Between interviews with the showrunners themselves as well as the writers and actors they employ, and even a set visit to Jill Soloway’s seminal Amazon dramedy, Transparent, Press gives television lovers an inspiring, eye-opening look into the way women are creating groundbreaking, original content.
By the time the author, a former TV critic for The Village Voice, finished her book, Donald Trump had become the first fake-reality-TV character to occupy the Oval Office ... Stealing the Show at times feels a little bereft of urgency. Then again. Here is a collection of women who have managed to make television on their own terms, embodying proof that it can be done ... The author is particularly interested in (and good at describing) the varieties of sexual identities available to women on shows created by women ... And if, in the end, Press can’t quite sustain the optimism that spurred her book proposal, she comes by her anxieties honestly.
It’s only in the last few years that we’re seeing more women of color getting opportunities to create shows, including Issa Rae (Insecure), Ava DuVernay (Queen Sugar) Courtney A. Kemp (Power) and Gloria Calderon Kellett (One Day at a Time). You can understand why Press might have been reluctant to focus on shows that, as she was doing her research, had just one or two seasons under their belt. Still, I would have preferred to hear Press’ analysis of (and interview with) any of the aforementioned women rather than a chapter on Amy Schumer. Press does acknowledge the elephant in the room when she writes about Lena Dunham and Girls, pointing out that the show’s portrayal of 'contemporary New York City was shockingly deficient in racial diversity.' (So was the Washington, D.C.-set Murphy Brown, but that show and others spotlighted in the book get a pass.) ... this is precisely the moment that Hollywood needs to rethink equality as a 'big ask.'
TV used to be dominated by the 'universal' worldview of 'ordinary' people — as defined by the mostly male series makers ... Until those 'other' perspectives got a foot in the door, over the past 30 years, and especially the past 15. That expanding focus is chronicled in TV critic Joy Press’ scrupulously reported and lovingly written history Stealing the Show ... Press builds her chronological chapters around talks with series originators who just happen to be women, and who have redefined TV-normal by placing characters who just happen to be women/gay/whatever at the forefront.
Chapter by chapter, Press charts the peaks and valleys of the female gaze through the lens of TV in the last 30 years. We see norms slowly change ... Even as Press details the specific ways that the women have changed TV, a great pleasure of reading Stealing the Show is her nostalgic run-through of beloved shows and the things that made them tick. She captures their magic with some choicely worded phrases: the dialogue pacing Gilmore Girls was 'like a Ramones song transposed to television or a Hepburn-Tracy movie on speed.'
Much of the book hovers in an uneasy territory between bigging up every teeny advance in how women appear on TV and anxiously logging the frustrations of those who make these shows ... It’s difficult to tell from Press’s book just how naughty or nice you have to be to get something on the air without too much debilitating compromise. There’s a breathlessness in the report that [Shonda] Rhimes and [Jill] Soloway have provided childcare for their staff that makes clear how rare that must be ... My real hope is that the slow power shift Press documents will eventually make possible a creative transformation that fully justifies her optimism.
She clearly loves television, and she writes about these shows with affection and clarity ... Press is less expert as a profile artist. She introduces us to Rhimes as a 'shy and chubby' little girl who was often the only black kid in her classes, but quickly moves past these formative years to catalogue Rhimes’s professional accomplishments. She glosses over controversies ... Stealing the Show makes an important contribution as well, preserving the stories of the women behind the golden age of television.
Women have run successful TV shows for decades, but they still routinely face bias and unreasonable obstacles in the industry, as Press...details in this powerful narrative that expertly weaves reporting, analysis, and anecdotes ... Press’s chronicle of a pop-culture movement should inspire a new generation of women creators.
Press...draws from decades of interviews, research, and reporting to create a vibrant behind-the-scenes look at the some of the most prominent women creatives in the industry and the role they played in bringing women-focused narratives to the forefront of modern TV and culture ... An urgent and entertaining history of the transformative powers of women in TV.