ABC has done the inevitable, pulling the plug on midseason comedy Work It. The critically panned cross-dressing comedy opened with a so-so 2.0 rating among adults 18-49 and 6.1 million viewers and plunged 20% in Week 2 to a 1.6. …
ABC’s new series Work It didn’t set the world on fire in its premiere last night, but it didn’t crash and burn either. The cross-dressing comedy opened with a 2.0/5 among adults 18-49 and 6.1 million viewers. That was down 17% in 18-49 from the premiere in the time slot of the now defunct Man Up!, but in terms of retaining the Last Man Standing lead-in, Work It! did actually a little better than Man Up! with 83% vs. 80%. Of course, matching the performance of a swiftly canceled series is not that reassuring. Last Man Standing (2.4/6) was up 9% in 18-49 from the series low it posted with its most recent original three weeks ago. In its regular slot premiere, Celebrity Wife Swap (2.2/5) was down 8% from its preview behind The Bachelor on Monday, while Body Of Proof (1.5/4) tied the series low rating it posted with its last original four weeks ago.
Two years ago, groups representing Italian Americans were up in arms over promos for an upcoming series that was seen as perpetuating stereotypes about the ethnic group and called upon the network to scrap it. The backlash continued even after the series, MTV’s Jersey Shore, premiered, with several advertisers, including computer maker Dell, pulling out. But several months later, all was forgotten and the reality show went on to become a ratings mega hit and a pop culture phenomenon.
Now, LGBT advocacy groups are up in arms over ABC’s upcoming cross-dressing comedy Work It, urging the network not to air it because it “reinforces negative and damaging stereotypes about transgender people,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. Like with Jersey Shore, the backlash is based mostly on promos (video below), which are chock-full of gags featuring the leads, played by Ben Koldyke and Amaury Nolasco, dressed as women, while the show itself is split evenly between the characters’ normal lives as heterosexual men and their undercover jobs as female pharmaceutical reps. The outrage has zeroed in on a print ad for Work It featuring the two leads in drag, standing at urinals. An image like this will “make it more difficult for transgender people to gain full equality — including the important right to access public accommodations appropriate to their gender identity,” Mark Snyder from the Transgender Law Center wrote. “We ask that ABC … keep the show’s bathroom advertisement out of circulation, and seriously consider whether airing this show is worth the damage it has the potential to do,” GLAAD’s Matt Kane wrote in a post titled “Why ABC’s New Sitcom Work It Hurts The Transgender Community.” (In addition to promos, GLAAD has also screened the pilot.) “The fact is ABC should not air this show at all, as it will contribute to a climate in which transgender people are something to be laughed at, rather than treated with the respect and dignity that everyone deserves.”
At the end of ABC’s TCA executive panel, president Paul Lee admitted that he had asked a network PR executive beforehand, “Shall I go out in a dress?” That probably would’ve been appropriate given that ABC’s new cross-dressing comedy Work It, which has not even been scheduled yet, emerged as the main attraction at the Q&A session even somewhat overshadowing the official announcement of Desperate Housewives coming to an end. The first mention of the Bosom Buddies-esque multi-camera comedy starring Ben Koldyke and Amaury Nolasco as out-of-work car salesmen who dress as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps came when Lee was asked to discuss the network’s new crop of comedies. When he got to Work It, the British-born Lee said, “I’m a Brit, it is in my contract that I have to do one cross-dressing show a year; I was brought up on Monty Python. What can I do?” Later on he was asked about a trend of many new shows featuring central characters who are orphans that harkens back to Victorian times and Charles Dickens. Admitting that he didn’t notice an orphan pattern in picking up series, Lee noted, “We don’t sit there and think, ‘Work It! That goes all the way back to Shakespeare!’ ”
After getting to the brink of extinction on ABC, NBC and Fox last year, multicamera comedies staged a comeback this upfront season. While the genre has been alive and well on CBS, the number of multicamera comedies on the other broadcast networks had steadily declined in the past few years to three during the 2009-10 season — the short-lived ABC’s Hank, Fox’s Brothers and NBC’s 100 Questions, which didn’t even air in-season — then to only one this season, ABC’s Better with You, which also has been canceled. But sitcoms rebounded this year, with ABC, Fox and NBC ordering a total of five multicamera comedies: NBC’s Whitney and Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, ABC’s Last Man Standing and Work It and Fox’s I Hate My Teenage Daughter. Three of them, Last Men Standing, Whitney and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, are on the fall schedule in key slots — Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing is launching a new comedy block for ABC on Tuesday, while Whitney and Teenage Daughter landed their networks’ cushiest time periods: after The Office and The X Factor, respectively.
The pilot pickup season is just starting in earnest, but we already have an unusually large number of creators with multiple pilot orders. Peter Tolan, Whitney Cummings, Michael Patrick King and the duo of Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen have each received two pickups. Tolan wrote and is executive producing Fox’s comedy The Council of Dads and NBC’s Brave New World, Cummings wrote, executive produces and stars in an untitled comedy pilot for NBC about a young couple and co-wrote/executive produces the CBS comedy pilot Two Broke Girls with King. King also has NBC drama pilot A Mann’s World, on which he is the writer-executive producer. Reich and Cohen wrote and are executive producing two ABC comedy pilots, Work It and Smothered. Besides evoking an automatic reaction of “Come on, spread the wealth” from other writers who have projects in contention, the embarrassment of riches for the in-demand creators with multiple pilots comes with inevitable complications, putting pressure on the writer-producers in the pilot phase and facing them and the networks with some difficult choices come May.