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Blood-Boiler of the Day: TV Show Canceled for Having Too Many Smart, Interesting Girl Characters

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by Inkoo Kang
December 19, 2013 10:00 AM
18 Comments
  • |
Tower Prep

Hollywood execs can get awfully creative when they need to come up with excuses for why film and TV should stay so male-centric. Boys won't watch stories about girls? Wrong. Women and girls don't go to the movies? Wrong. So what's the next self-serving industry delusion they're peddling now?

Boys like dolls so much more than girls do. (Because, come on, action figures are totally dolls.)

Boys' love of dolls is, in fact, the explanation writer Paul Dini got for why his Cartoon Network show, Tower Prep, was canceled. In a fascinating discussion with director Kevin Smith, Dini relates that higher-ups at the cable network urged him to focus his storylines on his male characters and make his female characters "one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys." When Dini proceeded to create fully realized girl characters anyway, the Cartoon Network axed the show. 

Here's the relevant excerpt (emphases added): 

DINI: They're all for boys. "We do not want the girls," I mean, I've heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, "We do not want girls watching this show." 

SMITH: WHY? That's 51% of the population. 

DINI: They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys. The girls may watch the show -- 

SMITH: So you can sell them T-shirts if they don't -- A: I disagree, I think girls buy toys as well, I mean not as many as fucking boys do, but, B: sell them something else, man! Don't be lazy and be like, 'well I can't sell a girl a toy.' Sell 'em a T-shirt, man, sell them fucking umbrella with the fucking character on it, something like that. But if it's not a toy, there's something else you could sell 'em! Like, just because you can't figure out your job, don't kill chances of, like, something that's gonna reach an audi -- that's just so self-defeating, when people go, like... these are the same fuckers who go, like, "Oh, girls don't read comics, girls aren't into comics." It's all self-fulfilling prophecies. They just make it that way, by going like, "I can't sell 'em a toy, what's the point?"

DINI: That's the thing, you know I hate being Mr. Sour Grapes here, but I'll just lay it on the line: that's the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, like, "We need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys" -- this is the network talking -- "one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there." And then we began writing stories that got into the two girls' back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience, in sort of like they picked up that Harry Potter type of serialized way, which is what The Batman and [indistinct]'s really gonna kill. But, the Cartoon Network was saying, 'Fuck, no, we want the boys' action, it's boys' action, this goofy boy humor we've gotta get that in there. And we can't -- and I'd say, but look at the numbers, we've got parents watching, with the families, and then when you break it down -- "Yeah, but the -- so many -- we've got too many girls. We need more boys."

SMITH: That's heart-breaking. 

DINI: And then that's why they cancelled us, and they put on a show called Level Up, which is, you know, goofy nerds fighting CG monsters. It's like, "We don't want the girls because the girls won't buy toys." We had a whole merchandise line for Tower Prep that they shitcanned before it ever got off the launching pad, because it's like, "Boys, boys, boys. Boys buy the little spinny tops, they but the action figures, girls buy princesses, we're not selling princesses."


Let's put aside the disheartening implication that stories can only be told if they can be also reduced to colorful chunks of plastic and sold to a bunch of little kids who can only express fandom through buying merchandise.

What Dini and Smith's conversation reveals is that the lazy and incompetent suits at Cartoon Network were so intent on selling to just 25% of the audience (young males) that they completely disregarded that they had captured all four viewer quadrants (boys and girls as well as families, which presumably includes parents). As Scott Beggs notes over at Film School Rejects, "It's clear that 'Girls don't buy X' is another way of saying 'I don't know how to sell girls X'" -- a problem that might be alleviated by the greater presence of female execs over at the network. (They do know that girls love cartoons too, right?)

Unfortunately, the consequences of Cartoon Network's shortsightedness -- and frankly, their piss-poor business decision -- is the continuation of a media climate hostile to female characters and audiences. Kudos to Paul Dini and Smith for laying bare the jaw-dropping levels of idiocy and complacency we're battling against. 

[h/t Film School Rejects]

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18 Comments

  • Elynor | December 23, 2013 11:04 AMReply

    Canceling a show because it has smart girls in it? What? You want only boys to watch your network? Are you mad or just really, really stupid? Do you have mothers and grandmothers and sisters and aunts and female friends? Are they too stupid to enjoy Cartoon Network? Do they spend money? You do realize that the above article is going all over the Internet don't you? Millions of girls and women and boys and men who value female intelligence (and advertisers selling products) are going to read this article? Do you understand that these kinds of idiotic remarks will lose you sponsors and viewers and tank your network? Were you born to a woman or did you just appear on Earth out of the Ethers?

  • bloopers | December 31, 2013 12:26 AM

    HMMM.

