The series, set to premiere Jan. 3, revolves around two heterosexual unemployed car salesmen (Ben Koldyke, Amaury Nolasco), who after their dealership goes out of business, dress as women in order to land jobs as salesmen at a pharmaceutical company looking to hire female sales reps.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign claim the show reflects stereotypes about transgender individuals.
“We believe that the show will harm transgender Americans and because of that, GLAAD and the HRC are asking ABC not to air it,” GLAAD senior director of programs and communications Herndon Graddick told The Hollywood Reporter.
ABC declined comment.
The groups claim that the series – which does not depict transgender characters – comes at a time when more than a quarter of transgender people have been fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation.
“It detracts from the real challenge transgender people face,” Graddick said.
In a statement on its Web site, GLAAD acting president Mike Thompson noted Work It would contribute to discrimination against the transgender community. “Transphobia is still all too prevalent in our society and this show will only contribute to it,” he said. “It will reinforce the mistaken belief that transgender women are simply ‘men pretending to be women,’ and that their efforts to live their lives authentically as women are a form of lying or deception.”
The organization also singled out print ads for the new series, which depict the lead characters dressed as women and standing at urinals in a men’s restroom, as being particularly damaging and called for the network to keep the ad out of circulation.
“Not only does it inadvertently further notions that transgender identities are humorous or artificial, but imagery like this one of the first things anti-LGBT activists resort to when trying to deny transgender people equal access to public facilities and services,” GLAAD said.
“We ask that ABC recognize this fact, keep the show’s bathroom advertisement out of circulation, and seriously consider whether airing this show is worth the damage it has the potential to do,” the group said.
ABC has a history of gay-friendly programming, including Dirty Sexy Money – which in casting Candis Cayne marked the first time a transgender actress was featured in a recurring role on broadcast television. The network also featured TV’s first transgender regular character on Ugly Betty in Alexis Meade, with GLAAD noting ABC has “routinely led the network pack” when it comes to representing the community.
GLAAD’s September “Where We Are on TV” report also singled out two of the network’s shows – Modern Family and Grey’s Anatomy, both of which feature gay couplesin long-term committed relationships — for their inclusion of LGBT story lines.
Graddick noted that the Work It brouhaha doesn’t negate the network’s long history of LGBT-inclusive offerings and that the cause for concern is about the impact the show will have on transgender individuals.
“It doesn’t negate or reflect on Dancing With the Stars or Dirty Sexy Money or anything like that; it’s about the show in particular,” he said. “The situation of, ‘Let’s laugh at men presenting as women’ gives license to others to make light of the experiences of transgender people. While we realize that, we’re not presupposing what the intent of the show is but what we believe the impact will be.”
The timing of the Work It backlash comes more than a month after GLAAD commended the network for its inclusion of transgender contestant Chaz Bono on Dancing With the Stars.
“At a time when transgender representation in the media is sorely lacking, Chaz Bono joining the cast of a series like Dancing With the Stars is a tremendous step forward for the public to recognize that transgender people are an important part of the fabric of American culture,” GLAAD said in August.
In the meantime, ABC, GLAAD and the HRC are finalizing details to discuss the matter with a meeting with “high-level” network executives likely to take place after the first of the year.
ABC Entertainment topper Paul Lee dubbed Work It, which has been widely panned and dubbed a modern-day Bosom Buddies by critics, has been an advocate for the show. He joked to reporters at the semi-annual Television Critics Association summer press tour in August that, “I’m a Brit, I have to do a cross-dressing show every year. I grew up with Monty Python. What can I do?”
Said Graddick: “[The year] 2012 is a different era than Bosom Buddies was 30 years ago, we feel that our media needs to evolve along with it,” Graddick said. “That’s really what this is about.”
The Work It controversy marks the second wave of backlash aganist a freshman series. The Parents Television Council and feminist Gloria Steinem also called for a boycott of NBC’s now-canceled The Playboy Club, which the network axed after three low-rated episodes earlier this season.