Girls take lead on TV but not in Hollywood films

Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:22pm EDT
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By Caroline Humer and Chelsea Emery

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Smart, adventurous lead girl characters like Dora the Explorer and superheroine WordGirl have found time on children's television, but Hollywood has preferred to keep princesses safe in their turrets.

There's more than just the self-esteem of girls at stake. TV executives have found young boys have no problem watching shows with girls as lead characters, which can result in improved ratings -- and advertising dollars.

Kids between 2 and 9 can tune their television sets to shows about Dora, the now almost 10-year-old adventure girl, or vocabulary heroine WordGirl, who came onto the scene three years ago to fight villainy and poor word choice.

When it comes to movies, Hollywood prefers to bet on male leads that can guarantee the interest of both girls and boys, such as Harry Potter. The culture of princesses -- and the traditional fairy tale of being rescued -- is still prominent.

"I'm not sure overall that the gatekeepers have completely signed onto the girl thing," said Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Media, the force behind WordGirl. "It has been more prevailing opinion among the gatekeepers that boys will not watch girl-centric shows."

Television executives are more receptive than 20 years ago, Forte said, when she was trying to sell her first live-action TV show about girls -- "The Baby-Sitters Club" -- and found no buyers at first. It eventually became a successful show.

More than half of the 20 kids' shows on Viacom Inc's Nick Jr. channel profile female characters in the lead or in equal roles with their male counterparts. Pink-haired problem solver Pinky Dinky Doo and Blue, the female dog lead of "Blue's Clues," are two examples.

"It's so important for these girls to have a strong sense of self when they are very young. When they get older it is much more natural to be influenced by their peers," Forte said.   Continued...

<p>A Dora the Explorer balloon makes its way across 4nd street during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, November 26, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>