    "Canceling a show because it has smart girls in it?"

    Sounds like a good move to me. Boys watch shows about boys, not girls.

    "You want only boys to watch your network?"

    Yup. They know where their bread is buttered.

    "Are you mad or just really, really stupid?"

    Try smart. CN is smart. They know their audience and how to sell to it. And their audience definitely isn't women, who don't watch CN. Women watch Disney channel, with all those crappy tween shows they put on there.

    "Do you have mothers and grandmothers and sisters and aunts and female friends? Are they too stupid to enjoy Cartoon Network?"

    Yes. They are. Because they're women!

    "Do they spend money?"

    Sure. They spend money on girls' toys for girls, and boys' toys for boys.

    "You do realize that the above article is going all over the Internet don't you?"

    Yeah. Wow. That'll show 'em, right? An article, going all over the internet! That'll really hurt their bottom line! Because people complaining on a blog in a tiny, tiny little corner of the internet serving a tiny, tiny audience is going to sway a giant megacorporation, right? Do you hear yourself when you say silly things like this?

    " Millions of girls and women and boys and men who value female intelligence (and advertisers selling products) are going to read this article?"

    Who are these advertisers that value female intelligence? I don't see them on TV at all. And boys and men who value female intelligence? Tell me, have you looked at the world, recently? If there's one thing that's not valued at all, and is in fact a negative, it's female intelligence. Because female intelligence leads to feminism, and feminism leads to man-hating and matriarchal thinking. Girls trying to get smart always end up learning to hate men and push for policies that virtually or literally castrate them.

    " Do you understand that these kinds of idiotic remarks will lose you sponsors and viewers and tank your network?"

    I think they understand that these remarks won't affect their bottom line one iota. They've got decades of data and analysis telling them that this is the way to make money. And they do make money - TONS of it - doing things this way. CN knows its audience. And it ain't girls. Why bother with girls when the boys are where the real money is at?

    "Were you born to a woman or did you just appear on Earth out of the Ethers?"

    I'm sure they were all born to women. And glad as hell to get out of there, too. The last thing any man needs is the castrating influence of a woman.

    CN knows exactly what it is doing - the right thing. And kudos for them for not paying attention to the little feminazi flies buzzing around them, berating them for all the money they're making targeting the only audience that truly matters - men.

  • John | December 23, 2013 12:21 AMReply

    One show kills this argument "Legend of Korra".

    Honestly I'm officially done with Cartoon Network. First they cancel awesome shows like Thundercats, Young Justice, and Green Lantern. Now you hear this bull crap. They won't be getting anymore of my time. I'll spend my time with Nickelodean and Disney channel from now on.

  • Chris L | December 31, 2013 4:14 AM

    Bloopers, you need professional help to address your hatred of females. Seriously, what a loser.

  • Pat | December 22, 2013 8:04 PMReply

    *Two-handed facepalm* You know, I remember not that long ago (that's a lie, it's been over 15 years now...) When children watched Buggs Bunny, and the Animaniacs, and other children's cartoon shows, and tv shows...not because they were boys or girls, but because the shows were good. Because it's what their parents would let them watch. My daughter loves Wreck-it-Ralph, and MMA, and video games, and my son loves Brave, and play pretend, and science channel.

    Cartoon Network, I'm ashamed that the channel that I once watched Sailor Moon on, is so worried about JUST GRABBING THE BOYS UP, that you're forgetting the rest of your audience. You try to sell girls pink, and frills and gentle, quiet play. You sell 'boys will be boys', rough housing, and blue-jeans to boys. You tell the woman who has figurines from her favorite video games that "Girls don't buy toys". You tell the woman who grew up playing with GI Joes and Ninja turtles and Legos. You tell the woman who played football and war games, and Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. You tell the woman who read X-Men and Spider Man. You tell the little girl who says she wants to be an MMA fighter while she stands there, looking at Nakamura with her torn ACL, "Girl's don't do that". While you're at it, demand that my son, who would rather have a paint set, a book, "Boys like toys".

    Because what you're forgetting...is that "Boys" and "Girls" DO NOT BUY TOYS. PARENTS buy toys. It is the parents money that provides the toys, the parents go with the children to shop (or at least my parents did, and I do). Parents have last say what goes onto the conveyor belt.

    And this parent isn't going to buy a damn thing attached to Cartoon Network ever again.

  • Mark Boyer | December 22, 2013 4:50 PMReply

    You know what else boys like? Smart girls!

  • Tiffany Harris | December 22, 2013 3:19 PMReply

    yes because girls are incabapable of liking 'boy' things like comics, cars, figurines, collector cards, and other 'male' things.

    The cartoon network is seriously out of touch with their audience.

