Why aren't there more TV sitcoms with women leads?

I’m not a big TV watcher, but off the top of my head:
“Malcolm in the middle”
“According to Jim”
“King of Queens”
“Everybody loves Raymond”
“Family guy”

Ones with women, again off the top of my head:
“Ally McBeal”

Most likely there are many more, but it does seem that very few sitcoms have women leads (and many of those are from the past)

I assume the networks are putting on what the market wants. Why isn’t there more demand for sitcoms with women leads?

Just a WAG, but I’d imagine ratings have shown dramas traditionally attracted more women viewers while sitcoms attracted more men. Even so, right now there’s Parks & Recreation with Amy Poehler, whatever that show is with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Cougar Town with Courtney Cox and 30 Rock (definitely an ensemble show, but Tina Fey would be the “main” character). Considering there are only a handful of sitcoms on network TV right now, that’s not bad (and there are many more ensemble shows, like Modern Family, where the storylines are divided equally among women and men).

Also, historically, let us not forget I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, The Facts Of Life, Designing Women…lots of ratings biggies.

That’s a very large assumption, isn’t it? You’re discounting at least two important elements: tradition and the talent pool. I’d say male dominated sitcoms have been the norm since early in the history of television. I don’t know if there’s as much of that as there used to be, but the history of the show needs to be taken into account. And then you get into the question of who is pitching and developing these shows, and who decides which ones make it to the air. We can’t just assume the networks know what everybody wants. We need to know what they’re working with.

For one thing, I’m not sure it matters that much. A lot of the shows you mentioned are getting very close to the ensemble-cast level - yeah, there’s a main character that you can ‘pick out’ based on the title, but also a lot of other people who really aren’t just supporting cast, but PART OF the cast, if you see the distinction that I’m making. Lead characters don’t seem to matter as much as they once did, to me.

But, out of curiosity, let’s go down the 2009-2010 US tv schedule and see what the breakdown comes out as:

Sunday - Fox is the only network airing half-hour sitcoms this night.
Brothers: Not familiar with it, but from the title and the Wikipedia summary, obviously male lead characters.
'Til Death: Husband and wife appear to share top billing on this one. Draw
The Simpsons: Simpson family is an ensemble. Bart and Homer still grab a little more attention, but I’m not giving this one to the guys either.
The Cleveland show: Cleveland Brown (and Cleveland junior) give us one more for the fellas
Family Guy: Yeah, okay, Peter’s the lead and title character
American Dad: Don’t even need to comment.
Sons of Tucson: Also seems to focus around guys
Sunday totals: 5 male, 0 female, 2 balanced

Monday - CBS schedule is the one with sitcoms this time.
How I met your mother: Tough one to call, definitely a strong ensemble cast with talented women, but based on the title, the premise, and the narrator, Ted is supposed to be the lead. 1 for the guys.
Accidentally on purpose: Clearly a Jenna Elfman vehicle, so despite no real clues in the title I’m letting the ladies have their first one!
Two and a half men: Yeah, this one is for the boys.
Big bang theory: Again a somewhat tough call, but I’ll take the point that Leonard/Sheldon are the leads, with Penny, Howard, and Raj as supporting cast. Guys take it away.
Monday totals: 3 male, 1 female, 0 balanced.

Tuesday is ABC’s night for sitcoms, at least in the midseason
Scrubs: Ensemble… but JD is central. Male
Better of Ted: Ted. Male
Tuesday totals: 2 male, 0 female, 0 balanced.

Wednesday - for the first time more than one schedule has sitcoms on, both ABC and CBS
Hank: Kelsey Grammar vehicle. (And male lead character in the title.) Male
The new adventures of old Christine: Female
The Middle: Tough call, no obvious cues in the title, and the synopsis says it features the whole family. But the Mom is mentioned first, and is played by someone I recognize, so I’m saying female.
Gary unmarried: Guy
Modern family: This one I’m going to list as a mixed ensemble, though you might stretch that Jay is the connecting thread. Even
Cougar town: Courtney is the Cougar. Female
Wednesday totals: 2 male, 3 female, 1 balanced.

I’ll finish doing the week in my next post. :wink:

Thursday - NBC’s night for comedy, still
Community: Jeff seems to be the lead character.
Parks and Recreation: Leslie would be the lead here, (Amy Poehler)
The Office: Strong ensemble - but Michael is a lead, more or less.
30 Rock: Liz Lemon the lead.
Thursday totals: 2 male, 2 female.

