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Funny ladies in the spotlight

December 12, 2011|By Leonor Vivanco, RedEye

Funny ladies are raising their profile this year—from Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey's memoirs to Kristen Wiig scoring a hit with "Bridesmaids" and being named GQ's "Bro of the Year."

They've landed leading roles in movies centered around crude guy humor. Take Cameron Diaz in "Bad Teacher," Anna Faris in "What's Your Number?" and Mila Kunis in "Friends with Benefits." Kunis, who is the voice of Meg on "Family Guy," was named GQ's "knockout" in its Men of the Year issue and attended the Marine Corps Ball.

And lately women are the center of attention on the small screen. Rosie O'Donnell moved to Chicago and has a talk show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Chelsea Handler, the only female late-night talk show host, recently got a contract extension for "Chelsea Lately" and will have her new scripted show "Are You There, Chelsea?" premiere in January on NBC.

Not only are women the stars of a slew of new comedy series, but they also created the shows, including Fox's "New Girl," CBS's "2 Broke Girls," and NBC's "Up All Night," and "Whitney."

"I do think there has been this deeply held and widespread belief in Hollywood that women aren't as funny as men. Maybe we're just at the beginning now of seeing that start to evolve and change. Of course, that's a stereotype and not true," said Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

However, it's still too early to tell whether the huge success of "Bridesmaids" will have some kind of carryover effect for women working in comedy. For example, some thought that Kathryn Bigelow – the first woman to win the Oscar last year for "The Hurt Locker" - would have led to more women directing, but it hasn't turned out that way, she said. The tracking of employment figures on screen and behind the scenes ultimately will show whether women are really having a better year this year.

For the past 10 to 15 years, there's only been small, steady incremental growth in the number of women working both on screen and behind the scenes in prime-time television yet that growth seems to have hit a wall recently, Lauzen said.

To change what's on screen, there has to be change behind the scenes, she said.

"When you have a woman – and all it takes is one – when you have one women in a position of power behind the scenes as a creator of a TV series, show runner or writer, not only do you get more female characters on screen, but a different kind of female character, a more powerful female character," Lauzen said.

Well, the industry took notice at funny female writers and performers who succeeded as central characters of shows such as NBC's "30 Rock" with Fey and "Parks and Recreation" with Amy Poehler, and now is trying to copy that formula, said Michael Niederman, chairman of the TV Department at Columbia College Chicago.

"It's nothing more than the entertainment business always is obsessed with the new," he said.

Mickey O'Connor, managing editor of TVGuide.com, agrees there has been a domino effect in particular with NBC. While many TV shows are written by men, this latest cycle strays from that. "Certainly, there have been funny women on television shows, but I think you'll find this is sort of something different in that women are creating the material," he said.

lvivanco@tribune.com | @lvivanco

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