ABC hints at B-word in 2 new shows about women

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“Their intention was never to really reclaim the word,” she said. “Television shows ultimately want to be apolitical. They don’t want to engage with the kinds of rhetoric that in real life translates into incredibly ugly reminders that these judgments are still really powerful and really commonplace.”

Because the insult is abbreviated, it “kind of defangs what’s supposed to be edgy” about the shows, she said, and the B-titles end up looking like a “blatant grab at relevance.”

Branding expert Dorie Clark agrees. The B’s aren’t meant to be sexist or denigrating, she said, but to get people talking and, ultimately, to get ratings. Producers and executives protect themselves by not spelling out the B-word: “They’re trying to be provocative to push the envelope and still manage to make it acceptable when it comes time to be listed in TV Guide.”

ABC is the rare network headed by a woman: Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, has been named the most powerful woman in entertainment by the Hollywood Reporter the past two years. Such female leadership “actually gives the shows more cover,” Clark said.

“If a male executive was green-lighting a show with the word bitch in the title, he may well be criticized and may be called a sexist, where if a woman is doing that, she’s more immune to these criticisms,” she said. “To rise to the level of the top of the network, your No. 1 responsibility is to get good ratings.”

Michael Taylor, chair of Film and Television Production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, agrees the B’s are all about buzz.

“The reason the network is using the word in the title of the show is for its shock value,” he said. “It creates talk about it, and that’s exactly what the network wants.”

Besides, the word isn’t offensive to everyone. Madonna used it as a term of endearment in a recent interview. And referencing it so openly could actually “take the charge out of the word,” Taylor said, so it no longer seems controversial or derogatory.

“GCB” and “Don’t Trust the B–- in Apt. 23” aren’t the first to use the B-word in a cheeky way. The diet book “Skinny Bitch” was a No. 1 New York Times best-seller in 2007, and feminist writer Joreen published “The BITCH Manifesto” back in 1970 in an effort to redefine and claim the word, which she said “serves the social function of isolating and discrediting a class of people.”

It still serves that function, says Jennifer Siebel Newsom, founder of MissRepresentation.org, which encourages women and girls to challenge limiting media labels.

“People are raised mimicking media _ TV is the other parent _ and kids are growing up without common decency and respect for each other,” she said. “They’re fed that women are second-class citizens; women are bitches and they’re not to be trusted.”

Response to the B-word in TV titles has certainly been heightened by national discussions about birth control and women’s issues, experts said, even though the shows were in production long before Rush Limbaugh’s recent misogynistic gaffe.

“When we have national news commentators freely being able to call women sluts, prostitutes and things like that over the last few months, that probably makes women and women’s groups close ranks a little bit,” said Fuller, of the Alliance of Women in Media. “Maybe we’re not ready to let this language fly out of our control.”

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AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/APSandy.

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