Are heavy women getting better TV roles? Judging by the new show ''Less Than Perfect,'' Liane Bonin says the networks still have unhealthy weight issues
Sara Rue, Less Than Perfect
Credit: Sara Rue: Robert Trachtenberg/ABC

Are heavy women getting better TV roles?

Somebody give Anna Nicole Smith another Twinkie. Hell, give her the whole box. Not only has the voluminous sexpot’s car wreck of a series been renewed for a second season, but her hour-glass-and-a-half figure seems to be encouraging other leading ladies. ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding” star Nia Vardolos is developing a TV version of her hit movie for CBS, zaftig Broadway star Marissa Jaret Winokur (”Hairspray”) just signed a deal with ABC, and the original queen-sized comedienne, Roseanne, is prepping an ABC reality show. Could it be that TV is making room for women of all sizes, not just extra-small?

Sure! And there’s a magic pill that lets you eat whatever you want and still lose weight! The truth is, Roseanne aside, prime time TV has a crappy track record when it comes to finding roles for women who’d bust the seams of Lara Flynn Boyle’s Earl Jeans. At best, big girls are spunky sidekicks on quality shows (Lesley Boone on ”Ed,” Melissa McCarthy on ”Gilmore Girls,” Camryn Manheim on ”The Practice”). At worst, they’re slovenly, foul-mouthed freaks (Kathy Kinney on ”The Drew Carey Show”).

Of course, this is nothing new. In past decades, woe to the actress who puts on a few pounds. Despite two Emmy nods, Delta Burke was savaged by the press for gaining weight on the ’80s sitcom ”Designing Women,” then dumped from the show in its fifth season (but not before her character got a pet pig, wink wink). Margaret Cho claims she felt so much pressure from network execs to slim down during her 1994 sitcom ”All-American Girl” that she dropped 30 pounds in two weeks — and suffered kidney failure. ”Suddenly Susan” star Kathy Griffin, who says she almost died from complications following liposuction, felt ”too fat” compared to other television stars. At the time, she was a size four. You’d think TV cameras added 50 pounds, not the reputed 10.

The hype surrounding ABC’s appropriately titled ”Less than Perfect” suggests that things have changed in TV land, but I’d sooner believe that McDonald’s ”new” fries are the next best thing to broccoli. The show’s pilot episode, about a frumpy secretary whose promotion dumps her into the company swimming-with-sharks tank, featured endless cracks about the main characters’ porcine figure and abysmal eating habits. But star Sara Rue says she’s smaller than a size 12. Since when does that make someone a candidate for a Richard Simmons intervention? Considering that the average woman is 5’4” and a size 14, the idea that Rue is being praised as TV’s new plus-size role model proves that either the American public has a distorted idea of what ”average” looks like or we’re willfully ignoring the double digit sizes printed inside our elastic-waist chinos.

The irony is that weight never seems to be an impediment to a male actor nabbing a lead TV role. Drew Carey, Bernie Mac, Kevin James (”King of Queens”), Vincent D’Onofrio (”Law & Order: Criminal Intent”), Mark Addy (”Still Standing”), James Gandolfini (”The Sopranos”), and Donal Logue (”Grounded for Life”) make the Pillsbury Dough Boy look ripped. But does even one of them have an equally chubby on-screen wife? Of course not. When Drew Carey paired up with a big-bottomed girl on-screen, it was just a thin actress in a fat suit.

So forgive me if I don’t whoop it up just because I can’t floss my teeth with the latest sitcom star. I’ll believe times are changing when Marge eats a few of Homer’s donuts.

Do you think TV has a double-standard when it comes to size?

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