Female-driven TV shows like Emmy-nominated 'Girls' are on the rise

From left, Lena Dunham, Zosia Mamet and Jemima

From left, Lena Dunham, Zosia Mamet and Jemima Kirke in HBO's "Girls." (Credit: HBO)

The TV industry isn't accustomed to celebrating raunchy, edgy shows such as "Girls," the HBO series crafted by 26-year-old Lena Dunham. But the five Emmy nominations grabbed reflect how television is increasingly driven by younger, hipper -- and feminine -- sensibilities.

After years of disdain from the men who run the business ("I don't like any women comedians," Jerry Lewis famously pronounced in 1998), women are making inroads in comedy. And never has that dynamic been more evident than on cable networks, where women are free of the content restrictions of broadcast television and -- beyond the surprise success of the smash female-skewing comedy "Bridesmaids" -- of the commercial imperatives of feature films, where teenage boys still typically rule.

Indeed, "Girls" is at the vanguard of an industrywide charge toward narrowly focused, female-centric scripted series that now dot the entire cable dial. Another HBO freshman, "Veep," with former "Seinfeld" star Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the nation's harried first female vice president, also got an Emmy comedy nod, joining the established veteran NBC's "30 Rock," created by and starring Tina Fey. (Louis-Dreyfus has now tied Lucille Ball as the most-nominated comic actress in Emmy history, with 13 total.)

"This is part of a trend in the world of women wanting to hear their own stories told by women and not by men in suits or focus groups," Dunham said from the set of "Girls" in New York, where she expressed surprise at getting so many nominations.

"Girls" itself might have had trouble cracking a prime-time lineup just a few years ago. A frank, arty and sometimes downbeat look at the career and romantic travails of a 20-something aspiring novelist played by Dunham, who also created the series, the show has a scant audience, averaging barely 1 million viewers, or a fraction of those for a middling broadcast sitcom. It takes a direct approach to sexuality that may discomfit some viewers.

"I know by network standards it's not a massive amount of viewers," Dunham said, adding that "there just wouldn't be an appropriate home for what I want to do on a broadcast network."

Media buzz heralding this season's female-skewing comedies as the "year of the woman" irked some performers and writers.

"Tina Fey said in her book something that I always think about," said Zooey Deschanel, who was nominated for lead actress in a comedy series for Fox's "New Girl," another show lumped in with the trend. " 'You don't want it to be a female thing. You want it to get to a point where it's just about comedy.' That's the truth. But you do have to go through a little bit of this whole 'female comedies are trending,' I guess. You have to have a breakthrough like this to get to that point."

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