ABC’s Work It and the Importance of a Call for Cancellation

The fact that Work It is both a terrible show and offensive to a host of groups is well known by now.

We were told this in no uncertain terms by critics when they first viewed it in the fall. We’ve been reminded of it now in every source from Entertainment Weekly to The Huffington Post. Hell, anyone unfortunate enough to see a promo on ABC knows that Work It was dead on arrival and, thankfully, ratings seem to reflect that.

Many critics far smarter, more experienced and funnier than I am have rightfully shredded this offensive magnum opus of former Friends writers Ted Cohen and Andrew Reich. I will say that everything you suspect about its quality is a woeful underestimate. Every cheap sight gag, including the falling off of a strategically needed Ace bandage during a clubbing, was employed. Every easy potshot at minorities was taken. My personal low point in a show full of them was the “funny” crack by Angel (one of the by-chance androgynously named leads) that he’d be great at selling drugs because he’s Puerto Rican. If you suffered through Work It, however, feel more than free to pick your own most hated moment. The mocking of transgendered women as the show’s main gag (it’s too thin to be called plot), the constant implications that all women are stupid and the false cry of a “Mancession” are all equally loathsome points.

From a business perspective, this never made any sense to me. One can tell that women, people of color, and the LGBT community were never going to watch this insulting tripe. The ads for this aired most often during football coverage, implying it’s a comedy for manly, rugged men. Those same men, the show itself notes in pilot dialogue, have no tolerance whether in Eurocentric or Machismo culture for “this sort of thing.” To create a show that appeals to no one and, thus, can’t bring anything to the sponsors’ plates doesn’t even work if you are watching the bottom line.

Similarly, it’s not funny. It’s poorly written. I’m not saying that the idea of playing with gender identity or cross-dressing can’t be funny and well done. I’m actually referencing films like Tootsie and To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything , Julie Newmar in which it wasn’t a one note gag but, in one case, something that fundamentally altered one character’s viewpoint and in the other explored how that lifestyle choice was viewed and adopted by three homosexuals. In both cases, the thing that I think makes them work---makes them transcend what all too often is a reductionist one-note gag---is that you forget that it’s “a boy in a dress” to quote Noxema’s speech to Chi Chi in To Wong Fu. Dorothy Michaels becomes as real and nuanced a personality as Michael Dorsey is; she’s not a joke. Similarly, To Wong Fu follows the struggles of Chi Chi, Vida and Noxema and gives a feel for what it takes to succeed as a drag queen per the film’s contention. It shows you, without becoming maudlin, what the three suffered through and sacrificed in order to live their lives with dignity.

So the idea of men in drag can be done, but not like this. This is every cheap, easy, misogynistic, racist and bigoted joke crammed into the first thirty minutes. The second episode “Shake Your Moneymaker”, still scheduled to air this Tuesday, sounds as if it will be a further slide into subterranean “standards.”

Frankly, the most entertainment one can get out of this show is to read the scathing reviews and the #cancelworkit tag on Twitter. When the criticisms make people laugh out loud while the show inspires contests to see who can endure the pilot the longest (I had one journalist friend who made it only six minutes into the episode), then you know you’ve messed up epically as a show creator.

But again, this is nothing revolutionary: Work It is bad.

What to me is more bothersome as I’ve followed the comments on reviews and Twitter is that there’s almost a backlash to criticizing Work It. I’ve seen many a tweet saying “It’s going to be canceled anyway” or “Yeah, it’s not that funny but it’s still not that big a deal.” Granted, I don’t think public outrage is going to be what kills this show. This show killed itself by being unwatchable and unfunny with more mugging than a Vaudeville act.  The outrage, the petitions from GLAAD and the HRC, the critical lashings, the complaints and protests on social media, however, are what might help to make sure a show like Work It doesn’t come around in the future.

Tons of shows fail every season. It’s more likely a new show will tank than survive, making original scripted programming a huge bet for many networks. ABC needs to know exactly and in excruciating detail why this show failed, why a modern audience won’t tolerate it. In 2012, a show mocking everyone not a white male heterosexual is cruel and stupid business. I am not naïve enough to think one can appeal to a network on morals. Television is a business like any other and the bottom line is king. I am saying that, when Work It is yanked, then ABC needs to know that it wasn’t bad jokes. It didn’t fail because the audience wasn’t interested in the lives of pharmaceutical reps.


ABC and parent company Disney need to know that the reason Work It failed was because this Neanderthal thinking and drive to force heteronormative standards down the throats of the viewing audience won’t be tolerated anymore.  They need to realize that, when development time comes for next fall, a new show with a similar bigoted tone won’t sell either. Between the critical and viewer outcry to the poorly rated Work It and Man Up’s quick death, I hope ABC realizes this “men are manly men, hear us be intolerant” resurgence is outdated, despicable and going to cost them money.

The only way for them to hear this, and for other networks and studios to hear this message as well, is for people to continue to say it loud and clear. So, yes, as long as media produces things that are this bigoted and repugnant, people will speak out and it won’t be alarmist. It’ll be right. It will be what is needed to one day make shows like this as impossible to propose as a show with a main character in blackface is currently in 2012. After all, as @scottgairdner on Twitter put it, “It’s brave of ABC to air a show written in 1949.”

I’d like to add that in 2012, ABC, anachronistic garbage like Work It won’t be watched when aired.


Images found from and Remote Controlled. The promotional stills are property of ABC Network and Warner Brothers Television.