    For example nick launched the tmnt for 2012 and their fan base is more girls than it is guys. It's a lot of adults that like it as well as a new generation of kids. The female characters are actually interesting, and role model worthy. Not some helpless bimbo.

    We like our action and rough housing as much as the next 'boy'. Girls like princesses because that's what they are taught by t.v.

    I bet you any money if they had strong role models for girls that kicked butt and gave a positive girls can be just as good as the guys, they would have so much fan base to make the shows they air popular they wouldn't know how to wrap their head around the profit.

  • Lona | December 22, 2013 10:04 AMReply

    Pitch it to WB. Or Disney Channel! My granddaughter's need positive role models. ESPECIALLY at the pre-teen ages and beyond. Girls that are smart, funny, and fun. Not sluts who are half dressed and couldnt find their own ass with both hands!

  • Sndsfnny | December 22, 2013 8:14 AMReply

    I hope Dini finds another network (or 'Net work) for "Tower Prep". CN just demonstrated one more reason cable is slowly, painfully dying...

  • Charlie Levenson | December 21, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    This would make me angry, if it didn't make me so sad for how absolutely STUPID the male (and maybe even female) executives at CN actually are. Like they don't understand that every purchase a heterosexual male makes is done to influence or impress a woman, so if there is a woman sitting or working next to him talking about enjoying a show, he'll think to himself, "I could get lucky if I had a toy on my desk from that show, and it would give us something to talk about." Success is NEVER a bad thing, and having a WIDE audience just more likely to make a network get traction and be of value to advertisers.

    And that's without even getting into the issue of males who might actually find strong women appealing. Ugggg.

  • Geek Pop Artist | December 21, 2013 11:43 AMReply

    (accidentally replied with this content to a spam post below, you might want to delete that one anyway)

    Wait, I thought the purpose of a TV show was to entertain...? The purpose of a {censored}-ing COMMERCIAL is to sell toys. These people have their heads up their asses - GAWD - what a bunch of ignorant, money grubbing, sycophants....kick 'em all squarely in the 'sack, is what I say, and go sell your show with interesting characters to a network who's slogan is "Characters Welcome" - I, for one, WANT to see this show.

  • Edward | December 21, 2013 2:07 AMReply

    Get ready for this discussion to happen again in 2015 with Disney and Lucasfilm. Here's what you need to know: Disney does not want the girls going to see "Star Wars." Let them stick with animated movies like "Frozen" and princess movies. They are not creating "four-quadrant" films anymore, they are not even simply trying to create GOOD films anymore, they're trying to do age- and genre-specific marketing of consumer goods using a TV show as an advertising medium. So they need the TV show to reflect what is desired by the audience they want to get. NO ONE wants to make TV shows or movies anymore because the story is good; they want to make them because the marketing opportunity is there, which can be boiled down to the metrics and numbers that the finance people and C-level executives (not to mention analysts) want to hear. They could be making Play-Doh for all anyone cares, they don't give a crud about the movie or the $4 billion franchise they bought .. they just want the increased revenue that comes from licensing and advertising.

  • "Woman (59) with action figures on her desk | December 20, 2013 8:03 PMReply

    The movie/tv industry has been stupid as rocks for years. They need to go to a convention... See all the women with the costumes, toys, etc? Know who bought all the Hawkeye action figures at $300 to $600 EACH on ebay? Mostly women/girls. Who watches Dr. Who and buys all the gizmos they can get their hands on? Women. This has been going on since Star Trek, and Man From UNCLE back in the late 60s. You'd think they'd get their heads out of their arse by now. Idiocy.

  • cc | December 27, 2013 8:12 PM

    Haha, I bought my sister (age 27) a Dr. Who toy for Christmas (for the last 3 years in a row).

  • Blossom | December 19, 2013 8:29 PMReply

    And from the same network that brought us PowerPuff Girls. Very sad to see the giant leap backwards.

  • Madeline | December 19, 2013 3:48 PMReply

    How to sell girls x? Um, show girl playing with x. Done. You're welcome, marketers. Very, very welcome.

  • renee_church@yahoo.com | December 19, 2013 10:31 AMReply

    my neighbor's mother makes $64 an hour on the laptop. She has been laid off for nine months but last month her pay was $19252 just working on the laptop for a few hours. see here.....
    http://7.ly/dnfa

  • Geek Pop Artist | December 21, 2013 11:22 AM

    Wait, I thought the purpose of a TV show was to entertain...? The purpose of a {censored}-ing COMMERCIAL is to sell toys. These people have their heads up their asses - GAWD - what a bunch of ignorant, money grubbing, sycophants....kick 'em all squarely in the 'sack, is what I say, and go sell your show with interesting characters to a network who's slogan is "Characters Welcome" - I, for one, WANT to see this show.

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