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While women make up a majority of the audience for most broadcast television programs, premium cable has tended to be more of a boys’ club. Among 14 of the top current scripted series on HBO and Showtime, only three—True Blood, Nurse Jackie and Girls— had a higher rating among women than men for their most recent season premieres.
That may begin to change, however, as cable networks look for the next creative jump-start, and its appeal to women viewers. It’s been 14 years since Tony Soprano first graced the screen, and some wonder if the antihero is passing the peak of its life cycle.
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said female appeal was one reason for picking up the network’s newest drama, The White Queen, based on Philippa Gregory’s book about England’s War of the Roses. “The quality was there, and it also moved me and us further down a path that I have been thinking of, which is that women are underserved in the premium space,” Albrecht said at the recent Television Critics Association summer press tour. “While certainly we want shows that have broad appeal, I do think that we are now more sensitive to saying there may be an opportunity here for us, and White Queen fit into that.”
With a story line of a woman laying claim to the throne and a heavy romantic theme, Starz tailored its media plan to target female-skewing media with buys on Bravo, The Bachelorette finale and in celebrity publications such as People, and created the tagline “Men Go to Battle. Women Wage War” to play up the female power balance. “From a creative positioning standpoint, we really wanted to highlight that—it’s something that universally appeals to women,” said Nancy McGee, Starz executive VP of marketing. Notably, the series’ premiere episode drew a 60% female audience, the most female-skewing series ever for the network.
HBO, which aired the seminal female series Sex and the City, says its more male-skewing current fare is simply a result of what creators have pitched , and that it is conscious of improving the balance. “I look at not only the universe, but our network, and go, ‘Why are we not telling more stories about adult women?’ And one answer is they haven’t come to the door. But we’re very aware of it,” Michael Lombardo, president of HBO programming, said at TCA. “And actually, to the extent we reach out, yeah, we’re looking. And we’ve let people and agents know that that’s an area we’re really interested in.”
Along with White Queen, there are other female-friendly projects in the premium cable pipeline. In September, Showtime will debut new drama Masters of Sex, about scientists Masters and Johnson, which Showtime entertainment president David Nevins expects “probably has a slightly female tilt.” In 2014, Starz will launch Outlander, about a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously sent back in time to 1743 and forced to marry a young Scottish warrior. The net is also in development on a ballet drama from Lawrence Bender about a dancer with a troubled past. HBO has ordered the comedy Togetherness, about two couples living under the same roof. And Showtime greenlit a pilot for The Affair, about the effect of an affair on two marriages as told from both the male and female perspectives.
The trend is also popping up on the slates of premium cable’s competitors: Netflix’s latest original series is the female ensemble dramedy Orange Is the New Black. Even the basic cable network FX seems to be taking note: While it built its brand on testosterone-fueled dramas such as The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, FX’s two launches this year have been dual-lead dramas— The Americans and The Bridge.
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