I would not have believed this would be possible in 2007, and yet, here it is.
CBS is bringing to your television, this fall, a series so full of stereotypes, so dazzingly stupid, so ridiculously puerile, that it must surely offend the sensibilities of everyone in science.
I am talking about "The Big Bang Theory".
Dubious thanks to alert reader Maggie W. for letting me know about this. My life would have been happier had I been in blissful ignorance, but alas, it is my mournful duty to skewer the moronocity of things of this ilk.
Here is a quote from the show's web site:
"The Big Bang Theory" is a comedy from the Emmy Award nominated Co-Creator and Executive Producer of "Two and a Half Men" Chuck Lorre, about brainy best friends Leonard...and Sheldon..., who can tell you anything you want to know about quantum physics, but when it comes to dealing with everyday life here on earth they're lost in the cosmos. Neither fully understands that scientific principles don't always apply in matters of the heart - until they meet their sexy new neighbor Penny...on "The Big Bang Theory." Penny is a friendly screenwriter/waitress from the midwest who also happens to be newly single. She quickly makes an impression on the other members of Leonard and Sheldon's geek squad on "The Big Bang Theory:" Howard Wolowitz..., who portrays himself as the Casanova of Cal Tech, and fellow whiz kid Rajesh Koothrappali..., who is rendered speechless around anyone unprepared to converse about the Theory of Relativity or other scientific jargon.
The chemistry between this gaggle of geniuses and a delightful damsel is about to undergo a stimulating series of inter-personal experiments on "The Big Bang Theory."
Pardon me for just a moment while I hork up my lunch.
Just how many stereotypes did we pack into that description there? Brainy geeks - of course, they must be physicists - who cannot function well in real life. Sexy blond - of course, she has to be a blond - who knows nothing about science. Uber-bright dude from India who can only speak in scientific jargon. The title alone is such lame-ass fifth grade humor I could weep. Hah hah hah, "big bang", get it? Big bang, like the theory, and like, you know, "bang" a chick? Get it? Nudge, nudge, wink wink, say no more! Know what I mean?
Oh, just imagine the comic situations this gaggle of geniuses will get into as they encounter a FEMALE! A good-looking female! A BLOND good-looking female! Because we all know that scientific geek geniuses, who are men, just do not know how to talk to purty gurls.
And that floozy Penny is "newly single". You know what that means, don't you? Rebound sex! Woo-hoo! "The Big Bang Theory" fits into the typical sitcom format, which is that a totally hot woman must be paired with a singularly unattractive man. Usually, the man is overweight - Drew Carey, Jim Belushi, or the guy who plays that faux UPS-man on the show whose name I can't think of. This is just a new form of unattractiveness: scientific expertise as an impediment to sexiness. Over on Grey's Anatomy, the surgeons can be as competent as they wanna be and still get it on in the on call room. But a top-notch physicist; nosiree, he doesn't know how to tie his own shoes. Especially if he's from India. No sex at the linear accelerator! And please, don't even get me started on the theorists; definitely no sex for the paper-and-pencil guys.
You know, some kind soul ought to tell those screenwriters that the theory of relativity is soooo twentieth century. Surely they could at least have our bumbling sexless geeks babbling about string theory, for pete's sake. Well, we should count our blessings, I suppose. At least they don't have a young earth creationist in there as a poseur. The Discovery Institute's reach has gotten quite that long yet, Mel Gibson be damned. And I say, yes, Mel Gibson be damned. (But I digress.)
This is CBS's one lone new comedy for the fall lineup. About the lineup, they had this to say:
"We approached our development this year with a specific goal in mind - to be daring and different," said Nina Tassler, President, CBS Entertainment. "The Fall and mid-season series we have selected offer creativity and variety with great potential to excite and surprise television audiences everywhere."
Daring and different. Yes, I am so sure I will be excited and surprised by "The Big Bang Theory". Not. I pray for a swift and sudden death, maybe after two episodes.
You may not be surprised to learn that "The Big Bang Theory" is being brought to you by Chuck Lorre, one of the bright minds who gave us "Two and a Half Men", which is itself a giant evolutionary step backwards for women on t.v., with its relentless parade of Charlie's bimbos and the training of Jake to grow up to be a nice little misogynist just like Uncle Charlie. Hey! Maybe Jake can go to Cal Tech someday and hang out with the guys on The Big Bang Theory!
For years I have wished that scientists would get their day in the sun on prime time, along with the lawyers and the doctors and even the sexy forensic pathologists. And now we're there, but just as a laughingstock, not sexy at all, not anybody's role model. What boy wants to grow up to be the nerdy man who doesn't know how to talk to the sexy girl, the nerdy man who hangs out with the inarticulate geek from India? Aren't we patriotic/xenophobic Americans supposed to be against immigration anyway?
And if you are a girl...well, forget it. You don't get to grow up to be anything at all on this show, except sexy bimbo. And you've already seen that role on a thousand other t.v. shows; nothing new here for you. Why bother watching? Oh, I guess maybe there's a marginal improvement. Instead of being sexy and in a relationship with a fat idiot like in "According to Jim", you can be sexy and in a relationship with a genius nerd.
Now that's progress! Wow! Who knew the 21st century would hold so many opportunities for women in science??????
If you, like me, think "The Big Bang Theory" is a travesty for all scientists everywhere, go to the show's forum and leave a snide comment.
and, it seems that only the male genius nerds can have sex with hot people....
Of course, those writing the shows are at the level of most of the audience and play to common ideas about scientists. Even Charlie Eps on Numbers is unable to manage daily life because his head is in the clouds... although, on that show his very attractive colleague is female, so attractive women can do math and not physics.
Thanks for the heads-up, Zuska... ugh, what an insult. I don't suppose that enough negative comments will inspire them to stop pumping out this garbage? One can only hope.
What'd you expect after "Beauty & the Geek"?
Hmm, so the hapless geeks are saved by a wordly screenwriter? Guess who was eyeing up the observatory jealously from the liberal arts building... ;)
Oh, thanks for reminding me of Beauty & the Geek...I had meant to make reference to this in my post. I did write a bit about that show in my essay for the "She's Such a Geek!" book. That was another travesty, but it was in the "reality show" genre. The prime time sitcoms and dramas help young kids form opinions, rightly or wrongly, about how cool various professions are. We all know that lawyers and doctors do not all look like models and have sex all the time...but oh, what their tv image as such does for the popularity of those professions! If only we could get a little equal time for the geek squad...
Maybe you should give it a shot before writing it off. You've read a description and possibly seen a 3 minute clip. There's nothing there that says anyone is going to "bang" the hot girl. There's nothing that says the girl is a floozy - she actually seems sweet. I don't see why you're so full of hate it sounds to me like these guys meet a girl who is unlike anyone they've met before. You're drawing too many conclusions. Your reaction is pathetic. And that suggests that you need help. A lot of help.
