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Why TV's Best Pitchmen Today Are Funny Women


The mad dash to find the next Tina Fey and Ellen DeGeneres has begun.

The list of women who have helmed their own successful program over the course of television history is pretty slim. There are plenty of reasons people might attribute to that fact, including the idea that most broadcasters have been reticent to bring on many females as writers or producers.

In the 1980s and '90s, there was a vague impression that women could carry a successful TV show on their own. But one of the shows most responsible for changing that perception, Sex in the City, was actually created and produced by a man.

Today, however, with the awesome success of new daytime queen Ellen DeGeneres and new prime-time comedy queen Tina Fey, executives are finally starting to invest in women at an impressive rate.

It's not just television producers seeking out the next laughing lady. In an advertising industry that usually casts women to either play mom or simply be seen and not heard, companies are increasingly looking to funny women to convincingly sell their brand.

Progressive Insurance (PGR) has seen unexpected success in a nationwide TV campaign built around comedic actress Stephanie Courtney, who plays the popular Flo, a quick-talking cashier. The reason for the campaign's endurance? She's funny.

DeGeneres got the ball rolling in 2003, when her talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, was first syndicated through Warner Bros (TWX). The program has since drawn roughly three million viewers per episode, making it one of daytime's most popular shows.

It's also made DeGeneres a huge star, drawing endorsement contracts with companies including American Express (AXP) and Procter and Gamble (PG), who reportedly paid her in excess of $1 million to become the new face of Cover Girl cosmetics. In perhaps the single-greatest testament to her popularity, in September she signed a sizeable five-year contract to be a judge on American Idol, the single most-popular show on television.

DeGeneres' fellow AmEx pitchwoman, 30 Rock creator Tina Fey, has also become a media darling. Her program on NBC (GE) has won numerous awards and the recent release of its third seasons on DVD saw $2.64 million in sales in its first week. Fey, the show's breakout star, also fielded multi-million dollar book-deal offers, eventually signing with Little, Brown, and Company.

In light of all this, the search for the next Tina or Ellen is on.

After witnessing the success of 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, a new program starring Fey's former Saturday Night Live colleague Amy Poehler, NBC worked quickly to find another breakout female comedian. It eventually signed The Office actress Mindy Kaling to a two-year, seven-figure development deal.

On BET (VIA), comedian Mo'Nique recently signed a multi-million dollar contract that will make her the host of her own prime-time talk show.

Over at Fox (NWS), Wanda Sykes' The Wanda Sykes Show premieres in November, while Aisha Tyler has a talk show in development with ABC (DIS). Also consider Comedy Central (VIA) re-upping The Sarah Silverman Program and current Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig's emergence -- complete with a still-untitled film project with Universal -- and you're about to see a lot more women around.

And they're going to make you laugh.
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