Balkinization  

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

“Whether they want a lady host, I don’t know.”

Ian Ayres

The announcement of Drew Carey as the new host of the “Price is Right” has a slight connection to civil rights. A few weeks ago, when retiring icon Bob Barker was asked at the Daytime Emmy about who might replace him, he mentioned Rosie O'Donnell:

"I believe they're going to have a meeting with Rosie. She knows the show. There's no doubt in my mind she could do the show."

But in a moment of candor, he went on and said:

"Now, whether they want a lady host, I don't know. I've never heard that discussed. As far as I know, they've only auditioned men."

The possibility that the producers of the show don't "want a lady host" is the possibility of a Title VII violation. Title VII prohibits sex discrimination in employment unless the employer can establish what's called a BFOQ or "Bona Fide Occupational Qualification." The EEOC Guidelines do allow intentional sex discrimination in hiring an actor or actress where the sex-specific roles are necessary for the "purpose of authenticity or genuineness," see 29 C.F.R. § 1604.2(a)(2). But there is no way that the producers could establish that sex was a BFOQ for being host of "The Price is Right."

The same conclusion probably holds true for hosting "The View." The thought that only women could host a talk show would be difficult to square with existing case law. Probably a dozen different hosts have been employed by The View. They have all been female. There is little doubt that the producers of that show discriminate on the basis of sex in hiring.

Indeed, even John Travolta's portrayal of Edna in the movie Hairspray raises a non-trivial BFOQ question. Travolta, like all of his predecessors, is male. But it's hard to say that casting a man for the part is necessary for "authenticity or genuineness" -- especially when the whole point of his portrayal is that Travolta (unlike Divine) is playing it straight.

Comments:

Please tell me this post was meant as parody. Casting a man as Edna Turnblad is a Title VII violation? The summer hiatus must do odd things to the legal academician's mind.
 

Not *casting* a man, but only *considering* men. Cf. NFL coach interviews with regard to race instead of sex.

While being male is not clearly a BFOQ for hosting the Price Is Right, it is one for being a panelist on the View. The whole point of the View is to get *women's* perspectives on politics and culture. If you look at the predominate sex on most shows about politics (Hannity & Colmes, O'Reilly, Scarborough, Chris Matthews, Lehrer, This Week, the defunct Crossfire), you may see why Barbara Walters felt there was a need for such a show, even if her execution leaves something to be desired.
 

Sorry, that should be "While being male is not clearly a BFOQ for hosting the Price Is Right, being female is one for being a panelist on the View."
 

Hey, Ian -- You skipped right over the more interesting question: Once one studio casts Travolta to play a woman "straight," and Todd Haynes casts Cate Blanchett as an uncanny Dylan in his new film, is it a Title VII violation for those and other studios to consider *only* men for all the other male parts, and *only* women for all the other female parts?

;-)

Marty
 

Not *casting* a man, but only *considering* men. Cf. NFL coach interviews with regard to race instead of sex

Wow, parody comments even!

Yeah, I understand the point, and I use the term loosely, that Prof. Ayres was stretching to make. That Edna Turnblad was being played by a man, i.e., Divine, in the original movie was part and parcel of the movie itself and its sensibility. Even if you only consider it to be a joke, that joke is part of Hairspray, and to cast a woman in the role of Edna would be totally wrong. To compare it to racial discrimination in NFL coach hiring -- even with a noncommittal "Cf." cite -- is just ludicrous.
 

This was a big issue among female comedians, as sketch groups like Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, and Saturday Night Live relied upon their male cast-members to fill female roles, thus reducing the opportunities for women in comedy.

Although a few exceptions exist, there are a lot more men playing women's roles than vice-versa. We can chalk that up to what people think is funny or what people think people think is funny (even Norbit grossed $95 million), but the end result is that less roles are available.

All of that is a distraction to the original point which is: why wouldn't the producers of Price is Right consider a "lady host"?

It makes me wonder: does the Price is Right, as a cultural phenomenon, require a paternal presence? Since Bob Barker has been the host--the "front man", if you will--for so long, might it not require a certain masculine gravitas that only Drew Carey can provide?

Wouldn't it make sense, for continuity's sake, that Drew be required to ask us to spay and neuter our pets? And, lest we be shocked by the sudden change, wouldn't it be better if he was required to wear Bob Barker's clothes? There are some serious issues here that really must be considered by the producers of the show, and it certainly makes sense that they'd want to keep a woman out of the picture, lest all of America feel betrayed by the bait & switch of offering us "The Price is Right," but instead giving us "The Price is Right (with a lady host)."
 

