Tag Archive: NBC

Mitt Romney Campaign Ad, Tom Brokaw, and Fair Use

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has generated some controversy in recent days over a campaign attack ad against rival Newt Gingrich. The ad features old footage of Tom Brokaw reporting on the Newt Gingrich ethics scandal in 1997.  In the ad, Brokaw reports that Gingrich was found guilty by the House ethics committee. Brokaw said in a statement that he is “extremely uncomfortable with the extended use of my personal image in this political ad.” He also said, “I do not want my role as a journalist compromised for political gain by any campaign.” NBC lawyers have asked the Romney campaign to remove the ad and any reference to the network in future campaign ads. However, it is likely that the use of the Tom Brokaw footage by the Romney campaign is permissible under the fair use doctrine.  Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law allows the reproduction of a particular work if it is considered a “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” At the end of the day, it is likely that the Romney campaign will just pull the ad but the genie has already been let out of the bottle. The most significant impact of this controversy is that it has greatly increased circulation and discussion of a negative ad. It thus will probably hurt Gingrich in the polls by reminding voters of his ethical baggage.

Harry’s Law

Harry’s Law is a new series on NBC starring the Academy Award winning actress Kathy Bates as Harriet “Harry” Korn, a recently fired, high-powered, patent attorney who starts her own criminal defense firm in a vacant, Cincinnati, shoe store.  The show is produced by David E. Kelley, known for such legal comedies and dramas as Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Public, and Boston Legal. Kelley is also known, and has been heavily criticized, for his portrayal of women. Most notably, the silly, neurotic, anorexic-looking attorney, Ally McBeal, sparked debates among feminists and television critics during the 1990s about issues such as stereotyping women in the workplace, the representation of women in media, and the appropriate gender role models for children. The character of Ally McBeal was so controversial Time Magazine placed her image on the cover under the heading, “Is Feminism Dead?”  Because much of what we learn about gender comes not from our families or school, but from the media, I will examine a few instances in the pilot episode in which the main character in Harry’s Law conforms to and challenges stereotypical representations of women in the workplace and on television.

Law is undoubtedly still a male dominated profession.  As is the case in many “male” fields, women must continually toe the line between being overly feminine or too masculine.  Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, social norms concerning women and their proper roles in the workplace die hard.   Harry strikes a balance by vacillating between gendered extremes.   First, Harry displays many characteristics commonly associated with masculinity and the legal profession.

She is invincible. In the first ten minutes of the pilot episode, a man attempting to commit suicide by jumping off a building lands on her and she is hit by a car. She survives both accidents without a scratch. While Harry may chalk this feat up to being a little “stuffy”, thereby calling our attention to her none stereotypical feminine physique, the audience gains a sense of her invulnerability. She is tough, she is a fighter.  Harry is fired from her job, but she picks herself up and dusts herself off and starts all over again.

Harry is also aggressive.  While aggressiveness is often a prized characteristic in the law and other professions, too much aggression or display of other “masculine” characteristics by a woman, like independence or competitiveness, may backfire in the workplace.  Women who assert themselves or take dominant positions in the workplace are frequently labeled as “manly women” or the “office bitch.”   In this first episode, Harry calls one lawyer “an arrogant, little snot” and another “an asshole.”  She interrupts opposing counsel during the trial.  She refuses to submit to the neighborhood bully offering “protection” for money and even pulls a gun on him.  She is assertive and decisive in her plea negotiation.  When performed by a man, these actions would likely be lauded or expected.   Maybe Harry receives the same accolades, but unfortunately for other women, they are seen as just “overcompensating for being women.”

Harry’s lack of femininity is further emphasized by her appearance. For example, Harry is not young, or beautiful, or skinny.  She is not the typical female lawyer as sex object—think Ally McBeal or every female attorney featured in the  Law and Order franchise.  She wears pant suits, has gray hair, knows nothing about shoes, and instead of swaying her hips from side to side, she waddles when she walks.   During a recent interview with NPR, Kathy Bates discusses her styling choices for Harry and states, “We finally got the permission to just let me look the way I wanted to look, which was my initial response when I read the screenplay.  It was originally written for a man, Harry…and he was a very rumpled sort of character, and he didn’t strike me as the type of guy who would dye his hair.”

One additional characteristic frequently associated with masculinity is risk taking.  While many women are viewed as  tentative, restrained, insecure or risk averse in the workplace, Harry is a gambler. She strikes out on her own by opening a practice in a broken-down neighborhood, in an area of law she is unfamiliar with. Harry takes the impossible case, one which cannot be won, going for broke with both judge and jury, and manages to come out on top.

