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“The Price Is Right” but the gender is wrong? Bob Barker on CBS: “they’ve only auditioned men” (also: Barbara Walters’ homophobia and fuzzy math)

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

June 18th, 2007

[UPDATE: I’ll be on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” tomorrow night at 9-10pm Eastern (or check your local listings) to talk about some of the issues below. I’ll blog a separate post about that in a minute.]

I tried to write this up on Saturday but my computer froze just as I was getting to the end of the post about Rosie O’Donnell, Bob Barker, Barbara Walter, CBS, daytime v. night time comics, and more… and I was fed up so I didn’t recompose. This will be shorter and less punchy than my first attempt, but here goes:

I swear, once Rosie O’Donnell left ABC’s “The View,” I really thought I was done having to do media criticism about news networks and journalists’ reactions to the comedian. Alas, no…

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Bob Barker, the recently resigned host of “The Price Is Right,” thinks that Rosie would make a great successor for him on the popular game show — but he isn’t sure his network wants to let a woman into the clubhouse:

“She knows the show,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind she could do the show. 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.”

…Among those mentioned as possible replacement hosts have been Todd Newton of the E! network, Mark Steines of “Entertainment Tonight,” George Hamilton and John O’Hurley.

I’ve heard a bit of grumbling about Barker’s use of the phrase “lady host,” but that doesn’t bother me (the sexual harassment and wrongful termination lawsuits against him by various “Barker’s Beauties” over the years, on the other hand, do bother me… but that’s a post for another day). Barker’s language here isn’t the issue — what he reveals about the network’s bias against female TV personalities is. (Besides, “The Price Is Right” host’s job is to help guess the retail cost of a tube of Mentos, a Black & Decker wet-dry vacuum, a cruise to Acapulco or This Brand New Car — who do they think is buying all this crap? Is it possible that CBS still believes that women viewers don’t want to watch accessible women on daytime TV? Did Rosie’s ratings-magnet stint on “The View” teach them nothing?)

Look, I know that being excluded from the job category of “TPIR Host” is not, in the grand scheme of things, particularly important. It’s not like she’s lobbying to anchor “Nightline.” But any time a network hangs a “no girls need apply” sign over any media job, it’s illustrative of the larger problem of institutional bias within the media industry.

Consider that day time game shows (Meredith Vierra’s “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” aside) aren’t the only areas in which women are considered undesirable candidates. Media owners and studio heads have long believed that men will always be funnier than women and, as a result, they have reserved late night comedy shows as male-only real estate, regardless of whether those boys have talent (Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert) or don’t (Carson Daly? Jimmy Kimmel? Carlos Mencia?). I’m sorry, but can anyone really tell me that it wouldn’t be more fun to see Kathy Griffin skewer pampered celebrities as “The Tonight Show” host than watch the sycophantic Jay Leno fawn over them as he currently does every night? Yet no female comics have been included on the networks’ serious short lists to replace the aging Leno and Letterman when they’re ready to go the way of Carson.

Meanwhile, in other Rosie-related news, TV Guide reports that “The View’s” Barbara Walters (an executive producer of the show) has been using what they call “fuzzy math” to mislead people into thinking that the show hasn’t faltered since O’Donnell’s premature departure. More on that in a minute. But first, a bit of back story about the interview in which the fuzzy math appeared.

A minor controversy is buzzing over Walters stooping to a homophobic joke On Wed.’s “On-Air with Ryan Seacrest” radio show: in a desperate attempt to keep tongues wagging about the chat show, Walters quipped that “There are things we’ve been able to discuss that we weren’t able to discuss with Rosie, like heterosexual sex.” The comment isn’t just anti-gay (if all Rosie ever talked about was lesbian sex, the cable news stations wouldn’t have been bashing her all year), it’s also inane. Does anyone really think that Walters, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and the show’s writers sat around “The View’s “writers room and said, “The Big Bad Lesbian is gone! Yee-ha, now we can talk about getting it on the good, old-fashioned, man-woman way!”? But, more to the point, the comment was clearly contrary to the content of the show itself, considering that nearly every starlet, singer and actress who appeared on “The View” over the past year was interviewed about her love life, which usually involved some discussions about heterosexual sex.

Speaking of Walters’ inaccuracy brings me back to her misleading ratings mumbo-jumbo. During the same “On-Air with Ryan Seacrest” radio interview, Walters said that since Rosie left, “We are perhaps not quite as political [or] vocal about [things], but the Hot Topics have been very fun, and the ratings are up, so we’re quite happy. Obviously, the audience is very loyal.”

But, according to TV Guide:

…Barbara Walters cheered The View’s performance (perseverance?) sans Rosie, saying that instead of viewership going down, as many predicted, “Ratings are up, so we’re quite happy.” Cue the fuzzy math. While ABC’s spin on the Nielsens flags that the talker last week was up 13 percent versus a year ago (and pre-Rosie), the overall audience (as well as its delivery of women 18 to 49) is down some 10 percent when compared to O’Donnell’s final week on the show — the context within which Walters purported to be speaking. Now that’s a hot topic.

Barbara Walters has long since abdicated any journalistic ethic in relation to “The View,” not just in her various lies about the firing of Star Jones (which still gets attention), but as far back as the show’s 2000 season, when “The View” accepted money from Campbell’s to turn eight episodes of the show into “paid infomercials for Campbell’s Soup,” as my colleagues at FAIR noted (full disclosure: I was working at FAIR at that time):

Co-host Barbara Walters, one of ABC’s most prominent news personalities, joined her colleagues in introducing pro-Campbell’s themes into the talkshow’s discussions, with Walters asking in one show, “Didn’t we grow up…eating Campbell’s Soup?” Her colleagues responded by breaking into a chorus of the “M’m! M’m! Good!” jingle. In addition to developing special soup segments, The View assured Campbell’s that “hosts would try to weave a soup message into their regular on-air banter” (Wall Street Journal, 11/14/00).

I was pretty much done with Walters since then…

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