Friday seems to only have some of the same Fox shows mentioned under Sunday (were they moved around for the midseason?) and Saturday lists no half-hour shows but COPS, which is not a scripted sitcom.

Overall totals:
Male leads: 14
Female leads: 6
Balanced leads: 3

That does seem to bear out the premise.

Methodology note: I went through the listings at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009–10_United_States_network_television_schedule , and only looked at half-hour titles, no hemming and hawing about whether Desperate Housewives or Glee are considered comedies.
I also forced myself to assign one lead character in any situation where I could force myself to, and not take the ‘ensemble’ cop-out more often.

Any nitpicks welcome.

Because women will watch something with a male lead, but men won’t watch something with a female lead (unless she’s a badass who’s half naked all over the place, like Lara Croft).

  1. There are fewer women actors of the same quality as male actors. It is more important for a woman to look good than to have strong acting chops, especially when she is still young–which is when most people achieve stardom. And of course most actresses career ends when they hit middle age simply because they are no longer young and hot, don’t have the acting chops to cover for no longer being young and hot, and might well have to take off months of time due to pregnancy.

  2. It’s harder for a woman to pull off a “tough” or “commanding” presence since it’s fairly likely that she’ll simply be seen as shrill or bitchy. Witness Captain Janeway of Star Trek Voyager, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Margaret Thatcher, etc. Women have to walk a much narrower line to stay likable while holding a management position in modern day. It’s seen as okay for men to berate their minions, but not for women to do so.

  3. In modern day American romance–a fairly common subject of fiction–it is seen as the man’s job to be proactive, be willing to change, etc. Watching a girl get propositioned by several different possible men and choose between them isn’t as interesting.

Do you have any facts to back this up, or is this just sexism?

I Love Lucy
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Laverne & Shirley

…and that’s just keeping with your theme where the sitcom is named after a male or female title character. If you open it up to include sitcoms that don’t have a title character, you’ll find plenty of examples where the main characters are mostly men (“MAS*H”), mostly women (“The Facts of Life”), or an even mix (“Friends”).

To quote any number of male comedians over the ages:

“Chicks ain’t funny.”

As a percentage of the population of comics and comic actors, females are a definite minority. It would therefore be logical to assume that there would be fewer sit-coms starring said female comics/comic actors.

Sitcoms based around women characters off the top of my head:

Absolutely Fabulous
Murphy Brown
the Comeback
Fat Actress
Veronica’s Closet
Nine to Five
the New Adventures of Old Christine
To the Manor Born (British sitcom from the 70s)
Friends (yes it was an ensemble, but all three women got billed in the opening before the three men, and arguably the biggest star of the show was Jennifer Aniston)
Petticoat Junction
Sex & the City

And some of these shows were actually very funny.

Quite a few of the more African-American sitcoms have female leads. Half & Half, Sisters, Eve…

While true, that’s because they were billed alphabetically. But only the craziest viewer would claim that the men were a bigger part of the Friends than Aniston, Cox and Kudrow. It was definitely the women that drove that show.

Other female-lead comedies from the past:

One Day at a Time

Grace Under Fire

Mama’s Family

Laverne & Shirley

The Nanny

Didn’t the go in alphabetical order with the cast?

There was also the sitcom starring Tea Leoni. Oh she’s dreamy.

I think a big thing is that it’s tough for someone to break into TV period. An actor has to be discovered and have both enough name recognition and comedic/acting ability to carry a show. That’s hard enough, I think, for men let alone women and there is a bigger pool of male actors out there (last part, imo).

It’s feminism. I love highly skilled female actresses (Anne Bancroft, Mary McDonnell, Ally Walker, Helen Mirren, Sissy Spacek) and am often sad at how few of them there are compared to the great male actors (Edward Norton, Ian McShane, Ewan McGregor, Anthony Hopkins, Russell Crowe , Denzel Washington, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Forest Whitaker, Kevin Spacey, Geoffrey Rush, Jeremy Irons, Daniel Day-Lewis, Ben Kingsley) and of course the women are rarely tapped to lead.

Obviously, that’s a qualitative opinion, but in my evaluation I would say that there are definitely far more impressive male actors.

Same reason boys won’t read a book with a female protagonist.

…Girlfriends, Sister Sister, The Game…

The new lead character on Scrubs: Don’t Call It a Spinoff is a woman, but not to worry, it’s not going to be on much longer anyhow.

Just Shoot Me was an ensemble with a female primary.