In the end, the consumers will decide through the ratings if they prefer one gender over another in a particular media venue. Yes, men and women are not interchangeable in most people's minds no matter how politically incorrect that may be.

For example, Katie Couric was a big hit in a morning chat show, but has crashed and burned as a news anchor. In turn, I doubt Dan Rather would have been a big hit as a morning chat show host.

If the lawyers get involved, the media companies will simply have members of both genders audition in front of a studio audience with those infamous favorability dials and choose one of the most popular auditions. That will give the media company a gender neutral reason for their choice even if that reflects the audiences own gender preference.
 

In the end, the consumers will decide through the ratings if they prefer one gender over another in a particular media venue.

No, that's a ridiculous distortion of cause and effect. If the decision is made before the shows are aired, the consumers have nothing to do with it, other than through expectations of what their reaction might be.

Off the top of your head, name three famous women game show hosts. If you say that your difficulty in doing so is because market pressures make it impossible for a woman to succeed in that role, then you sir, are the weakest link.*


(*No offense to Robert, the previous proud holder of that title.)
 

In the end, the consumers will decide through the ratings if they prefer one gender over another in a particular media venue

Just out of curiosity, who are the women that we can decide to watch if we don't want to watch a male host?
 

pms:

If the decision is made before the shows are aired, the consumers have nothing to do with it, other than through expectations of what their reaction might be.

Media companies do not just make shows and hope they are successful. They often test them in front of invited audiences to gauge their reaction.

Off the top of your head, name three famous women game show hosts. If you say that your difficulty in doing so is because market pressures make it impossible for a woman to succeed in that role, then you sir, are the weakest link.

Oh yawn.

Every position should be awarded on the basis of who can do the best job. In media, the position should be awarded on the basis of who can best entertain and get the highest ratings. If the audience wants a particular gender in a particular role, so be it.

This is Hollywood. They would have no problem hiring and starring a foul mouthed, fat African Chinese Lesbian covered with tattoos and body piercings to replace Bob Barker if she could get the ratings. Hollywood has only one point of discrimination - ratings. Hell, there is no other explanation for allowing Rosie O'Donnell anywhere close to a TV studio.
 

PMS_Chicago: No, that's a ridiculous distortion of cause and effect.

"Lie with the dog, rise with the fleas." I'm actually much more interested in Professor Lederman's observation, which I suspect started as a frivolous jest, but which makes me scratch my head nonetheless. Why support gender discrimination for acting roles at all?

::rolls eyes::

Did the troll really write, "If the lawyers get involved...", as if there were some subset of "them dirty so-and-so lawyers" as opposed to "them shiny DUI defenders"?
 

padme lakshmi is the host of top chef

market pressures would eventually bring females into game shows if there was an actual demand for them, because someone would try it in an attempt to better their ratings vis a vis games shows with male hosts and find it to be a success. other would then emulate that success.

if there is no real difference to the public as to whether a host is male or female market pressures could fail because of discrimination on the part of producers who will take a man over a woman given equal appeal to consumers.
 

Robert Link said...

Did the troll really write, "If the lawyers get involved...", as if there were some subset of "them dirty so-and-so lawyers" as opposed to "them shiny DUI defenders"?

At their best, lawyers are problem solvers. At their worst, lawyers create new problems where none existed before in order to make money.

Anyone who would bring a suit against a television network because they did not meet some gender quota falls under the latter category.

I am reminded of the threatened EEOC law suit against Hooters restaurants because of alleged discrimination against male waiters because the chain only hired well endowed female waitresses. Hooters ran those silly EEOC lawyers off through the absolutely hilarious "Hooters Guy" campaign of ridicule.
 

Anyone who would bring a suit against a television network because they did not meet some gender quota falls under the latter category.

But gettin' people out of DWI charges is lawyerin' at it's finest!!
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Bart: Anyone who would bring a suit against a television network because they did not meet some gender quota falls under the latter category.(emphasis added)

Ah, the straw man. I guess you've got to take your friends where you can find them. This reminds me of my challenge to Charles the other day, to state the thesis of a post, to which he replied by cuting-and-pasting the post itself. Do you PNAC supporters simply not learn junior-college level English skills? Anyway, if your literacy levels are adequate, you can review the post and remind yourself that the actual issue is whether or not producers of The Price is Right violated Ms. O'Donnell's Title VII rights. Maybe you could produce some text from Title VII and then offer an argument of how said producers failed to violate those rights. However, given your historical inability to actually find text when challenged I think I can be forgiven for not holding my breath.

