV at the hotel last night. Why on earth did Meredith sleep with Dr. McDreamy again?"

Julie hissed: "You witch! I was out and TiVo'd it. Now you ruined it!"

Just a couple of snarky, competitive, ambitious, complex, confused women obsessing about sex — exactly like the ones who have saved ABC after a decade in the gutter.

As the administration has gotten more hypermasculine and martial (when will Dick Cheney order us to change all our clocks to military time?) prime time is getting more feminine and seductive.

One gift W. reported this week was a chain saw from Robert Nardelli, Home Depot's chief executive. But far from W.'s Texas Chain Saw Massacre — a swaggering foreign policy built on blowing off most relationships — ABC was rescued by relationship shows with desperate housewives, hotblooded female hospital interns and down-on-their-luck people weeping over their lavishly remodeled homes.

"Grey's Anatomy" tops the girls' list, the successor to "Mary Tyler Moore," "Murphy Brown," "Ally McBeal" and "Sex and the City."

The series revolves around a young white woman at a Seattle hospital and is written by a young black woman in Los Angeles, Shonda Rhimes. She's the first African-American woman to be the creator and executive producer of a network series in Nielsen's Top 10 — a series she wrote with her adopted infant daughter, Harper, on her lap.

She resisted pressure to make the women nicer, she told Nikki Finke for Elle Magazine. And she told Time that she wanted to write about real women who are "a little snarky" and don't "exist purely in relation to the men in their lives." With the male characters, she followed Jane Austen's lead and conjured up her fantasy men.

Susan Lyne, the former president of ABC Entertainment who advanced "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives," explained to my colleague Bill Carter for his book "Desperate Networks" that women had been shortchanged by an overdose of "C.S.I." cop shows and wanted more relationship shows with lots of hot horizontal action — shows, Ms. Lyne said, that "women love to talk to their girlfriends about the next day."

Predictably, Ms. Lyne lost her job even before "Grey's Anatomy" went on the air — a victim of backstabbing by male colleagues.

Yesterday, at a preview for advertisers and reporters, the man who replaced her, Stephen McPherson, bragged that his network is now the leader among women 18 to 34.

At its Lincoln Center presentation, ABC, owned by Disney, could not put up enough video of Meredith Grey and Dr. McDreamy staring lustfully at each other or of Dr. McDreamy in a shower with other cute male doctors. (What would Walt think?) It paraded a Chippendales chorus line of tuxedoed leading men, from Patrick Dempsey to the burly heartthrob of "Lost," Jorge Garcia. In a tribute to "Dancing With the Stars," a show women love, Mr. McPherson did a sinuous cha-cha.

He also unleashed a slate of gooey girls' fare, including one whole night of reality shows like "Wife Swap" and "Supernanny." Chick-coms include "Big Day," a comedy that looks like "24" crossed with "Meet the Parents"; "Notes From the Underbelly," about a young married woman's trauma over getting pregnant; "Betty the Ugly," about a young woman with braces, glasses and a unibrow who works at a high-fashion magazine full of mean girls; and "Six Degrees," a soapy show about six attractive strangers who seem destined to become "Friends" with privileges.

Ally McBeal herself is back in a drama, "Brothers and Sisters." Calista Flockhart plays a political commentator whose views are diametrically different than those of her brothers and sister, provoking clashes at family dinners.

Wait a minute! That sounds like my life. I want residuals.

Photo credit: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

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