Model Woman (ABC) pilot preview: Beautiful Bertie is no Ugly Betty

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Created and executive produced by Helen Childress (Reality Bites). Based on Robert Lacey. Directed by Richard Shepard (GirlsRosewood, Ringer, Ugly Betty, Dom Hemingway). Executive produced by Sarah Fain, Liz Craft (The Shield, Lie To Me, Dollhouse), Rosalie Swedlin (Lagies, Red Corner) & Scarlett Lacey (The Royals). For ABC, TrisTar Television, Anonymous Content & ABC Studios. 65 pages.

Description: It’s 1977 and the formidable Bertie Geiss, a tempestuous matriarch and uncompromising businesswoman, with her colorful husband Miller by her side, lords over the Geiss Modeling Agency, a monopolistic powerhouse that sets standards of beauty worldwide. Bertie has an eye for spotting talent and cultivates her finds by mentoring the “girls” in a sorority-type home with strict rules and regimens. As she nears hitting the big 50th birthday, her whole empire is threatened by her Paris partner Lio Fibonacci, a sexy, dangerous snake who is secretly pilfering models to join his new agency in New York while introducing the models to the disco nightlife of glamour, sex and drugs which Bertie forbids…

With Andie MacDowell (Cedar Cove, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sex, Lies and Videotape), Steven Weber (Wings, Studio 60, Leaving Las Vegas), Nicole Ari Parker (Rosewood, Soul Food), Caitlin Carver (The Fosters, Hit the Floor), Dan Byrd (Cougar Town, Aliens in America, Easy A), Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, Law & Order: UK), Chris Mason (Lightfields, The Fades), Kaley Roynane (Gotham), Madeline Blake, Frank Harts (Billions, The Leftovers), Marcus Callender (Straight Outta Compton)…

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Every year, there’s a bunch of pilots you don’t understand why they got ordered. Not that they are awful. Just that they don’t fit with their respective network, and they don’t stand a chance in comparison to others. It looks like a waste of money and it gives false hope to the people involved. I guess someone inside the network roots for it, otherwise it wouldn’t be ordered at all. Right? In fact, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. That’s the case with Model Woman. It’s a pretty decent pilot but why in hell ABC would select this over way more on-brand properties? And it’s not like it was something critics would rave about either, like an American Crime. I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that it’s produced by TriStar television, which was relaunched last summer. It’s their first broadcast pilot picked-up. Maybe it’s just a way for ABC to show their interest towards the company and start a relationship with them. Maybe Model Woman is just a pawn in the game. Or maybe I’m paranoid and they genuinely think it has a chance to become a hit. Which is worrisome.

Look at the description: “a soapy period drama set in the fashion world”. I have nothing against the fashion world. Ugly Betty was set in it and it worked for them after all. Every decade or so, they try something like this. Remember Models Inc. from Sir Aaron Spelling in the 90s with Linda Gray and Carrie-Ann Moss? Even though they introduced it as a Melrose Place spin-off: huge flop. Remember The Beautiful Life on The CW? Cancelled after two airings or so. It seems like it’s not a subject people are interested in it. Or they didn’t find the right way to talk about it yet. But then again, Ugly Betty kinda did. And Model Woman is not in the same vein, at all. The “period” part is the real problem here. Usually, period dramas bomb on networks. Not sure why exactly, but they do. ABC tried, among others. Remember Pan Am? And between models and stewardesses, there’s not a huge difference. At least at the time. The Playboy Club and Life On Mars are other examples.

Because Model Woman is based on the biography of Eileen Ford, the outspoken and controversial woman who started as a model and went on to co-found the famous Ford Modeling Agency with her husband Jerry, it takes itself pretty seriously. Not a good thing when you want to make a soap. It could have been a fun show. It’s not. Sure, some lines are but the fun stops there. And it lacks surprises and unexpected twists. And bitches! Models can very bitchy. Or at least we want them to be. I mean, Naomi Campbell was discovered by Eileen Ford. Where is she in this? Where are the bitches?! The character of Rebecca Blakewell, who betrays the heroine, is supposed to be one. But she’s not enough for me. Helenjane Harris, Bertie’s competitor is another one. But she already signs a pact with her in the pilot. Do we have bitchy men instead? Not really. Bertie’s husband is not that good a person, but not the devil himself. The two young boys are pretty cool. There’s just this Lio Fibonacci, a friend who’s now a competitor. But you have to wait for the end of the pilot to discover it. Too little too late. All those beautiful people, including the young innocent Gemma or Bettie’s daughther Michelle, are definitely too nice for a soap.

Like The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez, Model Woman gives a starring role to a 50-year-old woman. Kudos ABC, once again. Bertie Geiss really is “a tempestuous matriarch and uncompromising businesswoman” and she’s the heart of the show. Maybe she’s the only real bitch in there. She’s the queen. She knows how to make an entrance. There’s a lot to like and to hate about her. Her lines are the best, by far. For example, to someone who says “the FDA just banned saccharine” when she asks for a cake with no sugar but saccharine instead, she responds: “Well, sugar causes fatness. We have to pick our battle.” Slay, bitch! I don’t know if Andie MacDowell is the right fit though. She ages gracefully but we’re so used to see her as a shampoo saleswoman we can’t remember if she was a good actress in the first place. Honestly, I don’t know.

Model Woman is a decent pilot script but a weak contender for a series order. If the story was contemporary and soapier, I’d say “yes, why not?” but as it is, ABC wouldn’t know what to do with it and it’s not the right time to take any chances. Sorry Beautiful Bertie, you’re just no Ugly Betty.

4 comments

  1. Tara Gelsomino says:

    I like Jamie Bamber and wish good things for him (and a role that lasts more than a season). Too bad.

  2. A says:

    I think that it may to be puck up for next summer like last year’ Astronaut Wives Club. Another flop called “limited series”.

    • ... says:

      Astronaut Wives was retooled as a one-season show. They told the entire story of the wives in 10 episodes. There was literally nowhere else to go. Try watching something or taking 5 seconds to Google before spouting nonsense.

  3. Antonio95 says:

    I don’t think this had any chance on ABC.Reign is a period drama and survived 3 seasons on network television and season 4 it’s on his way(propably the last).Well,it’s on the CW but still…the genre is not dead.I hope that Still Star-Crossed is ordered and Spark become way more interesting after I read the official description.I hope that ABC is picking them both.

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