I always wonder if you get away with this kind of nonsense in court.
 

Given the dearth of female TV game show hosts in the nearly sixty years of the genre, I find it hard to buy the ratings argument. The sample size for women-hosted episodes would be pitifully small. Any statistician would balk at the idea of comparing such asymmetrical bodies of data to come to the conclusion "women hosts can't get high ratings."

With ratings differences being difficult to demonstrate, on what basis could a company say "women get higher ratings"? It sounds to me, from the articles and interviews I've read today, that the business simply sees male hosts as the norm, and sees no reason to deviate from the formula. They have no hard data to back up their position, so why does Ian's suggestion that there might be a Title VII violation seem so ridiculous to people?
 

PMS_Chicago: ...so why does Ian's suggestion that there might be a Title VII violation seem so ridiculous to people?

Hint: Take a look at some of the folks to whom it "seems ridiculous". Ask yourself if their breathless straw men are born of a legitimate failure to credit a plausible concern or are, perhaps, born more of faith based partisan posturing?

If you're not in the category alluded to above, then please take no offense.
 

You are all ignoring the most important injustice of all. There is NO ONE who can replace Bob Barker!!
 

Society has no vested interest in changing the gender make-up of game show hosts. If the producers want a male, then they should get a male. It's their money. Take care of your own money.

Now ... let's replace Katie Couric with a man.
 

Hmm... I attributed their not casting Rosie to the fact that she refused to move to Los Angeles to tape the show regularly, which is the reason she gave on her blog as to why she wasn't going to take the job.
 

It has been a couple of decades but I remember being taught that the actor exception was nod (however fleeting) to the First Amendment and the idea that it isn't really possible to separate the content of speech from the identity of the speaker. Wouldn't we all decry a court telling a producer that he cannot make a politically point by hiring a woman to portray, say, Macbeth?
 

glennnyc,

Perhaps you're not familiar with the issue of races and NFL coaches. Like many other high-level positions, NFL coaching is somewhat incestuous and probably much like the "Price Is Right" producers, owners often already have a shortlist of people they consider appropriate for the job, one that may not include people who would be great for the job but who just don't come to the owners'/ producers' mind.

'The recent increase in black coaches in the NFL owes much to "the Rooney rule" (named after the idea's patron, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney), which compels owners to interview black candidates for coaching jobs. ... The Rooney rule was implemented in 2002, after the late Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri pressed an antidiscrimination suit against the NFL, which at the time had only two black head coaches.'

Hiring a white coach isn't a Title VII violation. Considering only whites for the position is. The same may apply to Hairspray and gender: if the casting director didn't consider the possibility of hiring a woman for the role, just as Monty Python apparently thought it integral to their humor to have an all-male group where the men frequently cross-dressed (and given the British fondness for male cross-dressing, that may have been a savvy response to their audience), then that might be a problem. After all, if you're remaking a story that's already been a cult hit movie and a Broadway hit show, wouldn't it be nice to bring something new to it? What's the point of a remake if Edna is just going to be a mediocre version of the same way Divine or Harvey Fierstein have played the role?
 

glennyc - he thinks it's not only a Title VII violation, but it's a "non-trivial" one. Imagine how poignant are the trivial ones!

If these are problems for our legal system, then our legal system is a problem for us.
 

Why support gender discrimination for acting roles at all?

Well, there is the first amendment, which -- actually being in the constitution -- ought to trump antidiscrimination law.


Hiring a white coach isn't a Title VII violation. Considering only whites for the position is.

Actually, no. Considering only whites because they are white is. (Or -- to put it another way -- refusing to consider any blacks, because they are black, is.) Contrary to the wishes of some liberals, disparty is not discrimination.
 

David,

So by your theory, if I don't consider any blacks because none of them come to mind -- even though there are plenty of excellent black candidates for the open position, and even a cursory search would reveal them to me -- I should have no fear of a successful Title VII suit? After all, I'm not consciously failing to consider blacks because they're black; it's just that all the candidates whom I already know are white. Because I'm white, and well, I know more white than black people.
 

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