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Marlo Thomas


The "Girls" of TV: A New Wave of Pioneers

Posted: 06/26/2012 8:34 am

There's a new hot TV mogul on the scene. She's brilliant, she's powerful, she's funny, and she's just 26 years old. Talk about your wunderkinds.

As creator of the HBO's white-hot series, Girls, Lena Dunham is a bona fide triple-threat, serving as the show's executive producer, writer and co-star. And what a show! Dead-honest, whip-smart and hilarious, Girls paints a vivid portrait of the young 21st Century woman -- anxieties, passions, triumphs and all. As the driving force behind the program, Dunham embodies a new generation that has brought a distinct female sensibility to television.

What a pleasure it has been to see that generation at work. It was only in 1994 that producer and writer Marta Kauffman pulled together a group of six Friends, and in doing so rewrote the rulebook on how women characters could behave on television. And those women talked about everything -- from their boyfriends (and having more than one), to fantasies, to "the wet spot" on the bed.

Since then, we've seen a motherlode (rather, make that a sisterlode) of similarly landmark television from women who know how to marshal all of their talents to make their vision come to life on the small screen. Tina Fey isn't just the star of 30 Rock -- she's the creator and writer. Same goes for Amy Poehler (creator, writer and star of Parks and Recreation), Elizabeth Meriwether (creator and writer of The New Girl), Whitney Cummings (writer and producer of 2 Broke Girls and Whitney), and Mindy Kaling (executive producer, writer and star of The Office and The Mindy Project--the latter coming this fall).

What all of these women have in common is that they didn't wait for someone to do it for them. They did it all. It's not always easy to wear so many hats, but the rewards are immeasurable. I remember when I was doing my television show, That Girl, in which I played the title role, I was also one of the creators and producers. I signed the checks, I hired staff, and I participated in script meetings, editing -- everything that goes into making a show.

At the time, the television industry was a boys-only kind of club; so I realized early on that the only way I was going to be able to get such a "revolutionary" kind of show on the air -- one that depicted the real, independent women across the country who were ambitious and didn't necessarily want to get married -- was if I could make our voices heard from both sides of the camera.

As my dear pal Billy Persky, our original head writer, once said, "That Girl threw the hand grenade into the bunker, and Mary Richards and Kate & Allie and Murphy Brown walked right in."

And now even more women have walked right in. And yet, according to an alarming study of this past season's television programming, women only accounted for 25% of all the individuals working behind the scenes of prime-time television programming. Hopefully, "girls" like Lena Dunham can inspire those numbers to rise.

A few years ago, I spoke at a ceremony honoring the legendary women of television and radio, and I said, "The women honored here can truly be called pioneers -- and by pioneers, I don't mean the ladies in bonnets who baked the bread and stirred the soup, but the ones who sat up front and drove the damn wagon!"

Well, here's to the newest team of wagon-drivers. Take a look!

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  • Lena Dunham

    Creator of the HBO show "Girls", Lena Dunham has recently taken the television industry by storm as the creator, producer, writer and co-star of the show.

  • Whitney Cummings

    Just this past year, in 2011, Whitney brought to life not one, but two television sitcoms: "2 Broke Girls" and "Whitney". As creator and executive producer, of both show, Whitney is also the star of her namesake show. And, in 2012, you can expect to see more of the television darling in her new talk show on E!, "Love You, Mean It With Whitney Cummings".

  • Tina Fey

    Tina first started out in television as a writer for "Saturday Night Live", later becoming head writer and a performer on the show. In 2006 she left "SNL" to create the popular NBC show, "30 Rock", which was loosely based on her own experiences at SNL. Not only does she play one of the show's central characters, but Tina is also the show's producer and writer. Here she poses with co-star Alec Baldwin in celebration of the 100th episode of "30 Rock."

  • Nahnatchka Khan

    Nahnatchka Khan has been well known for her work as executive producer of the ABC animated comedy "American Dad!", but as of late, Nahnatchka is becoming increasingly better known as the creator and executive producer of the new ABC show, "Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23". Praised for its humor and honesty, the show follows the life of a young girl, June, who moves to New York City to pursue her dream job, but when she arrives everything goes terribly wrong.

  • Elizabeth Meriwether

    Just this past television season, Elizabeth Meriwether's debut sitcom, "The New Girl", starring Zooey Deschanel brought forth a whole new television darling. Behind the scenes, Elizabeth is the new show's creator, executive producer, writer and music composer.

  • Amy Poehler

    Amy Poehler, right, has been long known for her hilarious skits on "Saturday Night Live". But in 2009, Amy took center stage as the star and producer of the NBC comedy "Parks and Recreation". Here, Amy sits on a panel with her co-star Rashida Jones.

  • Mindy Kaling

    Well known as Kelly Kapoor on the NBC sitcom, "The Office", Mindy Kaling is also a driving force behind the show, as co-executive producer and writer. And this upcoming season we can expect to see more of Mindy, as she takes the reins as star, writer and producer of her own show, "The Mindy Project".

  • Shonda Rhimes

    Shonda Rhimes, left, is best known as the executive producer, head writer and creator of "Greys Anatomy" and the hit-show's spin-off, "Private Practice". As of late, Shonda is the creator and executive producer of the new ABC show, "Scandal". Here, she sits on a panel with "Scandal" stars Kerry Washington, center, and co-executive producer, Judy Smith, right.

  • Ellen DeGeneres

    Well known as a comedian, actress and television host, Ellen DeGeneres, is also holding the reins of her namesake talkshow, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," as executive producer, writer and star.

  • Carol Leifer

    A long-time comedian, television writer and actor, Carol Leifer is well known for her role as writer and co-executive producer of the CBS sitcom "Rules of Engagement".

  • Marta Kauffman

    Marta Kauffman is best-known for her work as co-creator and co-executive producer of the popular 1990s sitcom, "Friends". Here, Marta speaks at a panel for her recent Lifetime network project, "Five", which is a short film anthology that explores breast cancer and its impact.

  • Marlo Thomas

    When I first started out in the television industry as "That Girl!" the only woman producing and starring in her own show was Lucille Ball. So when I did the same with "That Girl" she was a true role model for me. I love looking at the television industry now and seeing all these great women at the helm of their own shows.


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