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What *is* it with shows having to pair people off? It's a very good question. Gossip rags are obsessed with pairing off too. Pretty young actresses are always supposedly grasping for dates. It's rather obnoxious.


Two thoughts on "Why romance": first, it's probably a logical outcome of shows observing that they have internal continuity; most shows nowadays, if not actually being serialistic in nature, will at least structure things so that characters grow over time, and previous exploits/adventures/cases/whatever can be reference on occasion. Thus, a viewer who tunes into a sporadic episode of, say, CSI can follow along, while a viewer who is a big fan and never misses an episode is kept going by whatever serialistic storylines the show has going on. Second, the focus on romance could come from the media's ongoing obsession with demographics. Maybe they just figure that romances that don't always end with a death or a plane ticket at the end of the hour will keep the women tuning in more often?


My theory is that the rule kicked in very shortly after the last of the counterexamples you mentioned, somewhere in the mid-80s. That's when the lone male lead got replaced by pairing strong male and female leads, and part of their definition was that they weren't "in" a "relationship."

Early Usenet discussion groups used to call it "UST"--unresolved sexual tension. The approach-avoidance thrill of UST was popular with fans. And it made for some good TV--until, in each case, it got resolved.

UST helped make "Remington Steele" great fun--until a story arc sent Steele and Laura to the UK where they discovered Steele's true identity [another fun driver of the series] and got married. It was a double-dose of the "Very Special Episode" whammy: filmiing in England, and getting married. Mr. Steele, meet the shark. The series ended at that point, although it's not clear which was cause and which was effect.

UST was at the heart of the slick, stylish "Moonlighting." David Addison and Maddie Hayes loathed each other, but needed each other to keep their detective agency afloat. Like "Remington Steele," it's hard to say which did more to drive the show into oblivion in its last season: David and Maddy finally "doing it" or the writers' strike.

And UST made Scully and Mulder the hottest non-couple on television for five or six seasons--after which the resolution of the unresolved sexual tension [they had a baby, although the details are fittingly obscure] replaced their wonderful friction with exchanges of mushy love declarations. Oddly, the departure of Duchovny as Mulder in the last two seasons only managed to make this worse.

There was a moment early on in the X-Files--just a moment, only a few seconds, much less time than it will take to read my description, I'm afraid--that captured the excitement of UST perfectly. Loyal X-Philes will know this scene as soon as I start describing it: Scully believes that Mulder is dead at the hands of the Cigarette Smoking Man. Mourning her partner's death, fearing for her own life, and convinced that their boss, A.D. Skinner, could no longer be trusted, Scully confronts Skinner and an episode ends with the two of them squared off, guns leveled point-blank in each other's face. [This scene had a sphincter factor of about 9.5.] The next episode begins as Mulder, apparently returned from the grave, bursts in, gun drawn, forcing Skinner to back down. Scully is speechless, gobsmacked. Seeing the split-second look that raced over her face--and watching her force it away again just as quickly--when she realized he was alive, was electric, It spoke volumes about their enigmatic relationship, its joys, its pains, and its complexities and trade-offs. No night of sweaty passion between the sheets for Sweeps Month could have told more.

It's probably not a coincidence that this is about the time that strong female leading characters were becoming more numerous on television. It's tempting to suppose that writers just had--have--a difficult time imagining them, and their male opposites, as being anything *but* attached. What that says about the writers, or about TV characters as a lagging indicator of both the success and failures of feminism, I'll leave to others.


Ken Houghton

Amy DeLuca from Roswell is still getting shows? And becoming even more of a sexpot?


Now I feel even better about not being able to access most of those shows on the Internet--much more fun to read your reviews.


nothstine said it much more elegantly than I will - my reaction was that what changed was that there was pressure to have female characters, but without equal pressure to make them independent ones in the way that the male ones were.

A man married to his job, even now, is acceptable in a way that a woman who loves her career isn't; we idealize the bachelor, but scorn the spinster; and then there's that irritating trope that all women secretly want adolescent bad boys to tempt them and to reform. The idea that a woman might hold out for an equal partner - or, horrors, not want or need a partner at all - remains threatening, and these shows reflect that. A man who doesn't need women isn't a threat in nearly the same way.

So if you pair off the female characters, it both defuses that threat and reinforces the idea that for women any (heterosexual) relationship - no matter how immature or unsuitable the other person is - is better than being independent. It also reassures the men threatened by powerful, smart, attractive women that they can "win" one, even if they don't bother to make an effort to improve themselves to meet those women's standards.

Shorter version: these shows include female characters in part to appeal to a female audience and to look "diverse" - but really, they're aimed at men for men. It's just that women viewers have learned to cope with that imbalance in a way that men would not be, if the genders were reversed.


I hope you're watching Burn Notice, Lance. It's much more entertaining than those other shows.


Lance, don't be sexist. You forgot Mary Tyler Moore. Everyone was perfectly happy thinking Lou was the guy for her and didn't really care about any of her "dates". None of us believed that Ted Bessell was the one for her at the end of the series.



Burn Notice has been steadily making its way upwards in my Netflix queue. I'm looking forward to it.

Diav, Sorry about that. I didn't mean to leave Mary Richards out. I had a whole paragraph planned about her. But I was in too much of a hurry to post. The last season was ruined for me by Bessell's presence. I kept thinking Why did they give her Anne Marie's boyfriend? He wasn't even good enough for That Girl.

Kevin Wolf

Haven't seen Leaverage, so don't know who Parker is, but I wonder after reading your description if you ever seen Bones?

Turns out they also have the lead guy and gal, the UST, but they don't play it up too much -- mainly because Temperance (aka Bones) is much like you describe Parker. She's got no social skills at all and doesn't seem inclined to learn them. It's a generally enjoyable show, if you can stomach some of the surprisingly graphic scenes of murder victims who have had all manner of violence inflicted on them.

Gary Farber

"Jim Rockford didn't have a love interest."

Beth Davenport; 27 episodes.

True, it's only a fraction of the 122 episodes and 8 tv movies, but it's substantial.

"MacGyver didn't have a love interest."

MacGyver had duct tape.

"Even into the 'Eighties, main characters on TV shows were unabashedly and cheerfully serially monagomous."

Two words: Remington Steele.

Ah, I see the point has already been made. I was also thinking Moonlighting, as well.

"What that says about the writers, or about TV characters as a lagging indicator of both the success and failures of feminism, I'll leave to others."

Bechdel's Rule.

I second that Burn Notice is quite fun, although I wouldn't judge either it or Leverage as necessarily better than the other. Although if I were in this situation, Burn Notice would probably be the survivor. Probably.

I really do hope you eventually caught up to NYPD Blue, Buffy and Firefly. Particularly the last two.

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