Babe-of-the-Week Shows

John Rogers is excited that It Takes a Thief is available on Hulu. I would be excited except Hulu isn’t available in Canada. You can get it by installing something like Hotspot Shield, which disguises your IP address to fool the Hulu server, but I can’t officially advise you to do something like that. Anyway…

This post at Cinema Retro gives a good run-down of what It Takes a Thief was and why it was fun, but I’ll add that It Takes a Thief was one of the last of a type of show that was quite common in the ’60s and hasn’t existed much since then, which I might call the “Babe Of the Week Show.” (That may sound a bit chauvinistic and Rat Pack-y, but so was that entire decade of popular culture.) That is, a show where part of the formula was having a different beautiful woman as a guest star every week, often in revealing or otherwise memorable costumes, to either tag along on the hero’s adventures, or help the villain, or just do anything; it was part of the writer’s job to find a way to fit a beautiful guest star into the plot. The most famous examples of the Babe-of-the-Week show is the original Star Trek, where every episode had to have a new gorgeous woman for Kirk to seduce, but there was also Batman, where the villain usually had a beautiful woman helping him out; Burke’s Law, which I mentioned a few weeks back, and the SpyBabes of the week on Wild Wild West and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Most of these shows shared a common pool of actresses who specialized in looking pretty in TV guest appearances or smallish movie roles: Barbara Rhoades, Marianna Hill, Tina Louise, Yvonne Craig, Mary Ann Mobley, Nancy Kovack — some of them were fine actresses, but in the ’60s, there were few TV shows with major female characters, so they mostly had to play Babes of the Week, much as some actors now specialize in being guest perps on Law & Order shows.

The Babe of the Week format started to die out in the ’70s, as a) action shows put more emphasis on action rather than titillation; b) more shows appeared with women as strong lead characters, making it unnecessary to have a different big guest part for a woman every week. One throwback to the ’60s Babe-of-the-Week format was Buck Rogers, co-created by… the guy who created It Takes a Thief, Leslie Stevens.

Now even shows that are all about the eye candy, like Las Vegas or Grey’s Anatomy tend to get it from the regulars (male and female) more than the guests. That’s probably fairer, since it’s probably marginally less exploitative to call attention to the looks of a regular, rather than have a guest star who is there only for her looks, not as a character. Still, the Babe-of-the-Week idea is so tied up with TV escapism that I’m sometimes surprised that more shows don’t return to it; the USA network sometimes toys with the idea but never quite goes there.

The corollary to Babe-of-the-Week would be Hunk-of-the-Week, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to happen much. I have no idea why. You would think that a show like Charlie’s Angels or Wonder Woman might have brought in handsome men every week to tag along with the heroines, but they mostly stuck with Lyle Waggoner or, Lord help us, Bosley. Maybe that’s just part of the inherent sexism of TV producers, that they would assume that a show about guys needs more female eye candy, but a show about women requires… more female eye candy.

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