Yet, despite all of these seemingly empowering, liberating characteristics, Harry still conforms to traditional feminine representations of women. For instance, despite the attempts to reign in her emotions, Harry is nearly brought to tears in her closing argument in which she defends a young, impoverished, college-bound, drug addict. She is deeply pained by the plight of this young man and almost loses her composure.   Harry also may also be viewed as a  mother figure to her staff and clients. In one scene, her new associate is sprayed by a gunshot victim’s blood. Harry responds, “Are you okay? …Are you sure you’re not hurt?…You need to get tested.” In another scene, Harry reminds the jury that “it takes a village.” Despite the hard exterior, Harry is a compassionate nurturer.   Finally, there is one scene in which Harry plays an innocent child-like woman. After bumbling over her cross-examination of a witness, Harry is called to the stand and asks the judge, “Did I do something wrong?” While Harry is clearly using this stereotype to gain an advantage in her case, and perhaps turning the stereotype on its head, this scene clearly speaks to the underlying assumption that women are less competent, less capable, and in need of male guidance in the workplace.

In the coming weeks, Harry’s character will undoubtedly develop and become more complex.  Will Harry conform to stereotypes of women in the workplace or defy traditional gendered representations?  I expect, as with the first episode, Harry will continue to do both.

Harry’s Law airs on NBC,  Monday 10p.m./9c.  You may also access past episodes at http://www.nbc.com/harrys-law/.

Law and Order: Los Angeles or Hollywood?

The latest addition to the Law and Order franchise, Law and Order: Los Angeles, premiered on September 29th.   Unlike the other Law and Order installments, the creators used the backdrop of Los Angeles to make this show more glamorous and trendy.   Judging by the premiere episode, Hollywood, the show seems to target a younger audience than any other Law and Order show.  The plot was even based off of the “Bling Ring” that made headline news in 2009 when teenagers were burglarizing homes of young celebrities in Hollywood.

Law and Order: Los Angeles features well-known movie actors such as Terrence Howard and Regina Hall as Deputy District Attorneys, as well as Skeet Ulrich as a Detective.  The familiar cast is sure to play a positive role in the success of this show.

Will Los Angeles appeal to the avid followers of the other Law and Order installments?  The first episode suggests that Los Angeles will not be as dark and intense as the other Law and Order shows like Law and Order Special Victims Unit.  This glamorous, trendy Los Angeles version of Law and Order may not appeal to veterans of the franchise, but it is sure to pick up new, younger viewers.

Law and Order: Los Angeles

 If one thing is certain about Dick Wolf, it’s that he likes to deal in the business of “Now.” The man has made a living with his “ripped from the headlines” approach to television through Law and Order, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and even the short-lived Law and Order: Trial by Jury. This time around, however, he has taken that approach a step further with Law and Order: Los Angeles. Not only was the storyline of the series premiere inspired heavily by the modern day young celeb-centric culture of Hollywood, but the show also centered on the detectives’ reliance on social networking and TMZ to further their investigation.

 If the first episode is any indication of the direction the show will follow, it is pretty clear that Dick Wolf and NBC are targeting a much younger audience. And with the original Law and Order airing its final episode on May 24, 2010 after 20 seasons, can anyone blame them? Los Angeles is certainly a “sexier” alternative to its predecessors thanks to its cutting-edge camera angles and editing coupled with its less than inconspicuous name-dropping (see Perez Hilton). But it also takes a slightly different approach to the traditional half-episode split between detectives and attorneys. The format of the show is much freer form, with seemingly more focus given to the “Order” aspect over the “Law.” It also seems to follow Detective Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) in a way similar to that of Criminal Intent’s treatment of Detective Robert Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) – that they are the main protagonists of their respective shows, rather than members of a detective team.

It is too early to judge the show’s treatment of the Los Angeles attorneys that prosecute the offenders (Terrence Howard, Alfred Molina, Regina Hall, Megan Boone), but early indications point to them taking a similar line to other Law and Order programs. The first episode of Los Angeles had a less than favorable portrayal of defense attorneys by making them fit the mold of the stereotypical, unscrupulous Hollywood lawyer. The first episode also attempted to forego nearly all discussion of actual law in lieu of fancy criminal hypotheses.

All things considered, Law and Order: Los Angeles is a solid new addition to Dick Wolf’s family of shows. It is not the best replacement for the original, but then again, it doesn’t necessarily try to be. The show has breathed new life into a once stagnant genre, and has the potential to capture viewers and critics alike. Just don’t hope to be able to pass the California bar after watching it.

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