"'The Big Bang Theory' fits into the typical sitcom format, which is that a totally hot woman must be paired with a singularly unattractive man. Usually, the man is overweight - Drew Carey, Jim Belushi, or the guy who plays that faux UPS-man on the show whose name I can't think of."
And I thought I was the only one who couldn't stand this! Just once, I'd like to see an overweight, marginally attractive woman paired up with a hot guy. I think the show you're thinking of is King of Queens, which is such an abysmal example of the attractive woman + ugly man phenomenon that I refuse to watch it (well, it doesn't help that the show isn't funny, or that I don't own a television).
I've given a lot of thought about responding an entry posted on your blog about our show "The Big Bang Theory."
I understand that a great deal of your reaction is based on publicity materials and news accounts that overly reduce our show to a few sentences, and friends tell me that no good can come of responding emotionally to what you've written, but I feel compelled anyway.
My thesis statement is this: Would you consider withholding your judgment and calls for angry internet postings until you've seen the show?
"The Big Bang Theory" has been a labor of love for us. The characters in it are based closely on dear, dear friends of mine as well as our fascination with the beautiful minds of people like Richard Feynman. The social awkwardness is autobiographical. We do not mock these people, we celebrate them.
I know the media and the people behind it seem like some sort of vast, faceless monstrosity, but we are just people who work hard and try our best at what we do. I've spent the last two years struggling to bring this show to life. I'm sure you've made similar journeys in your own life and work and you would want your efforts to be judged similarly.
I thought the girl was a screenwriter, not 'nothing'?
Come on man, complaining about stereotypes in sitcoms is like complaining about too much sex in porn. Sitcoms are all about stereotypes! That's where all the gags come from.
To be honest, if the brightest young minds of the younger generations are going to be looking to television for their role models, I think we have a much bigger problem on our hands than just stereotypes.
I wonder how many physicists Bill has met? Speaking as one of them, not only a woman but a fairly good-looking one as well, I can find nothing but offense in the premise of this show. The VAST majority of physicists that I know are fun, socially adjusted, outgoing people who are very capable attracting and interacting with the opposite sex. I should know - I've dated several of them. Including a guy from India. There are so few shows on the networks that portray intelligent people with intellectual ambitions in a good light. Pretty much none for physicists. I'm not planning on watching it - partially for those reasons, but also because I don't imagine you'll get much of the physics correct, and that bugs the hell out of me.
Bill, the point of publicity material is to generate interest.
Interest has certainly been generated. Too bad it's negative interest...
(By the way, although I note Zuska also made this mistake, it's Caltech. One word. Or at least it was when I went there, and I doubt the preferred spelling has changed in the years since.)
And it probably bugs the hell out of Bill when physicists commenting on television shows they haven't even seen get much of it incorrect.
Where are you guys when Jocks, Cheerleaders, Blacks, Kids, Fathers, Mothers, Sisters etc etc are being stereotyped on sitcoms - like they freaking well have been since sitcoms appeared?
Answer? Laughing your asses off in front of the television.
To Bill Prady and other folks at CBS:
If you're a scientist or engineer, you've gone to school, lived, and worked with some of the most stimulating and interesting people on earth. While a few might be considered quirky or shy, others are extroverted, and many have exceptionally broad interests. Go into any dorm at MIT and I promise that you'll not only meet budding physicists and molecular biologists and aerospace engineers, but will find that among them will be violinists, poets, actors, painters, cooks, athletes, entrepreneurs, community volunteers, and at least one kick-ass bass player. And they manage their own love lives in the same ways, for better or worse, as do students and other young people everywhere.
Why on earth would someone who enjoys the company of real scientists and engineers want to watch a TV show that portrays young male scientists as emotionally and sexually stunted losers?
If anyone is interested in an academic look at how scientists have been historically portrayed in film, I recommend you go and find "From Faust to Strangelove" by Rosslyn Haynes. She's the authority on the subject.
I was always frustrated with how paleontology was depicted on "Friends" (Ross was a paleontologist). The writing staff never seemed to look any further that a high school science textbook.
On "Big Bang" we had the head of the physics department at a major southern California university check everything from the dialogue to the work seen on the white boards. In fact, as one of our characters is a theoretical physicist, our consultant is going to give him a particular problem he's working on on his boards and progress the problem through the 22 episodes.
Bill: I'm glad you want to defend your show to a point. It is fair to ask that people watch the show before truly putting it down. And some of those construction ideas sound pretty good (the board problem, for example, is conceptually a fantastic idea and way to throw the physicists in the crowd a reference they'll get.)
However, step back from the personal show defense a moment, and look at the ad copy. Because the ad copy is defining the show for you. And defining it to everyone who might want to watch. The ad copy isn't mentioning the neat throws to the real physicists. It's going through a standard 'Oh, look at this, it's gonna be wacky! Laugh at these people!' construction.
They're advertising what you call a labor of love to the science community using every single bad trope about scientists in popular culture as the basis for the characters, and throwing in some women tropes for good measure. Even if you manage to put together a perfect show, even if your characters are deeper than they describe, even if they go through heartwarming and truly real experiences, your ad copy's already defined it for you, and defined the kind of watchers you're going to get and are drawing. "Neither fully understands that scientific principles don't always apply in matters of the heart - until they meet their sexy new neighbor Penny." What's the audience of this described show? On consideration?
People who want to laugh at geeks, not with them. People who want to go, 'See? Look at all them smart people, but they ain't got no street smarts. They're really so dumb, and eggheadlike.' Zuska's point about making 'being a geek' a substitute for 'fat' or 'rude' in the standard sitcom setup is also a valid one that is worth analyzing.
The fact that the characters fit in a greater societal context where that is the negative stereotype of scientists is not something you can afford to ignore, especially if you want to draw _in_ a diverse science community to identify with your show. I am sure some people will identify. After all, there are all kinds of scientists, and some of them certainly do have trouble with women. But many will not.
The group doesn't have a female scientist. The group doesn't have, described, a socially functional scientist (the 'cassanova', I imagine, has some fairly clear hangups about women that will be evident.) The show, as of yet, has only one 'non-scientist', and it's the romantic female role. (Why not a female scientist who is interesting?) Does that not seem like it might be a bit frustrating? One show out there about scientists... and it happens to use all the bad tropes in its ad copy, and (at least on the face, assuming non-lying ad copy) in its construction?
Maybe the show will work. Maybe it really is good. But the ad copy is not sending the messages you want to send. And if that's a problem, it's not Zuska's problem, or my problem. It's the network's problem, your coworkers problem, your problem.
I don't think I can judge the show yet, personally, and I won't. But I can sure as heck judge how the show is trying to sell itself, and how such details fit in a societal context, and analyze how frustrating and annoying that can be. And if that bothers you as much as it bothers us... well. You're the one with the power here, to a point, aren't you?
