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The Curious Case of the Too Male Network: CBS Declares Nancy Drew “Too Female” For Primetime

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CBS, fresh from its “women cost too much!” transfer of Supergirl to the CW, is now passing on a pilot they ordered starring Sarah Shahi as an adult Nancy Drew. The reason? According to Deadline, the pilot “tested well” with audiences, but network executives thought it was… “too female.”

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Instead the network chose the Katherine Heigl drama “Doubt,” which is all about a lawyer who falls in love with a client. (Oh of course!) Sorry CBS, this falls into my won’t-even-give-it-a-chance bin. The premise pricks all of my ick-ick-ick senses – and by the way we aren’t allowed to bang our clients. #Sorrynotsorry.

I have no idea if the idea of an adult Nancy Drew solving crimes was a terrific one or if that show would have crashed and burned. TV is way too heavy on police procedurals for this viewer, but on the other hand almost any concept can be great if the writing is fresh.

The Nancy Drew series would have marked the first time a person of color played the iconic heroine. (I’m just going to leave this here for our contemplation.)

Count CBS as another entity afraid a thing might just be “too female” for America to handle in 2016. See also Tennis, which was “too female” for the CEO of the Indian Wells tennis tournament (he said women’s tennis players should “get on their knees” and thank the male players, despite women’s tennis dramatically outselling men’s tennis at the 2015 U.S. Open).

And see Journalism, which also threatened Donald Trump with its “too femaleness” (Trump was humiliated by a question from Megyn Kelly and had to explain “you could see the blood coming out of her wherever”).

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Who will protect America from its Too Femaleness? CBS is on the case!

CBS had a top 30 show in Supergirl that it also thought was too female for its price tag and gave it the heave-ho. The only thing you really need to know about Supergirl ending up on the CW is that CBS leaked the per-episode budget to justify its decision. (“Girls – they cost so much money!”)

We live in an era where there is a lot of information about how TV gets made, but it is still rare for per-episode budgets to become public knowledge. Once that information was out there, the internet was flooded with people tut-tutting over the Supergirl budget as if they were personally affronted by the price.

Supergirl was cancelled despite being CBS’ number 1 new drama and fourth-best series overall among the 18-49 year-old demographic — the number that matters most to advertisers. I’m thrilled the show will get a second life at the CW, but considering how much CBS wants shows that appeal to younger viewers, it’s pretty obvious it wasn’t all about a budget.

I had a feeling things weren’t going to go well for Supergirl at CBS when Nina Tassler suddenly departed as CBS Entertainment Chair. She championed that show and emerged victorious in a bidding war against two other networks for it. There was indeed a strategy under Tassler to feature women without “an addiction, an obsession or a dependency.” With Tassler gone, Supergirl was on much shakier ground.

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Now we’ll all get a chance to see Heigl play the same role she played on NBC’s short-lived “State of Affairs.” That unfortunate show had Alfre Woodard playing the president – a president tortured by the death of her son – and Heigl playing a CIA Agent who was tortured because she was in love with the president’s son. Again, it’s worth saying that even that ludicrous setup could’ve been good if it plumbed some new territory, but it did not, since both women were in essence playing second banana to the Dead Son.

Meanwhile, here’s what we can learn from the Curious Case of the Two Male Network:  Networks focus group shows to death to figure out if people will watch, but even if audiences like or love the show, the executives still have a veto just in case a show’s femaleness gives them the willies. In the end they just were not comfortable with an adult lady solving crimes. And that makes CBS a little too something for me to watch.

What do you think about CBS and Nancy Drew? Let us know in the comments!

Alex is a lawyer and opinionated.