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Why TV Wives Are Always Way Hotter Than Their Husbands

Investigation into TV casting shows: why there is an "attractiveness double standard."

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Louis C.K. has largely revolutionized the tried-and-true model for producing television programming. He writes, directs, edits and stars in his own show, and has been given free rein by the network to oversee all of his own casting decisions, which is largely unheard of. Yet, for all Louie’s critically acclaimed differences from TV business as usual, his is still a show about a middle-aged comic who is divorced, has questionable prospects and is not conventionally attractive, but who often dates very attractive women. It is a show about a very real man, a recognizable man, a man audiences can laugh at and sympathize with and relate to — but like most stories currently told on American screens, it is not about very relatable women.

And Louie is one of the more realistic shows on TV these days where female casting is concerned. Across the board, audiences today are subjected daily to female characters who are not, for lack of a better word, ordinary. They are almost always gorgeous, fit, sexy and dating or married to someone not nearly as attractive as they are. Men can be all shapes and sizes on film; women must be hot.

When I talk about this issue with fellow actresses, I’ve gotten a unanimous three-step response: 1) Recognition; 2) a shaking of the head in disgust, immediately followed by 3) a shrugging of the shoulders in defeat. I used to shrug too, and yet I decided to do some research and quickly realized that this discrepancy is lodged deep within the writing and casting processes. And I find myself, as an actress eager to get cast, unable to do anything about the pattern I have spent months charting (except stay fit and spend tons of money on makeup), but wanting to do something about it. I no longer want to feel like the idealistic, talented, industrious overachiever who is powerless in an industry dictated mostly by the very subjective notion of fuckability.

For those of you not familiar with the casting process, I will attempt to shed a little light on what goes on way before you ever see a finished movie or TV show. Once a studio has decided to run with a TV pilot, for example, part of the next strategizing process is casting. Offers will be made to named actors, and then auditions will be held for all remaining uncast roles. A casting director gets hired to find talent, vet the talent, and bring the appropriate people in front of the director, producers and studio execs. The casting directors use a service to create a digital document that communicates the needs for all the roles to the agents who represent the talent. They submit the script or screenplay to this service, sometimes with character descriptions already included, and then the service edits existing descriptions or reads the scripts and pumps out their own.

These character descriptions are called breakdowns, and they try to distill a character into a few words or a few sentences, so agents have a better sense of which actors to submit for the project, or actors looking to self-submit can more easily select the right projects to target (there are two different platforms for these breakdowns: one for agents only and one for paid subscribing actors). Once submissions have been made, casting directors look over the proposed talent and decide which actors to bring in. They don’t have unlimited time or unlimited slots available for each role, so they have to be very specific and exacting when determining whom to see.

The breakdowns are very simple and streamlined, but specific. If a script calls for a man who could believably be a coal miner to say two lines in an episode, the breakdown will say as much. If a female nurse is needed to deliver a few lines of bad news, that will be the bulk of the information an agent will get. However, if you see several of these breakdowns lined up in a row, what starts to become clear is how different the descriptions are for male roles and for female roles (not to mention for white and non-white roles, an issue worthy of its own analysis).