Television show content runs in cycles. There was the crime phase with the various Law and Order shows, forensic fad with multiple CSI shows, all those un-Real Housewives, the “talent” shows and several other trends have inundated the airwaves. As the Fall television season kicks into gear, it is more apparent than ever that a DC setting is the hottest trend, with Washington’s iconic buildings and political machinations starring all over the TV lineup.
In the next week, Madam Secretary debuts on Sept. 21; The Blacklist and Scandal return, Sept 22 and 25, respectively. The following week kicks off Season 4 of Homeland on Oct. 5. Covert Affairs returns on Nov. 6 and State of Affairs debuts on Nov. 17. (New seasons of House of Cards and VEEP will join them all early next year.
What is with the plethora of DC-based shows all over TV now? There certainly was no noticeable flood of shows in West Wing’s wake. However,, the success of Scandal, Homeland and VEEP have certainly encouraged imitators. Another theory a New York Times writer posed is that the new shows are inspired by Hilary Clinton. It is easy to see why, with blonde leading ladies, and Téa Leoni even playing Secretary of State in Madam Secretary. The character seems smart, but not as driven or with a husband who held high office too.
The location is appealing, but faked for the most part. While the exception of a scene here and there, the only “DC show” that really films there is DC Cupcakes. Scandal is shot in Los Angeles, with substitutes like the Huntington Library gates serving as the White House gates. VEEP and House of Cards are largely shot in Maryland. The two new series are reportedly filmed in New York.
The real nexus between all of the DC-based shows is the strong female lead. They are complex women (with great wardrobes). The older shows feature heroines who are flawed, sexy and competent in their field: Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) on Homeland or Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) on Scandal or Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) on Covert Affairs all juggle personal issues and professional hot seats. James Spader deservedly got a lot of attention on The Blacklist last year, but FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) was the more fleshed out character. VEEP and House of Cards feature manipulative women (and funny in the case of Selina Meyer (Julia Louis Dreyfus) on VEEP).
Previews of the newer shows have Leoni trying to remain above the power mongering fray and Katherine Heigl on State of Affairs as a trusted aide to the president (Alfre Woodard). It remains to be how complex those characters are and how their roles will develop.
There are other shows on TV these days with strong female leads. The Good Wife readily comes to mind with its trio of interesting, tough women characters (Julianna Marguiles as Alicia Florrick, Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart and Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma). Some lists of strong female leads might even include Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) from The Game of Thrones or Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) from The Mindy Project or the entire cast on Orange is the New Black.
It remains to be seen if the growth of strong female leads on TV is just a trend, like the DC backdrops all over. However, some of us are looking forward to finding out where some of the characters who left DC now are (e.g., Olivia Pope and Carrie Mathison) as the Fall television season really kicks into gear, as well as getting to know some of the newer ones.
Opinion by Dyanne Weiss