Sydney Morning Herald TV Guide supplement
October 10, 1999
Hollywood's feistiest female characters use to be ruthless and
types in very short skirts. HOLLY BYRNES tells how they turned into witches
History may credit television producer Aaron Spelling with many things: sexed-up soaps such as Dynasty, Meirose Place and Beverly Hills 90210; the cult fashion faux pas of the 80s shoulder pads and micro minis and the seed from which the lopsided breasts of daughter, actor Tori Spelling, sprang.
But the man who gave us role models such as Alexis Colby, Amanda Woodward and Brenda Walsh may also take his place alongside feminists Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem and feminist role models such as Xena, Warrior Princess, as an advocate for women with attitude.
She was a corporate vixen back then, who could take on the entire board of directors, in more ways than one, and not even chip a nail. Her claws were permanently into female rivals and yet she still had time to purr all over her latest toy boy.
A decade later, Spelling's women and the spin offs have evolved from bitch to witch, with more than little black books up their sleeves.
His latest offering, Charmed, starring 90210 graduate Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs, follows the hocus-pocus world of the Halliwell sisters: three good witches who rise above their single status to pursue careers, love and the latest in plunging necklines.
And if ratings be the judge, impressionable young audiences can't get enough of the dark side, devouring TV shows such as Xena: Warrior Princess, Charmed, Buffy and Sabrina, The Teenage Witch.
Channel 7 program manager Peter Andrews said that while the thirtysomethings tune in to the angst of Ally MeBeal, teen queens are breaking their bedtime to stay up for Buffy and her classmates.
"Even in its late tirneslot (Monday 10.30pm), Buffy has gathered a cult following, especially with young women attracted by her sassiness, quick wit and what they consider her alternative attitude," Mr Andrews said.
It is the portrayal of women as independent~ witty and powerful that is striking a chord with females aged 18 to 39.
Making poster girls of stars Lucy Lawless (Xena), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) and Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina), the series combine the "next" generation's enthusiasm for the fringe and its intoxication with self-empowerment.
"Producers still respond to the fact that audiences want the sexiness," Mr Andrews said.
"But as with other forms of popular culture, the 'alternative' is also becoming commercial."
Elder stateswoman Xena led the revolution when she strapped on a leather breastplate (with its matching strap skirt) and went into battle for ratings for Channel 10 four years ago.
But, with "victims" such as Felicity, Ally and Spelling's girls from Beverly Hills still whingeing about boy trouble, the evolution of women on TV may have a way to go yet.
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