"... the Casanova of Cal Tech..."
The show, as described, is offensive. But, as a protege of Richard Feynman, I suspect he'd resent NOT being considered the Casanova of Cal Tech.
NUMB3RS is actually set at Caltech, partly filmed at Caltech, has Caltech's Prof. Gary Lorden as Math Advisor, and DOES do a much better job of representing academics and women. The department chair is a complex woman. The writers meant Caltech, Caltech IP attorneys agreed, but at the last minute CBS-TV changed it to "Cal-Sci." But it is supposed to be Caltech, and the whole campus community knows that. By the way, Gary Lorden was an undergrad at Caltech first, class of '62, same class as Kip Thorne.
"Real Genius" was shot at Caltech, but much worse in portrayal of women -- i.e. as sex objects.
I've been in this business for twenty-three years and not once have I ever seen a show creator/show runner be able to change the promotion/advertising for a show.
There are additional scientist and non-scientist characters (including female scientists). We won't meet them all right away, but they're there.
I'm not going to say that the qualities of characters (both scientists and non-scientists) won't be exploited for comic effect -- this ain't CSI. I do however feel that there's a difference between characters that are funny because you care about them and characters that are funny because you are mocking them. In the long run, the latter makes for rather unpleasant comedy and gives you no reason to return to the show.
(Parenthetically I won't defend the word "geek" -- we don't use it on the show, but I note a reference on this page to a book the blogger has contributed to that uses the word in its title. I only use the word geek when referring to its actual definition [do you know it?].)
Beautiful minds like Dick Feynman's, well was he named. He may have been brilliant, but he was a sexist knob. Yeah, that's daring and different all right.
I have to say I'm with Frumious B on this one - having a character based on Richard Feynman does not exactly thrill me to pieces. He was a brilliant physicist but an off-the-charts sexist.
And to everyone from Caltech, sorry about the Cal Tech thing.
To Bill Prady: I am sure you put a great deal of work into this show. But working hard at what you do doesn't absolve you from considerations of how the fruits of your labor may offend. Or, at the very least, as Mecha points out, how the fruits of your labor are being marketed. And I don't think, in the end, you have a lot of control over how the vast majority of non-scientists will read your stereotypical socially-inept white male nerd-boys. They will indeed laugh AT them, and congratulate themselves, as was said above, that while those intellectuals may be book smart, they sure are a bunch of dummies. We live in a profoundly anti-intellectual society and I see a show like this just feeding right into it.
Well, I've responded to some of these comments, but my posts don't seem to show up. Oh, well.
Okay, now my posts are, in fact, showing up.
To clarify, there is no character based on Richard Feynman. His books were just one influence as we wrote. The greatest influence were my former colleagues from my previous career as a software engineer. People like Hawking and Wozniak and my friend Rebecca's father who's an astrophysicist at Harvard were an inspiration. My father-in-law who is one of the country's leading pediatric rheumatologists was an inspiration.
I must say I have never before received such criticism for work that has not been seen by the critics.
My son is six months old. I hope you'll give him a chance to grow up before you call him an offensive loud-mouthed crotchety drunk.
(By the way, were the paleontologists this upset when Ross on "Friends" was depicted as hapless and unlucky at love?)
The show may be fun, the show may be embarrassingly dreadful, or anywhere in between. As someone who has written and produced plays, I know how hard it is to get everything in a script to work together. My degree is in physics. Been there, too. And I know how non-mathematical explanations of physics always get it wrong. The public can't understand it because they don't have the math to do so. So the physics will be scrambled, that's a given. But if you complain about the content of the show, you miss the point. The job of a television show is not to present the view of the world one person might prefer to see, or even an accurate picture of the world as it is. It is to deliver the largest possible segment of some target audience's attention to paid commercial messages. The shows are sold to advertisers, not you. What is sold is your attention. So the question becomes What show will deliver that audience? And there are people in the industry that think The Big Bang will do it. Maybe so. If it does, it will have a run. If not, it will die. It's that simple. So if you want to be apalled at something, remember the show is just a symptom of a larger phenomenon. The show is their best guess at what the mass wants. Not what you or I want, but what the big fat middle of the bell curve wants. We're outnumbered. I find that practically everything on television is not worth watching, yet I know most people find it enduringly exciting and entertaining. The media are prisoners of their audience. The problem isn't the show, it's the story line this whole country is living. Also, comedy classically deals with the problem of futility. Their show is comedic fiction. You are asking for reality. That's something else entirely. Bill, I appreciate what a hard job you have. Zuska, I share your desire for the world to be a better place.
Hugh, excellent post!
Hugh: Not a bad post, however, two points. 1) We can't quite complain about the content of the show, it's not running yet. So we are restricted to some horrendous ad copy. 2) It is, in fact, valid to complain about expressions of the larger phenomenon, the reinforcement of things in society which are negative. If someone is sexist, one should both complain about their sexism, _and_ the society which reinforces it and makes it, to some degree, acceptable. (This is strictly a metaphor.)
Bill: A friend of mine who was in the industry commented that one of the things you learn early is that everyone takes shots at your show. I can't imagine that one discussion on one blog is the harshest criticism you've ever received on a show before it was seen. ;)
Your metaphor about your son, however, is still missing the point. We're clearly not judging the show on the internal merits (and we aren't really imagining we are.) We are judging the show on its presentation in the media. How it is being sold. And what that implies about the show.
The way it is being sold presents it as lacking and insulting for a number of reasons. Here's a better question for you. Do you think that's the kind of ad copy you want to describe your show? If you don't, why? If your reasons jive with ours, then great. You should probably say so, because that is where the major disagreement lies from my point of view. If you think that the ad copy's fine/accurate/reasonable, then the criticism, from the ad copy, is very likely to be valid, because the ad copy is dreadful and walks in exactly the directions Zuska explored.
The ad copy is part of the overall presentation of the show you work on. If it is bad, it is bad on the team effort. The team is responsible. We are, in fact, allowed to criticize such failings, and the same failings have become the reason some people here won't give your show a shot. And the team is responsible for fixing it in the specific case. If all you can do is say 'You have no control', without also adding, 'And I don't like that, because I don't like what they've done to my show', then it seems more like you're playing cover-your-ass.
Denying me the right to say "[I] have no control" denies reality. The network has sole control over the marketing of the show practically, contractually and by custom.
Haha... I like how Vos Post says he's a protege of Feynman. Aren't we all?
Anyway, I gotta agree with the show's defenders here. Better to watch it first. Of course it's going to play on patriarchal attitudes towards women. The show is a major network sitcom. It is patriarchy.
