Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Linda Bloodworth Thomason. This version has been corrected.
You might be forgiven for thinking that one of the untold costs of having what appears to be a cartoon monster in charge of a major broadcast network like CBS might be in untold stories. That in this position of power and influence, someone who would present a logic puzzle if you were trying to get him, a cabbage and a professional adult woman across a river (you would have to take the woman across first and leave him on the shore with the cabbage to prevent a Horrible Incident) might be bad for even more people than the women stuck in the same room with him.
Especially if you read Linda Bloodworth Thomason’s op-ed in the Hollywood Reporter, describing how Les Moonves, former chairman and chief executive of CBS Corp., found reasons to kill all of the “Designing Women” creator’s next shows, you might be forgiven for worrying that with such a person at the helm of a major network, America missed out on an astounding range of stories — “Fully Clothed Non-Dancing Women” and “Nancy Drew,” just two we’ve heard about.
Sure, it seemed that gradually everything Moonves touched became a TV series in which a man with a flashlight discovered exactly how a woman had been gruesomely murdered. Sure, with him in charge, the network that formerly housed “Murder, She Wrote” and “Murphy Brown” and even “Joan of Arcadia” became home to “Blue Bloods,” “Criminal Minds” and “CSI: Everywhere, At All Times.” Sure, as Bloodworth Thomason put it, Moonves “presided over a plethora of macho crime shows featuring a virtual genocide of dead naked hotties in morgue drawers, with sadistic female autopsy reports, ratcheted up each week (“Is that a missing breast implant, lieutenant?” “Yes sir, we also found playing cards in her uterus.”)”
But I am here to reassure you: We lost nothing. And you can take it from me, Nameless Nude Female Corpse Identified Only By Dental Records, just one of the many women whose stories CBS told in the Moonves years. Murphy Brown had a rich inner life, but so did I, for the seconds I was on screen. At least, the autopsy report was very detailed about what was found inside me, which is, I think, the same.
How can you worry that we might have missed out on nuanced female characters when the show explicitly told us that the kind of fracture to my skull was hairline and that I was a college co-ed identified only by dental records? You want detail? Just look at the description of the ligature marks left on me by this Monster, which were so detailed that they made the middle-aged leading man grit his teeth and say “the clock is ticking.” How much more female-driven do you WANT? My murder drives almost every episode of this show, except for a couple where a child gets kidnapped, just for variety. I also got to appear on a big board with pictures of half a dozen others like me!
Angela Lansbury, on “Murder, She Wrote,” solved murders. I did her one better: I got to be in one, on the receiving end. Which is, I think, the highest perfection a TV woman can hope to attain — no, I take it back. To be loved by a sitcom man, bear his children and then die.
And mine is just one of the rich array of female stories CBS told with such care. There was also the Woman Paralyzed With An IV Drip And Forced To Attend A Tea Party Dressed As A Living Doll, or, of course, Reveler In A Revealing Outfit Abducted From Mardi Gras. I am sure that, had we lived, we would have passed the Bechdel Test.
CBS’s prime-time lineup showcased all the things that a woman can hope to be: brunette and murdered, blonde and murdered, a murdered redhead, serially murdered, just regular murdered, kidnapped in a basement, kidnapped in a barn, kidnapped in a concrete bunker, thrown into the back of a van or wearing a full face of makeup in a fun morgue that looks like a restaurant (?!?!?). This, we can all agree, is a rich snapshot of the lives that women lead. Of course, women are not just naked, murder victims or naked murder victims. They are also Moms and Mothers (Yours, Met). They are the put-upon slim wives of large men in armchairs, the put-upon slim wives of men in plaid shirts, the put-upon girlfriends of funny men and brave men. They are the wife of a police officer, the daughter of a police officer or the granddaughter of a police officer. Some women are even Canadian.
CBS ran the gamut of all the myriad facets of womanhood — from blonde ladies who do not understand science, to a Mentalist’s Long-Suffering Friend, a Broke Girl, a Wife (Good), a Secretary (Madam) and another different Broke Girl. And also, Christine Baranski, Lucy Liu and, for a brief, shining moment, Julia Louis-Dreyfus were there. There is no rule without exceptions!
The point is, the storytelling never suffered. When I looked at CBS’s programming lineup, I had a wealth of options if I wanted to see someone who looked like me and faced struggles like mine — and then a wealth of options for seeing her get killed so that a middle-aged man with sunglasses could find her corpse and make a pun. Do not be sad that a Bette Midler-starring sitcom penned by the author of “Designing Women” never came to this network. Be relieved that so many other women got to be showcased every week and that we got to learn so much about precisely what objects were used to strangle them.