Fathers and daughters have been a staple of American television for years. Father didn't know best for just Bud, after all. He had it pretty well figured out for Princess and Kitten, too. But this fall, prime-time television is putting a contemporary spin on the father-daughter relationship: "Daddy's little girl" has grown up and come into her own. In three new series, fathers and their adult daughters find themselves in the same profession, sometimes working in accord, sometimes sharply at odds and frequently blurring the line between their personal and professional lives.
In the CBS comedy "Daddy's Girls," Dudley Moore stars as a father of three daughters who is recently deserted by both his wife and his business partner (who absconded together no less). As Dudley tries to put the pieces back together at home, middle daughter Samantha (Meredith Scott Lynn) comes to the rescue at his high-end women's clothing design studio and factory.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 18, 1994 Home Edition TV Times Page 7 Television Desk 1 inches; 15 words Type of Material: Correction
In the Sept. 11 edition of TV Times, Keri Russell of "Daddy's Girls" was misidentified in a photo caption.
Meg Buckner (Cynthia Gibb) finds herself the boss of her father Jack (Dabney Coleman) when she becomes publisher of Your Times magazine in the NBC comedy "Madman of the People." Jack, a malcontent columnist who has bucked authority all his life, is simultaneously proud of and rankled by his daughter's new post.
And in the NBC drama "Sweet Justice," Wall Street lawyer Kate Delacroy (Melissa Gilbert), collides head-on with her father, attorney James-Lee Delacroy (Ronny Cox), when she comes home to the South and joins the socially conscious unconventional firm of her father's archrival.
If television reflects reality, this new trend isn't surprising. Women now comprise more than 45% of the civilian work force and are entering the professions in increasingly greater numbers. A U.S. Department of Education survey for 1993 reported that women constituted 45% of law and 35% of business school students.
Dr. Carlfred Broderick, professor of sociology and director of marriage and family therapy training at USC, says these shows are in fact dramatizing what's happening in contemporary American society. "This is the first generation where middle-class daughters are achievers in the professional world. There have always been some, but this is truly now the thing that you want for your daughter. You want her to be an achiever and you're proud of her if she's an achiever rather than resentful, or thinking that she's not womanly."
While the creators of the new series say they weren't making a conscious social comment when they developed their shows, they do believe their television worlds reflect the real world.
"The Zeitgeist is a very mysterious thing--why a particular topic or relationship surfaces on several fronts at once," says "Sweet Justice" creator-executive producer John Romano. "I didn't go in looking for father-daughter, but yes, as I began to write it, I think I was feeling the same cultural interest as everybody else."
Romano says his interest in exploring the father-daughter dynamic was fed by his own life experiences. "I have two daughters--12 and 15--and it's the most interesting relationship."
"Madman of the People" creators-executive producers Chris Cluess and Stuart Kreisman were also drawn to the father-daughter subject because of personal experiences.
"I have two daughters," says Cluess. "One is 10 and one is 6. And Stu is sort of their de facto uncle. Watching these kids grow up and being amazed by them and being amazed by the way we respond to that ... had a lot to do with my interest in (the premise)."
The parent-child relationships in all three shows are anything but simple. Fathers and daughters alike are filled with mixed and complex emotions.
"He's my boss, but he's my father," says Meredith Scott Lynn of her relationship with Dudley Moore's character in "Daddy's Girls." "We have to deal with boundaries. That's going to come up for them a lot because they share a total work relationship. There's going to be a conflict one day where it's business and he's going to treat me like a daddy and it's not going to play."
In many instances, daughters have garnered their success in part because fathers have encouraged them and even served as mentors. "One of the things that's interesting, that is happening this generation, is that a lot of fathers are really sponsoring their daughters in their achievements," notes USC's Broderick. "I don't hear too many fathers anymore just saying, 'Give us grandkids.' "
"(James-Lee) absolutely adores (Kate), but always challenges her to do better," says Cox of his father role. "He delights in her company. One of the things that he loves to do is argue with her. One of the ways that they communicate is by testing 'how much do you know, how good are you at this?' He really appreciates and pushes her mind."
But encouraging a daughter's achievements isn't quite so easy for a father when those achievements put him at odds with the apple of his eye, much less threaten him professionally.