But let's face it, scientists do tend to be socially awkward (at least at a rate far above that in the general population), and I say this as a scientist who spends most of his time around other scientists. Watch it, and see if the representation rings true, or if it's just shallow tripe like other sitcom. And if it is, then throw it in the pile containing every other sitcom on television right now. That is, the shit pile.
Oh, and Vos Post, seriously, if you think Numbers (with a clever 3) looks anything like actual academic life, or represents scientists (particularly mathematicians) well, then I can say with a great deal of certainty that you've never actually been on a university campus, much less in a math department.
At the risk of appearing the troll - which I'm not, because I'm more than willing to debate my points at length and rationally - I'd like my position to receive some attention here.
Where the hell are the hell are you guys when any number of stereotypes (including minorities) are perpetuated in sitcoms???
Why does it suddenly become relevant and poignant when your own group is targeted, yet you're more than willing to remain passively silent - or in many cases actively silent - when stereotypes are preyed upon and exploited for comedic purposes?
Graham: If you don't realize it, you are using the standard 'But there are other problems, why aren't you dealing with them?' argument. That is a standard troll tactic. While there are many problems with that tactic, there is one big one which always comes through.
How do you know that some of us don't care about the other stereotypes? I, in fact, participate on a media analysis site which goes into how _many_ different types of tropes suck. Your assumption that I and others don't care is therefore wrong and merely serves to deflect discussion about the topic at hand, trying to deflect it into 'There's no problem!' by bringing up other things, and putting the burden on us to prove we care about all of them, or these issues don't matter. You should read the denialism blog off Scienceblogs. It has a lot to say about that sort of tactic.
This blog happens to focus on feminist issues, related to science. That is just its focus. So that's what things are going to be geared towards. That doesn't mean that people here have no opinions on anything else. It just means that we might express them elsewhere. Or do something about them elsewhere.
Unless you are prepared to go onto every blog on every specific topic and go, 'But what about X!' (which would be trolling), your argument falls flat and becomes specifically dismissive. As such, people who have seen it a hundred times ignored it.
For more discussion of how this appears 1000000 times from the feminist viewpoint: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/04/12/faq-why-are-you-conc…
I have to agree with Graham to an extent. Sitcoms are almost all based on stereotypes, and you'd be hard pressed to find one that doesn't perpetuate some pernicious ones. Singling out a sitcom that you've never seen because you worry that it perpetuates some fairly narrow stereotypes of a relatively small group (scientists) is pretty silly, in the face of the wealth of stereotype-promoting sitcoms on television right now. I would understand using it as an example if Zuska had actually seen it, and could point out how it's yet another example of the racist, sexist tripe that's rampant on television, but she hasn't seen it, and so she doesn't have much material to work with.
Chris: I suppose it is true that sitcoms are all, to some extent, based on steretotypes. But one can always ask the question: are they laughing at me, or laughing with me? Your say the sitcom is "only" concerned with a "relatively small group", i.e., scientists and therefore my concerns are silly. Perhaps you forget that cultural representations and stereotypical understandings of scientists are a big part of what helps to limit women's access to science and engineering? It's entirely appropriate to criticize how scientists are represented in popular culture, especially if that representation appears to reinforce negative stereotypes and depictions that erase women from the world of science.
I've had some off-blog email conversations with Bill Prady in which he has attempted to convince me that this show is not going to do that. I can't say I'm entirely convinced, though perhaps I'm slightly willing to consider the possibility. However, I don't think that the show publicity does his show any favors, and if the show publicity is an accurate depiction of the show, then I would stand by my critique. Bill Prady claims the show itself will convince me otherwise. We shall see.
In any case, shows like this do have an effect on what young people think about scientists and about the role of women in science. Whether it's good or bad that that influence exists, it does exist. And therefore it's entirely appropriate for blogs like this to undertake to criticize them.
Chris, your comment comes mightly close to Graham's comment: why worry about this sitcom when there are so many other stereotype-promoting sitcoms? why worry about issue x if you aren't also addressing issue y? It's a classic deflection of energy and focus, as Mecha notes, though I think - I hope - you aren't intentional about it.
Zuska, you've worked hard to defend criticisms of a show you've never seen, which tells me a lot. And you've pointed out how it is likely sexist (the geeky, ugly guys get the hot, less intelligent women). However, you've yet to show that it perpetuates any stereotypes of scientists (other than the fact that the two scientists are male) that aid in the exclusion of women. Female scientists tend to be socially awkward as well, ya know?
Anyway, nice dismissal of my point in the last paragraph of your comment. I didn't say you shouldn't focus on this one, because there are plenty of others. I said you shouldn't focus on this one 'cause you haven't seen it and are basically talking out of your ass as a result. Meanwhile, there are a bunch of sexist, racist, etc. sitcoms on TV, any one of which could be used as an example with actual data. Maybe the fact that you have an engineering background means you're not as wedded to data as we scientists are, but seriously, if you're going to criticize a show, at least have a scene, or a bit of dialog to base it on.
On the face of it you make a fair point. But like I mentioned earlier and Chris has touched on, we're dealing with a medium that RELIES on stereotypes to operate effectively, and always has. The fact that you're singling out this particular show (quite aside from the fact you haven't seen it yet) indicates to me that you've willingly watched other sitcoms that you find acceptable - and you're using as a comparison here. Can you point me towards a sitcom that doesn't rely on stereotypes of some kind in order to remain funny? I'd be interested to check it out. Until you can, I'm forced to assume that you find the portrayal of some stereotypes as quite OK.
I'm not using my argument to suggest there isn't a problem. I happen to think much of how television presents information is a problem in many ways. But I'm also smart enough to realise that stereotypes and situation comedies are inseparable. And when a particular group is singled out for focus, its members are quick to jump on it - while finding it perfectly acceptable when other groups receive the same treatment.
The simple fact is, some science types ARE socially awkward. Some jocks ARE jerks. Some black people DO talk jive.
The problem isn't in the stereotypes, unless you're suggesting all sitcoms be done away with (which would probably be a more sound basis for argument). The problem is in how they're dealt with. Which no one involved in this thread knows except Bill.
"We can't quite complain about the content of the show, it's not running yet. So we are restricted to some horrendous ad copy."
Actually, we're restricted to ad copy and trailers.
Not that trailers can't be misleading, but, unlike the ad copy, the writers did write:
Sheldon: "Leonard has a lady over."
Howard: "Yeah, right. Your grandmother back in town?"
[Penny enters wearing a towel]
(blah blah blah)
Howard: "Howard Wallowitz, Caltech department of applied physics."
Penny: "I'm Penny. I work at the Cheesecake Factory."
Yep. Penny works at the Cheesecake Factory. Her ex-boyfriend is a muscle-bound lout.
In general, scientist characters (male and female) are depicted in the series as smarter than non-scientist characters (male and female).
