When Camryn Manheim won an Emmy in 1998 for best supporting actress – she played Ellenor Frutt on “The Practice” for seven seasons – she exclaimed, “This is for all the fat girls!”
Camryn is very frank about being a “big girl” in an industry where size 0 actresses get the leading roles and lesser roles go to those who more accurately represent the size 14 world we live in. She even wrote an off-Broadway play, “Wake Up, I’m Fat.” She’s been quoted as saying, “Handsome, thin, sophisticated men often fall madly in love with larger women, we just never see it on TV.”
The movie “Hairspray” tried to send a message in 1988 (and again in 2007) that fat women are not lazy and stupid, but TV has typically played to the stereotype.
Things may be changing, however, in favor of “larger” women. From FOX and the producer of “The Bachelor” there’s “More to Love,” a show for “women of all shapes and plus-sizes,” according to the publicity materials. It’s a dating game for chubby chasers.
Lifetime just premiered “Drop Dead Diva,” in which the soul of a shallow, skinny, game-show-hostess wannabee is transported into the somewhat more substantial form of a very intelligent female attorney. Are we going to be asked to accept the fat girl because she’s smart or because there’s a pretty, skinny girl trapped inside? (How many of us have heard this before: “You’d be so pretty if you’d just lose a little weight.”)
Various sources quoting overnight Nielsen ratings showed “Diva” averaging more than 2.8 million viewers, considered a decent number for a cable show. (For comparison, network TV’s highest-rated show in the same time slot was a rerun of “Two and a Half Men,” with 8.9 million watching.)
While there will always be shows that denigrate those who aren’t svelte or that attempt to make fat people humiliate themselves into losing weight (“The Biggest Loser,” “Dance Your Ass Off), it’s nice to see that TV is – possibly – evolving. Mary McNamara of the Chicago Tribune says of “Diva” that “it may indeed change television as we know it.”