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Wimps and wusses? Men flounder in new U.S. TV shows

Wimps, wusses, or just plain weaklings -- men are in for a tough time in the next few months on U.S. television.
/ Source: Reuters

Wimps, wusses, or just plain weaklings -- men are in for a tough time in the next few months on U.S. television.

Both at home and at work, men are either emasculated, out maneuvered, or searching for what it means to be a modern man in a slew of new TV comedies and dramas that feature women firmly in charge while men flounder.

Tim Allen feels like the "Last Man Standing" when his character scales back his job at an outdoor adventure firm to spend more time at home with his three headstrong daughters after his wife gets promoted at work.

In "Work It" two unemployed alpha males finally find new jobs by dressing up as women, and comedy "Man Up!" borrows a phrase, popularized by politicians in the last year, to look at three men in a world ruled by women.

It's no coincidence that three of the new comedies are on the ABC network -- the home of long-running series like "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" that feature women in strong roles.

"Empowered women is definitely a theme of our network. It's one of the reasons we do so well with affluent women," said ABC entertainment president Paul Lee. "So to look at men in a women's world was a very interesting take."

But it doesn't end there.

Maria Bello stars the smartest cop among a bunch of male New York homicide detectives in NBC's drama "Prime Suspect", while an innocent-looking young woman plots cold-blooded murder and destruction in ABC's "Revenge".

On CBS, a well-mannered, suit-and-tie man is forced to adjust his behavior in "How To Be A Gentleman", which suggests that being a traditional gentleman is a bit wimpy in 2011.

The new "Charlie's Angels" proves that superheroes also wear skirts, and ditsy Zooey Deschanel runs rings around her three male housemates in the Fox comedy "New Girl".


In "Man Up!", premiering on October 18, three men get in touch with their inner tough guys by playing action videogames. They don't fight in real wars, cut their own grass or fix their own cars, but they pine for old girlfriends, look after their children and wear plenty of hair gel.

Executive producer Victor Fresco said the men in the show aren't so much emasculated as "confused about what their role should be as 'modern men'."

"I'm not of my father's generation where I come home and have a martini and watch television. I want to see my kids and hang out with them, but it does create more stress as you try and wear all those hats and be a super-dad and a super-husband," Fresco said.

The phrase "man up" became popular in late 2010 when Tea Party politicians like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann used it to exhort their male counterparts to admit their failings or take more responsibility for their actions. It's also been used by pundits who want U.S. President Barack Obama to show strong leadership as he heads into the 2012 presidential elections.

Jack Burditt, creator of "Last Man Standing", said he was struck by the strides made by women in society.

"I'm fascinated that, I think for the first time in history, more than 50 percent of the workplace is women and more than 60 percent of all college graduates are women," Burditt said.

"Last Man Standing", premiering on October 11, marks Allen's return to TV comedy after 12 years. The series also turns his old school, construction expert "Home Improvement" character of the 1990s on its head.

"I really wanted to investigate what it would be like to be around four women that are intelligent and strong and loving and a family...I thought it would be fun to flip-flop the two shows," Allen told reporters.

Allen's character laments a trend in which men no longer seem to know how to change a tire, but happily pay for manicures.

And the actor himself has strong views on one way to do that. "I really believe that men need stuff to do. You have to have hobbies and you have to fix stuff...and when men lose this capacity...we're kind of left with nothing to do, like those big drone bees that get kicked out of the hive," he said.