Chris: I'm not sure what the gratuitous engineer-bashing is all about, but since I consider myself to be both an engineer AND a scientist, it's somewhat off-point. Even if it weren't, it would still be hilarious. Engineers don't care about data? Have you driven over any bridges lately? Listened to your iPod today? Shampooed your hair? Sent a birthday card to your mom within the last year? You couldn't have done any of that without engineers. So don't go around insulting engineers; data is their daily bread. Please don't make me have to put you on the Moron Management List.
Oh, right. It's not engineers per se you meant to insult, just me. Whatever.
Dude, the socially-awkward bit IS a stereotype about scientists! And here you are perpetuating it in your comment! I am sure there are some socially awkward scientists. Mr. Zuska knows some socially awkward people in the insurance industry as well. My dad knew some socially awkward coal miners. Social awkwardness is a characteristic of PEOPLE. It is not a characteristic of SCIENTISTS. Some PEOPLE who are socially awkward also happen to be SCIENTISTS. This does not make all, or even the majority, of scientists socially awkward. You give me shit about data; shall I give it right back to you about logic? The socially awkward scientist is a stereotype as old as Moses. Furthermore, it is a stereotype that operates to turn women off from science; one, they don't want to hang out with a group of people they fear will be socially awkward, two, they don't want to "become" socially awkward, become tainted by becoming geeky scientists. It takes a while to realize you don't have to become a social loser to explore the universe or engineer a better bridge (or greeting card design process, or shampoo). We just have a myth that this is so.
If stupid t.v. shows come into existence that perpetuate stereotypes of socially awkward scientists, and women as airhead bimbos that don't do science, then I will critique those shows. So far, nothing I have learned about The Big Bang Theory totally reassures me that it will NOT do these things.
If you are concerned about other sexist, racist sitcoms, I welcome you - and urge you - to take up the banner and lead the critical charge. I, however, am concerning myself with THIS particular sitcom right now. I am not concerning myself with all of t.v., or with trying to find the most sexist, racist t.v. show there is, or with trying to define the scope of sexist, racist t.v. shows about scientists, or whatever other project it is you think I ought to be dealing with. Any of those things sound great; why don't you go take them up on your blog? Indeed it would be WONDERFUL to see some other Scienceblog take on gender issues more regularly. Why not you? If you're sure I've gotten it all wrong and you know better, then go enlighten the masses on your blog.
In the meantime, I will continue to choose what topics I want to write about on TSZ.
Graham: You're moving the goalposts. I bet you laugh at sitcoms that make fun of other groups! No, I criticize them. Well... I bet you can't find other sitcoms that don't use stereotypes, so there! Clearly you're just picking on this show because you're wrong/oversensitive/whatever, but like making fun of blacks/asians/women/whatever elsewhere!
You're missing the point again, sadly. Let's try this again.
You, Graham, keep saying 'I'm not trying to suggest there isn't a problem, but there's not really a problem because (stereotypes are necessary/you haven't seen the show/etc.)' It's a little disingenuous. The recurring theme is that 'You don't criticize other stereotypes, and probably like those, so shut up.'
I have already addressed that. I do criticize other stereotypes. Your argument is explicitly dismissive and redirecting, demanding that I agree with you directly about something that has nothing to do with the show or the ad copy, or else.
The ad copy is bad. It uses bad stereotypes, it talks about them very explicitly, it gives no hope of a decent show which has humor and some non-stereotypes. It describes a show that is insulting to women and scientists everywhere. This is the theme of the original post. The fact that you keep trying to go, 'Yes, but...' is not helpful, and is not discussion, especially when I have explicitly stated without disagreement that I have not seen the show and can't judge it directly. (I always prefer analyzing a show directly. I've been suckered into watching many a show that way.)
The concept that I must have watched other sitcoms and found them acceptable to have a basis for criticism is wrong. What I (and, presumably, others) have actually done is analyzed messages in other contexts, and found that this ad copy is a standard insulting stereotypical message which is bad for scientists and women, and if we happen to believe that people thinking scientists (women or men) are good, normal, non-incompetent people is a good idea, then the ad copy dashes our desires for those messages against a rock with a big grin. The show it describes would do similar. 'Geeks Can't Talk To Girls And Are All Male The TV Show.'
And this is not an isolated message. This you must understand. This isn't just one person saying some negative things about women and scientists. This is a show reinforcing society's negative perceptions of women and scientists. It's one of a million things that we, as members of the society, need to stand up and point out, "Hey, we're not that." "We men aren't sexist pigs who can't handle looking at a woman without wanting to fuck her." "We women aren't eyecandy who can't hack it in the real world." "We scientists aren't societally nonfunctional losers."
I wouldn't mind so much it if it were isolated negative. It is _omnipresent reinforced_ negative. That is a difference in a heteronormative patriarchal society. And it's a difference you don't have to see because of your privilege.
Mecha, I don't know how anyone can express it any more rationally than you just did. If Graham and Chris can't get it after that, I don't know what it would take.
Bill, the snippet of dialogue and your latest comment leave me in despair. Every frickin' stereotype in the book. The Cheesecake Factory? Really and truly? If she had to be a frickin' blond waitress, couldn't you have at least put her in Applebee's or something?
But no...The Big Bang Theory and the Cheesecake Factory. What's not to love?
I don't understand the despair. The world has both female scientists and female waitresses and we'll have both. We will probably see male waiters, too.
Is it a stereotype that scientists tend to be smarter than other people? Is it a stereotype that people who are a little lost in their lives tend to take transient jobs like waiting table?
I do get tired of there being so much humor that is at its heart tribal, comparing Us and Them. Look at them! What a bunch of incompetent dorks! This humor saddles one group with the burden of futility, implying the rest of us are better. I sure wish there were more humor about the problems and contradictions we all face, about the general human condition. In so many ways we are all the punch line of the cosmic joke. But this type of humor is harder to write. Working over stereotypes is much easier. It's still not easy. Writing a show that works dramatically and holds an audience's attention is much more difficult than one would imagine, so the temptation to use any available shortcut is enormous, more so if you are writing on deadline. Humor is probably harder to write than serious drama even though the public usually respects it less.
But what do we do about this dilemma? We need shows that help us understand how people deal with futility and those limits of competence we all have and have to cope with. How can a story portray the foibles of a character without making people like said character seem defective? Are you also offended by shows that follow the classic formula of tragedy, where the character has a fatal flaw that brings her/him down? The ultimate purpose of stories is to show us how to live and comedy is an essential part of this process. Comedy explores parts of life nothing else does. We need it. Comedy is not trivial. This is not to defend a particular show. But don't blame the show for qualities inherent in the genre.
Mecha there is an argument to be made for art imitating life. The statistics suggest that women are strongly under-represented in Science. And the majority of people who would be watching this show would tell you they went to high school with someone who was interested in science and who was socially awkward. There is some truth to most stereotypes, and that's precisely why most of them exist and why people identify with them.
