NEW AGE WOMEN
Desperate Housewives has opened the door for the over-40s, write Darren Devlyn and Greg Thom
APRODUCER once joked that women in TV should be treated like banknotes — when they turn 40, you should be allowed to exchange them for a couple of 20s.
Bad analogies aside, there’s no question women have at times found the going tough in TV — struggling for work because they’re perceived to have passed a use-by date.
On an international scale, Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry has helped to erode the ageist mentality of male network executives.
Felicity Huffman, 45, who plays frazzled working mum Lynette Scavo in Housewives, says that during the 2006 pilot season for new shows, networks were flooded with concepts about mature-age women.
‘‘(Housewives) has galvanised women over 30 to be considered as viable stories,’’ Huffman says.
‘‘In the (’06) pilot season, there were many stories with older women. People who had once been pushed to the sidelines are being phoned. The landscape has changed. And I think what’s interesting is that it took a gay writer, Marc Cherry, to do it.’’
The Australian TV industry, in drama production at least, is also recognising the commercial viability of mature women.
Noni Hazlehurst, 54, is an integral part of Channel 7’s hit cop drama City Homicide as the no-nonsense Det Supt Bernice Waverley.
Also set to make an impact in coming weeks are Catherine McClements, 44, in Ten’s new police drama Rush; Georgie Parker, 43 in the Nine telemovie Scorched; and Rebecca Gibney, 43 — who, with Erik Thomson, headlines Seven’s new drama hope Packed To The Rafters.
Gibney confesses it was only after she had her son Zac, now four, that she found the confidence to embrace the signs of ageing. In Packed to the Rafters she plays Julie, a mum of three and says it makes sense for networks to cast ‘‘real’’ faces and bodies in everyday roles instead of glamourising them.
‘‘I feel happy in my own skin now . . . probably in my mid-30s I got a lot more confident with who I am and got to 40 and thought, ‘I don’t have to try anymore’,’’ she says.
Gibney is happy to age gracefully after stopping Botox injections a couple of years ago and declining plastic surgery.
‘‘I don’t mind the wrinkles and I don’t mind playing the mother of a 25-year-old,’’ she says. ‘‘A lot of people go, ‘Oh, you’re playing the mother, what do you think about that?’ And I think it’s liberating. It’s OK to have a few roles and lines. It’s comforting and you can see that on screen.’’
There are no concerns about nearing 40 for 37-year-old City Homicide regular Nadine Garner.
‘‘Women are getting great roles in their 40s and there is a lot to look forward to,’’ Garner, the mother of a two-year-old son, says.
‘‘I thought my 20s (in show business) would have been easy, but they weren’t. It was a tough decade work-wise and now I’m just really positive there is great stuff out there, instead of being told you are all washed up by the age of 45, which used to happen.
‘‘I don’t think that’s true any more. American TV celebrates the older female and I just think we are finally ready to accept mature, powerful women in our culture, which is exciting.’’
It’s fitting producers of Packed to the Rafters have cast accomplished, experienced actors in lead roles. The comedy-drama is incisive, quirky and contemporary— in the mould of Seven’s former hit Always Greener.
The creative minds behind Rafters didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
The show, which follows the ups and downs of a middle-aged couple forced to deal with the sudden influx of their adult children back into the family home, reflects the reality of modern Australian suburban life.
Series producer Jo Porter says the show reflects the dynamics of the contemporary family in much the same way as classic TV shows My Three Sons, The Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough did in their day.
‘‘In every generation there is a different model of family,’’ Porter says.
‘‘We’ve had the blended families and the single-parent families and now I think the baby boomers are almost victims of their own success and their own openness. There’s no reason for these kids to move out of home because, you know, everyone’s so open and liberal about sex, staying out, doing whatever.
‘‘I know when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to move out of home because my parents were not strict, but it was their rules. Now, the family’s much more democratic . . . it means kids don’t move out.’’
SERIES creator Bevan Lee (All Saints, Always Greener) came up with the idea of exploring this new model of family.
If ever a couple deserves some ‘‘me time’’ after doing the hard yards raising a family of three, it’s the Rafters. Having just ousted their last child — 23-year-old slacker middle son Ben (Hugh Sheridan) from the nest, Mum and Dad are looking forward to peace and quiet.
Things unravel when in the space of 24 hours, youngest son Nathan (Angus McLaren) and wife Sammy (Jessica McNamee) wangle a deal to temporarily move back in.
Free-spirited daughter Rachel, (Jessica Marais) soon lands on the doorstep looking for sanctuary and some TLC after being beaten by her abusive live-in boyfriend.
Any spare room left over is soon filled by Julie’s (Gibney’s character) father Ted (Michael Caton), who is struggling to deal with the death of his wife.
To top things off, middle son Ben moves in next door, sharing a house with his good mate and long-time neighbour ‘‘Carbo’’, played to great comic effect by George Houvardas.
Each episode is narrated by a different character, a device Porter says allows viewers to see shared situations from different perspectives.