Will this girls' night in make the boys switch off?

In America, 'Ally McBeal' has proved to be a hit with all audiences, writes Janine Gibson. But British men may not want to watch another 'chick flick' show

There are two notable things about Ally McBeal that raise it from the crowd of American shows imported by Channel 4. First, it isn't a half- hour sitcom or an ER-type hour-long drama; it's more a hybrid of the two. So hard is the show to categorise that something of a debate arose around the Golden Globe Awards as to in which category it should be entered. Interestingly, the question was never whether it would win; eventually it took the prize for best comedy.

The second notable thing about the series is its tag-line in the US. Ally McBeal, we are warned, "Dares to Take you into the Mind of a Woman". But it is less the minds of women than their purses that Ms McBeal is designed for. Her US success is evidence that, as in the film and music industries, television is targeting the hottest demographic of the decade: young women.

The heroine, McBeal, is a lawyer who, after being sexually harassed, changes her job to join a firm in which her ex is employed. There is a five-person-strong ensemble cast, but stories are told from her perspective, with special effects inserts to show her thoughts as the plot moves along (judging by the first two episodes, when you Dare to go inside the Mind of a Woman you find breast size paranoia and a minor obsession with meaningless sex).

Its creator, David E Kelley - whose credits include LA Law and Chicago Hope - was asked by the Fox network to develop an hour-long series to run after Melrose Place and retain some of that audience. His brief was to write a series that would appeal to young women of 18-34 and provide an alternative to the predominantly male audience of Monday Night Football on the rival network ABC. In fact, when series one was broadcast, Ally McBeal's appeal spilled over its core demographic, appealing to men as well and gaining momentum throughout its run.

As to whether Ally McBeal is a phenomenon or just a good new series, consider the surrounding television landscape. In an RTS speech earlier this year, Geoffrey Perkins, BBC head of comedy, said that six sitcoms currently airing in the US are about women in either publishing or PR. Certainly of those that have transferred to the UK, Suddenly Susan (Brooke Shields as a journalist), Caroline in the City (Lea Thompson as a syndicated cartoonist) and Cybill (Cybill Shepherd as an actress) bear out the "media babe" obsession. All three women are around or above the age of 30; all are single; all face romantic tribulations in a comic way; and all are successful career women. Well, Cybill is supposed to be a struggling actress, but she lives in a very nice house in LA, and doesn't appear to be short of cash.

Meanwhile, over here our very own media babe Bridget Jones - who made the career leap from publishing to daytime television producer - is soon to make her big-screen debut. The publishing phenomenon that sprang up around Bridget - the chronicles of single thirtysomethings, courtesy of Marion Keyes, Arabella Weir et al, presumably will also soon graduate to the screen.

Hollywood, too, has recognised the power of the female pound and reacted, predictably, in the romantic comedy genre; there is even a name for the ilk - the chick flick. The recent girl films My Best Friend's Wedding, How to Make an American Quilt and Waiting to Exhale were all solid performers at the box office and this year's crop, Sliding Doors, Martha ... Meet Frank, Daniel and Lawrence and The Object of my Affection show every sign of doing the same. Lest we get carried away, though, these are a specific kind of chick flick; there is yet to be a female serial killer writ large.

In the music industry, too, we must blame the strength of the female CD-buyer for the "girl with a guitar" phenomenon and the likes of Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crowe, Meredith Brooks etc. In the US there is even an all-female rock festival planned by the organisers of Lollapalooza.

Television producers in the UK tend to follow their US counterparts much as the buying public looks to the US trends. While the big US networks are reputedly frantic to find their own Ally McBeal, Fox, broadcaster of the series, has commissioned what it hopes will be a second. Called Felicity, it is described in true LA pitch-speak as "Ally McBeal in college".

Yet UK television hasn't quite caught up yet. The shows that pull that same demographic in the UK are in short supply. Ian Lewis, broadcast director at Zenith Media, says it is particularly important to attract a young female audience because they have a large discretionary disposable income, and the lads are so well catered for. "Over the last four or five years television has been driven by a combination of Channel 4 and Sky, where there's an awful lot of programming targeted at 16-to-34-year-old men. It's Lads' TV; there's even a whole channel of Granada Men and Motors."

Lewis adds that, traditionally, programming aimed at women hasn't tried to break down its appeal in terms of lifestyle, or indeed anything else. He has high hopes for Ally McBeal when it launches on Channel 4 next week: "The longer the series ran in the States, the more male the audience became; although it was a hit with the audience it was written for straightaway, the quality of the programme pulled in different viewers ... In terms of what classifies a hit for Channel 4, around 3 to 3.5 million viewers, I think it'll be a hit."

Comparable TV series are rare in the UK, says Lewis, because broadcasters here don't commission shows for a niche audience. "We will start to see more and more programmes commissioned for a particular audience, though, as part of the continued fragmentation of channels and audiences in the UK."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Déjà vu: David Tennant returns to familiar territory with Anna Gunn (‘Breaking Bad’)
tvReview: Something is missing in Gracepoint, and it's not just the familiar names
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - London - £40K plus benefits - Salary negotiable

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: A leading consu...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?