There are always going to be shows that challenge perceived 'norms', and there are plenty of television shows out there where women hold prominent positions such as lawyers, scientists, FBI agents and as the President of the United States. Plenty of cool, socially adjusted, scientists too. They're culturally important, and - in a world where television acts as the great educator - will go a ways to help provide role models for young people. Life will also imitate art.
However, dismissing this show because it doesn't fit your idea of what life is - or should be - is a little unfair. My point is that stereotypes ARE sitcoms. They're what go into making up the sitcom. You can avoid admitting the inconsistency and selectiveness of your argument by claiming a right to focus on a particular stereotype because it's the topic of this blog, but all you're doing is exposing your bias. You're concerned with what you call 'bad stereotypes' without even realizing the inherent subjectiveness of this perception. What is a good stereotype Mecha? How about the way scientists are continually presented as intellectually superior to non-scientists? This is another omnipresent reinforced negative (for non-scientists), but a positive one for scientists. Is this also a 'bad' stereotype that we should be pointing our fingers at and condemning any form of art that perpetuates it? Where does it end? Every stereotype has its relative good and bad. We're fast getting into territory where writers and storytellers can't win unless they are continually flipping perceived norms on their head. Yes, there's a place for that, but there's also a place for the presentation of 'commonly known' characters as a means of telling a story or providing amusing situations by parodying specific groups.
But there are women scientists and there are socially adjusted scientists. Yes. There are also managers who aren't jerks, but The Office wouldn't be half as funny without one. There are hillbillies that aren't stupid, but the Beverly Hillbillies would lose the entire premise of its parody if it was forced to account for individuality amongst social groups. Choosing a 'situation' for the comedy to take place in will always pander to particular stereotypes, because we recognize them and because they provide a good canvas to paint the parody. They will always have the ability to offend members of that particular group, unless said members can manage to step outside and have a laugh at themselves - realizing that the show isn't trying to account for individualist reality - but is trying to provide a working parody through the use of generalizations.
The show has enormous opportunity to do good while relying on these stereotypes, and this is what you should be focusing on. This show has the ability to introduce people to physics who may otherwise not have realized an interest in it. It has the ability to provide role models for young people interested in science who may be socially awkward to look up to and identify with, to realize that it is possible for them to become more socially adjusted. That they're not just a sub-group destined to fraternize only with others like them. The scientists may even pique the screenwriter's interest in science. In presenting these stereotypes, it has an opportunity to transcend them. Whether or not it will, remains to be seen.
You can claim I'm repositioning the goal posts, and perhaps I am, but only to where they should have been in the first place; for the sake of objectivity and impartiality in your argument you should be condemning all stereotypes - and as a result all sitcoms. You and Zuska seem to be suggesting that Bill could have made a better sitcom without stereotypes. If sitcoms rely on stereotypes for their parody, you're really either a. suggesting Bill not make a sitcom or b. suggesting Bill could make a better sitcom without the stereotypes you deem to be 'bad'. And that's purely a relative thing.
Aw, Graham, that was a beautiful speech. I thought the saying was "sometimes life imitates art" but no matter, let's go with your version. You know, I've noticed that there aren't many Hispanic or black people in science, but I have seen, at some places where I've worked, Hispanic and black people cleaning the lavatories. Maybe they could have a Hispanic cleaning lady in the show! You know, sort of like the maid on Will & Grace! She could come in and empty the wastebaskets and make wisecracks. That would be sooooooo funny. It wouldn't make sense to have a Latina scientist since there are, like, what - three of them in the whole U.S.? but I'm sure that Latinas could learn to just step outside and have a laugh at themselves, realizing the show isn't trying to present individualist reality.
You know what would REALLY be funny? We could have the scientists not just be socially awkward, but we could have them also be racist and sexist. Because I have met lots and lots and lots of white males in science and engineering who behave in racist and sexist ways. I have even encountered lots of them who want to tell racist and sexist jokes! Hey, why don't we have them tell racist jokes on the show! That would be stereotypical behavior for white male scientists, and it includes humor, of a sort, so it's perfect for a sitcom, isn't it? No? Some stereotypes are more palatable than others, you say?
You and Zuska seem to be suggesting that Bill could have made a better sitcom without stereotypes.
I can't speak for Mecha but for myself, yes, I am saying Bill could make a better sitcom without resorting to pernicious stereotypes that reinforce existing societal notions about nerdy white male scientists and hot blond women who don't do science.
I'd like you to consider this proposition: Humor that is based on stereotypes is only "humorous" if you believe in the underlying stereotype. I do not believe in the myth of the socially awkward scientist. I know many scientists who are all warm wonderful people with lots of interests who happen to do science for a living. I know a few who are intensely narrowly focused on science and a little less well-rounded. I know people like that in fields other than science, too. Scientists are human beings, and they come in all sorts of varieties. They aren't even all the same kind of scientist. Can you seriously contend that oceanographers, physicists, biologists, mathematicians, geographers, electrical engineers, pharmacists, are all the same "kind" of scientist? How can you say all the people who do all those varied careers are exactly the same kind of people?
I am so, so, so sick of the "stereotypes exist for a reason" argument. There are plenty of pernicious stereotypes that exist about black people; are you willing to argue that we ought to defend perpetuating those stereotypes because, if you root around long enough, you could probably find a few people who fit the stereotype?
This is the root of the problem. A stereotype exists; you find someone who fits the stereotype, and you take that person as representative of all of their kind. Example: women can't do science; I know a woman who can't do science; this proves the stereotype has basis in reality; this means any woman who comes along who does science must just be an exception to the general rule and therefore does not contradict the rule. Scientists are socially awkward; you are a scientist and NOT socially awkward, therefore you must be an exception to the rule and do not contradict it and the stereotype remains valid, no matter how many non-socially awkward scientists I encounter. Because I believe in the rule. Gahhh!
I went to high school with LOTS of people who were socially awkward; none of them became scientists. I do not understand why scientists, of all people, are so wedded to maintaining and perpetuating this negative stereotype about themselves as a group. It's like a badge of honor; "we can't function in society, and that's proof of how freaking smart we are!!!!" Bleah. It almost becomes a form of snobbery.
You mention The Office and The Beverly Hillbillies; these are probably the two worst examples you could have picked. The Office is funny without resorting to group stereotype humor. "Bad bosses", in general, are not a group that is discriminated against in society. I'm not even sure The Office is so much about bad bosses as about one particular goofy boss's personality, and the resulting office dynamics. The humor in The Office comes out of the interaction between well-developed, well-rounded characters who all have individual quirks and foibles - they are all real, individual human beings, not representatives of "types". The Beverly Hillbillies, on the other hand, is a deeply offensive show for anyone who comes from Appalachia, precisely because none of the characters are allowed to be individuals - all of them are "types", and the worst sort of stereotypical caricature of an Appalachian that never existed in real life. Here, the humor does depend upon the stereotype; but as I mentioned above, it's only humorous to the extent that you believe in and accept the stereotype. Imagine the Beverly Hillbillies redone, with the Hillbillies replaced by a Jewish family, and every negative stereotype about Jewish people exaggerated to the nth degree. You could probably do a lot of comedy by parodying Jewish families based on stereotypes; but who will laugh? Only those who are comfortable laughing at Jews.
