Men Watch TV Like This, Women Watch TV Like That...

Ginia Bellafante, who wrote the New York Times review of Game of Thrones that got so much negative reaction, has responded to her critics. But apart from linking to some good critiques of her piece, she doesn’t exactly clarify what she was saying in that piece. A negative review of the show would be more than fine, but her original piece seemed to mostly sidestep the show itself in favour of generalizations about who its audience is, and what elements of it were aimed at men or women. And in the rebuttal, she continues to make some odd generalizations about who watches what types of show:

As I wrote in the review, I realize that there are women who love fantasy, but I don’t know any and that is the truth: I don’t know any. At the same time, I am sure that there are fantasy fans out there who may not know a single person who worships at the altar of quietly hewn domestic novels or celebrates the films of Nicole Holofcener or is engrossed by reruns of “House.”

First, I’m not sure what definition of fantasy is being used here. If it means the particular type of mythological-kingdom fantasy represented by Game of Thrones (and by many works that aren’t even technically fantasy), I can see not knowing women who love that, though they certainly do exist. But a ton of stories about magic and fantasy are aimed directly at a predominantly-female audience. And of course I’m sure there are plenty of people who read quietly hewn domestic novels and fantasy novels. I can certainly see Bellafante liking one type of story but not the other; but her assumption that there’s a total binary opposition between different types of viewers, or the way men and women view entertainment, led her down some strange paths in that article.

Also, Game of Thrones has been officially renewed for a second season. It didn’t do nearly as well as Boardwalk Empire‘s premiere, but it has room to grow, the reviews are good, and most importantly from HBO’s perspective, it’s already selling really well overseas. The network hasn’t had many big international hits recently (and international sales are a big part of their business model), and this show has a truly international, beyond-borders feel to it that even the specifically regional True Blood does not. I figure that even if this show doesn’t build its audience to True Blood levels, it’ll be safe for as long as it needs to tell the story.

Besides, HBO always gives two-season pickups to everything – the only question is how long they’ll wait to announce it. With a big new show that they have a lot of plans for, like Boardwalk or Thrones, they announce the second season pickup a day or two later. With other shows, they may wait, but they do announce it. Even Tell Me You Love Me, which didn’t do well at all (one of those interesting, experimental shows that fell through the cracks during the network’s late ’00s transitional period) got a second season pickup; then the creator announced that she couldn’t find an approach for the second season and was voluntarily deciding not to come back. How voluntary that was is a question I can’t answer; I have visions of HBO executives acting like a stereotypical boss, trying to get someone to quit because they can’t fire him/her. But anyway, since Lucky Louie and John From Cincinnati, HBO doesn’t cancel things right away.

Update: Wil Zmak mentions that The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was canceled after one season, so that’s a more recent example. And as with the cancellation of Deadwood, HBO put out the story that they might keep it alive with TV movies. Similarly, when the network canceled In Treatment they announced they might spin off the lead character in a different format. It’s important to their brand that they shouldn’t be seen as canceling something outright, with no options for its revival, even if in most cases that’s what it means.

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