thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Drop Dead Diva & Lifetime’s Modern Makeover

In Lifetime on July 11, 2011 at 8:02 am

Phoebe Bronstein

I have always thought Lifetime was for the older ladies, but these days something is afoot in their programming with shows like summer hit Drop Dead Diva, the sexy women of Army Wives, Project Runway, and the premier of a new show with Ally Walker, The Protector. I must admit I have never seen Army Wives as it never appealed to me and I haven’t seen Project Runaway since it moved to Lifetime. However, I just watched the first two episodes of The Protector, and it isn’t too bad thus far; then again I am a total sucker for any and all crime oriented television shows.

But my favorite Lifetime show and one my favorite summer shows is Drop Dead Diva. Not only am I a big Drop Dead Diva fan, but I feel like it is a show particularly necessary for the current television landscape. Last summer ABC Family canceled Huge (which made me really sad) and then Marie Claire published Maura Kelly’s upsetting and disrespectful response to Mike & Molly on their blog (read here). That is, the current TV climate is not one that welcomes weight differences and is at times downright cruel. Enter Drop Dead Diva, a show that features and celebrates a brilliant, sexy, and plus size woman as its central character. The show is now in its third season and going strong.

Jane (Brooke Elliott)

So here’s the basic plot: Deb, a skinny model in love with a lawyer, Grayson, dies in a car accident. Deb goes to heaven, presses the return button, and comes back in the body of Jane (Brooke Elliott), a plus size, workaholic lawyer with Margaret Cho as her secretary (Margaret Cho is so awesome). Deb, now Jane, goes to work at the law firm where her now grieving fiancé, Grayson works. Drama ensues as Jane/Deb tries to win back Grayson’s heart, balance her new life in her new body, and all the while rocking her lawyer socks—a feat she accomplishes amongst a myriad of celebrity cameos from Paula Abdul and Wendy Williams to Wanda Sykes. And just in case you thought the show couldn’t get better, the show is sprinkled with fantasy song and dance sequences which showcase Brooke Elliott’s incredible voice and talent. So good!

But here is the thing, in a climate where most of the women of television and particularly those that have their own shows are somewhere in, around, and under a size 2, Jane is an awesome anomaly. She is sexy and the show believes she is sexy. But the show and Jane also struggle (particularly in the first season) with the social pressures surrounding her body although the show is definitely not about weight. It is interesting to note here too, that the last time Margaret Cho was on television she was forced to undertake some serious weight loss, which we all know is really bad for your health. Now Cho is on Drop Dead Diva, a show that celebrates her curvy body.

Margaret Cho as Terry, Jane's awesome assistant

While this is all true and awesome, Lifetime’s own homepage features diet tips for women and the network also airs a show on weight loss geared at women: Cook Yourself Thin. And while roaming around Lifetime’s site, I came across pictures of celebrities who have lost weight, some healthier than others. This photo essay does not appear critical of the Hollywood super skinny aesthetic or interested in weight loss for health purposes. And it seems odd to me that something like this photo essay can coexist on Lifetime with Drop Dead Diva’s emphasis on beauty in all different shapes and sizes. But I guess it all makes sense given the bodies that are front and center on Lifetime’s other shows, such as Army Wives, Project Runway, and The Protector (ie some very thin and fit women).

So yes, Lifetime has definitely gotten a face lift of epic proportions—from made for TV women’s films, which they still show, to snazzy new programming like Drop Dead Diva and Army Wives. The promo picture for Army Wives clearly seems to be looking for sex appeal—something I never thought I would see on Lifetime. As an aside, if Lifetime is a network targeted at women and they are selling the sex appeal of the Army Wives (in their marketing at least), might they in fact be targeting women who love women? As that would be cool. But if not, who are they appealing to? And why doesn’t a network that markets itself towards women have more appealing and strong women like Jane? Also note: the Lifetime website has astrology tabs. Interesting and perhaps a little odd.

This is all to say that Drop Dead Diva is a serious breath of fresh air in a TV and larger media landscape that does not embrace weight differences. Jane is a hardworking and bad ass lawyer, but she also happens to be sexy, sassy, and flirty and sometimes struggles with her confidence (be honest, we all do at times). And she is even, unlike the women of many crime shows, pretty decent at dating and has friends (seriously, lots of friends). So clearly I am a fan and perhaps not as critical as I could be here, but this girl would love to see more shows like Drop Dead Diva. And I will probably now watch anything with Brooke Elliott as she is awesome.

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  1. Now I need to watch this, too! Love Margaret Cho.

  2. My all time favorite show. Can’t wait til Sunday night.

  3. […] Phoebe B: Honestly I can’t quite remember what made me start watching it, but I am SO glad that I did. It is perhaps one of my favorite Summer shows on TV. I keep watching it for a variety of reasons but I think one of the things I like most is Jane (and Brooke Elliot who plays her is so amazing). She is such a badass lawyer and such a great friend (I kind of wish we were friends). But perhaps most importantly, in a TV landscape that is often unkind to women as we’ve seen in Lena Dunham’s recent treatment, DDD celebrates women of all shapes and sizes. […]

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