If you are comfortable laughing at hillbillies, or blond women who don't understand science, or scientists who can't cope with everyday life, that says more about you and your own set of stereotypes than it does about reality. The people in Hollywood who give us a steady diet of this stuff and say, "no, really, we're just reflecting back real life" should be called to task for it.
But to tell me that I can't criticize ONE show without criticizing ALL shows is just plain stupid. I can criticize any damn show I want. This is a blog about gender and science, not the Critical Approach to Viewing TV Blog. If you want that blog, look elsewhere. Don't give me that crap about objectivity and impartiality either. I am not being impartial. I am taking a very specific stand; I am against stereotyping scientists and excluding women from science, and I don't like what I've seen about this show, and I felt like saying so to the world. I am not here to provide an impartial uninvolved recitation of facts. I am here to analyze the information I come across and give you my interpretation based upon my years of experience, education, and training.
This whole long comment thread has made obvious to me once again just how very taboo it is for women to point out even the most minor manifestations of sexism in everyday life. We are meant to choke it down and keep moving, day after day, year after year, without a word of complaint, without even a sign that we are aware of its existence. Point it out and we get told: no, that's not what you think it is, and why are you so upset, and besides you are focusing on the wrong thing, and you shouldn't be talking about this, you should be talking about that, and you can't hope to address this unless you address these 10 other things, and why are you concerned about that if you don't care about these other things which are really much more important, and I really care about your issues but in this case you are wrong, and....blah blah blah.
Bill, as a physics major turned retail slave turned librarian who has always been a nerd, let me just say you are doing just so much better than those awful ad copy writers at selling your show.
HInt: aside from the stereotypes, it's not funny. It's just painfully mean. It's like everything I hated about "Two Guys and a Girl" times infinity plus! it's minus the funny and the cute guys.
Second hint: it's not just mean, it's just plain wrong. Who in the hell answers such pretentiousness with "Hi, I'm Penny. I work in the Cheesecake Factory." rather than "Hi, I'm Penny. Does the snobbery come with the job, or it just extra?" At the very least, a normal, realistically written person would have said "Hi, I'm Penny. I just moved in down the hall." Which, you know, would be the more normal way to start the conversation.
Oh, and since the topic of stereotypes has come up, may I just say that making the "excruciatingly painfully shy nerd" to be of middle eastern/asian descent was just mind-blowingly unoriginal. I mean, really, at that point it's not even so much whether or not you are perpetuating stereotypes, but whether or not there is anything about the show that is remotely creative and interesting.
PS - he's totally the one she kisses first, right? But only on the cheek and he totally freaks out and......
Actually Zuska the correct saying is something like 'life imitating art imitating life' which as a saying is consciously aware of the way art both feeds off and feeds into life.
You raise a good point though Zuska. Why are there no Hispanic or Latino scientists in this show? Isn't that just perpetuating the pernicious stereotype that all scientists are white? Perhaps we need to include a representative from each ethnic group, kind of like those politically correct and patronising web stock photos which have the obligatory Asian, Black and White consumer.
You're either missing my point or deliberately distorting it to fuel your sarcasm. I'm not sure which. Like I said, some stereotypes are more palatable - and that is of course a relative thing. The danger of stereotypes is when they are used to deliberately demoralise and marginalise a particular group based on very little to no truth whatsoever. You seem to be claiming that scientists are a marginalised group of society. Quite the contrary Zuska. They're some of the most respected members of it. Depicting them as socially awkward or as nerds for the sake of parody is hardly marginalising them and hardly leading to a decrease in the number of science enrolments, or to society's overall perception of scientists - as a highly esteemed group.
So that leaves the problem of depicting one of the main characters as a female who is not a scientist. Bill has said the show contains female scientists. But let's put that aside - as you could only have known that by actually watching the show. Many funny sitcoms are about conflict. The show's premise obviously requires an attractive member of the opposite sex to act in contrast with the socially awkward scientists. The conflict. Could the writers have 'flipped the perceived norm' on its head, and had the scientists as all women and the screenwriter as a muscle bound hunk? Sure. Should they always have to? No. Is it automatically sexist if they don't? No. All in the handling of the stereotype.
You've jumped on this show because at immediate glance - based on the Adcopy - it contains stereotypes you are unhappy with. You're essentially not criticising the show, you're criticising stereotypes it apparently perpetuates. Fine. You are free to criticise, and presumably since you have a comments section on the blog I'm free to disagree with you. Your claim that the Office doesn't pander to group stereotypes, in my opinion, is false. The inter-office relationships, the over-domineering second-in-charge, the underachieving quiet 'nice guy' loser, the rowdy after work drink sessions. This is a group stereotype of the types of people and behaviour you will experience if you work at an office. This is supported by the amount of people who have told me they find the show so funny because it's TRUE - at least to their idea of what an office environment is like. Presumably because they work in one (which they all did). Sure, the characters have individual quirks and foibles, like the characters of ANY good show do - and hopefully this one is the same. Again, handling of the stereotype.
"If you are comfortable laughing at hillbillies, or blond women who don't understand science, or scientists who can't cope with everyday life, that says more about you and your own set of stereotypes than it does about reality."
You're right. Because it says I understand stereotypes are not indicative of individuals, that they are gross generalizations aimed at providing parody, and that they are not automatically 'bad'. You see the Beverly Hillbillies as insulting - I see it as an endearing and comical show - not about all Appalachians (or hillbillies), but a gross exaggeration and generalization of SOME elements of truth as a means of parody. Just like the Office isn't about ALL Office workers, but contains some elements of truth - grossly exaggerated. I can laugh at it, and it will not change my perception of what individual people living in that area of the world or working in an office are like.
Zuska, believe it or not, I'm actually what you might call a feminist. I'm well aware of the way women are marginalized in society and the way this has and continues to occur. Like I said, I'm all for shows that challenge perceived norms. But do they always have to? It's a fact that there are a lot less women in science than men, and with the show requiring a conflict of the sexes it was therefore a logical leap to make. Yes having shows that depict women as scientists (which Bill has said this show does) can help encourage more to take it up. But is every show that deals with science now required to have a Female, an Asian, a Black and a White in central roles?
"And if you are a girl...well, forget it. You don't get to grow up to be anything at all on this show, except sexy bimbo."
