Two gay rights groups are asking ABC to call a halt to a new sitcom, “Work It,” that features two manly men who dress in drag to land jobs as women.
The first promotions for the show, scheduled to launch Jan. 3, caught the attention of the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Those print ads have a backside view of the two characters in women’s business suits, pantyhose and heels, standing at a urinal with the caption, “They won’t take unemployment sitting down.”
As of Tuesday, ABC executives had no comment on the flap. The network plans to launch the series Jan. 3 as part of its midseason lineup, with another episode scheduled for Jan. 10, a spokeswoman said.
Network execs do plan to meet with reps from both nonprofit organizations, according to Matt Kane, GLAAD’s associate director of entertainment media.
“We’re in communication with ABC, and we’re setting up a meeting,” Kane said. “We don’t know their response yet to our request (to kill the show).”
The group’s leadership, who said they’ve watched the pilot of the comedy, also want the ad immediately taken out of circulation because they said it contributes to an atmosphere where “transgender people are something to be laughed at.” GLAAD’s acting president, Mike Thompson, said phobia of transgender people is prevalent in society and a show like “Work It” will contribute to that attitude.
The advocacy groups also are spearheading a letter-writing campaign to the network.
In an open letter protesting the comedy, Kane wrote that transgender individuals find themselves in the “cultural crosshairs” these days, some 30 years after the sitcom “Bosom Buddies.”
“The timing couldn’t be worse for a show based on the notion that men dressed as women is inherently funny,” he said. “In fact, shows like this have the power to put the transgender community in an even more dangerous position.”
The letter notes that transgender people face double the rates of unemployment and disproportionately higher rates of violence, harassment, discrimination, poverty and homelessness.
Commenters on HRC and GLAAD blogs have taken different sides of the issue, with some saying the show appears to feed into negative, hurtful stereotypes and “looks awfully regressive.” Others noted that drag performances have long been a staple of entertainment and urged the activist groups to “lighten up.”
Popular gay blog AfterElton lauded ABC for its previous portrayals of gays and transgender characters on such shows as “Modern Family,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Dancing With the Stars.” In both “Ugly Betty” and “Dirty Sexy Money,” transgender characters were part of the cast and stories.
But the blog asked the pointed question, “What the hell was ABC thinking when it greenlit ‘Work It’?” and speculates that the sitcom will feature “macho posturing” and “misogynistic boy banter.”
The show’s main characters lose their jobs as car salesmen, realize they’re caught in the so-called man-cession, and masquerade as women to land lucrative gigs at a pharmaceutical company. They learn some life lessons along with “how to walk in heels and tighten up with Spanx,” according to ABC’s production notes.
It stars Ben Koldyke (“How I Met Your Mother”) and Amaury Nolasco (“Prison Break”) as the cross-dressing buddies and comes from producers Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen (“Friends,” “Rules of Engagement”).
GLAAD executives said that because “Work It” comes from ABC, one of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s strongest media allies, “perhaps makes the sting worse.”— T.L. Stanley
Photo: Ben Koldyke (left) and Amaury Nolasco from ABC's winter sitcom "Work It." Credit: ABC / Michael Ansell.