Your stance seems to be suggesting that being a screenwriter is somehow inferior to being a scientist and is - in fact - nothing. That the 'bimbo' screenwriter has nothing to offer but blonde hair and a short skirt, despite the fact that the AdCopy specifically suggests that the scientists have something to learn from her. Whether this is so, remains to be seen, and it will be seen - again - in the handling. But in that comment you perpetuated a pernicious and unfair stereotype yourself. Non-scientist, blonde, and sexy? Bimbo.
You're right, the thread has gone too long. What got me going was the way you encouraged everyone to go on the site's forums and 'leave a snide' comment, something that can be damaging to the show. And then hearing Bill's obviously emotional response.
But is every show that deals with science now required to have a Female, an Asian, a Black and a White in central roles?
Nah, they can skip the white person.
Zuska, the engineer bit was a joke, of course, though it's quite clear data isn't your cup of tea. And of course, you're free to write about whatever you want here or anywhere else, and I'm free to call bullshit when it's obviously so.
Two things are abundantly clear: scientists, and academics in general, are more likely to be socially awkward (social anxiety, if we're being specific) than the general population. This is really a function of social expertise and IQ of course, but since high IQ is common in academia, so is social awkwardness. If you don't believe me, take a trip over to google scholar, or if you have access, PsychInfo. Is it a stereotype? Yes, it is, and one shouldn't judge individual scientists/academics by it, but it's a stereotype with enough basis in reality to make its use in a sitcom seem, well, innocuous at best.
Second, you haven't seen the damn show, yet you wrote a wordy post about how evil it is! Jesus Christ, Zuska, do you not see how absurd that is, particularly in light of the fact that you could have picked any other show that you could actually watch to jump on? Because they're all sexist! Once you've seen it, you'll probably have material enough to warrant a post like this. But until then, you are, quite literally, makin' it up as you go. Or as I like to put it, you're talkin' out of your ass. Like I said, you and data are not well acquainted. And like I said, post all the bullshit you want, and when I happen across it, I'll be sure to call you on it.
I love you.
Bill has said the show contains female scientists
Who are apparently important enough to not be included in the trailer.
The trailer shows a total of six people. Five of them are men. Five of them are white. Maybe it's just me, but that kind of segregation doesn't really reflect my reality much less my ideal.
And since when is ideal such a bad idea in TV shows? Why is it ok for so many idiots get to pull out "it's just a fantasy" in response to the overwhelming objectification of women in fictional medium, and yet "it's just a fantasy" is never a remotely adequate argument for TV shows and the like to show a world that's more inclusive than it is?
Graham, if you have to put a "might" in there, I think the proper term is "I'm not a feminist, but....."
Thanks Mickle. Feminism is a broad term. It's a little difficult to know exactly what strict rules of belief one has to adhere to in order to be considered a member of the club. I think people's views on it differ, and that's why I suggested Zuska 'might' consider me one.
Enough! Surely you ladies have better things to do than sit around and debate a TV show which clearly you won't be watching this fall. You've made your point. Now move on already. Seriously.
Well, with disappointment, I believe I have to bow out of this thread.
I first posted because I was taken aback to see my work dealt with in such a prejudiced fashion (and here I mean literally "pre judged"). I continued to post because I was excited to open a dialogue with people whom I had inadvertently (and by proxy) offended. I always believe there is great potential for growth in such circumstances.
Unfortunately I find that my attempts to discuss my project, the process that generated it and the associated issues just seem to tap a vein of anger that I cannot mollify.
For the record, I'll set down the chain of events that has led us here. Years ago, I was a software engineer. I had a few good friends who were brilliant -- off the charts -- but were painfully socially awkward. (And if you knew me at the time, you would have discovered that my skills weren't much better.)
The best projects, I think, come when the writer is fond of his main characters and I was (and am) very fond of my friends. I decided to explore the theme that extreme intelligence doesn't give a person an advantage in a social situation over average folk (and, some might say, is actually a disadvantage).
So I and my partner created a piece featuring characters based on the guys I knew (and me to a great extent). We then wondered what would happen if one of these guys fell hopeless in love with a woman who was "out of his league." Now let's be clear here: I am not saying that this woman is "out of the league of smart people," I am saying that she's out of this particular character's league.
Then we wondered what journey we might give this woman. We decided on an attractive woman who has always been objectified by men. Our feeling is that our character, who failed to learn the Cro-Magnon approach to women, is going to be the first man this woman encounters who actually treats her like a person, responds to her potential and ultimately allows her to shake off the self-image that's been imposed on her sociologically.
Now remember, this is a sitcom -- so this movement will happen very, very slowly. Remember how annoying the Frank Burns character was on M*A*S*H was after he got "nice"?
For most of the development process, the characters were software engineers like the people they were based on. Unfortunately, programming is a difficult occupation to photograph in a four-camera proscenium sitcom; the biggest challenge is how to light for film faces that are turned down and facing monitors. After deciding we didn't want years of being yelled at by our director of photography (the guy who hangs the lights), we changed their profession. Because my partner and I are science geeks, we made them physicists.
A lot has been made in this thread over the fact that these men aren't women, or that women are not depicted as scientists. My response is two-fold. First, when we go with them to their workplace we will see other scientists. They will be men and women, they will they will be of many ethnic persuasions (because we cast color-blind [which is why those men in that clip weren't all white -- go look again]). There are no women scientists in the first episode (and, consequentially in the clips that have been released because only the first episode has been shot). Second, this is a story about these three people. They happen to have the jobs and genders that they have. As I noted earlier, when ER fails to show male nurses, I don't believe they are making the statement that men cannot be nurses, I simply believe they don't have any characters that are male nurses (there was one once, I think).
I sign off wishing you all the best. I believe the battles you fight against are worth fighting. I firmly hope that my daughter grows up in a world where she believes that all career opportunities are open to her -- including and especially science. I simply wish you had been more open to dialogue. I think this community would have been a great resource as we proceeded with the series.
Jiminy Cricket - after reading the comments, I feel sorry for poor Bill. I guess the poor guy has never been criticized in any capacity before. Since I work nights (for now), I probably won't be able to see the show, and from the trailer, I have no desire to record it to watch later. It looks as bad as, well, all the other crap out there. Seriously, if the trailer shows off some of the best moments of the show, the rest has to stink worse than month-old dog feces. Definitely enough to keep me from giving it a try.
I went online today to find a good link to share with my other-kind-of-nerdy friends at Microsoft, and stumbled upon this blog. Wow, geeks are really angry,eh? I loved the show, laughed out loud in many spots. Loved the dialogue--it was fast and intelligent and used great vocabulary compared to every other comedy--or drama for that matter. Bill Prady, right on for defending your work. Don't let this stuff get you down. Write the great lines and keep making me laugh!!
Signed, Suzi the blonde, semi-geek, laugh-loving editor/writer
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