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Women And The New TV Line-Up

Women dominating the new TV season. The Fall lineup from Prime Suspect to Pan Am and the Playboy club

Damon Wayans Jr., Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone star in "New Girl." (FOX)

Damon Wayans Jr., Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone star in "New Girl." (FOX)

It’s hard to say if the new fall television line-up is a woman’s heaven or a woman’s hell, but it’s definitely all about women. From “Prime Suspect” to “The Playboy Club,” “2 Broke Girls” to “Pan Am,” and “Homeland” to “Whitney” and much more, in show after show, women are at the heart of the fall schedule. They’re tough, they’re retro, they’re dorky, they’re raunchy. They’re half-naked “bunnies” and fighters who will take you down. What is it in the culture right now that has studios so high on women?

This hour On Point: TV goes big on women.

-Tom Ashbrook


Mary McNamara, television Critic for the Los Angeles Times

Maureen Ryan, television Critic for AOL TV.

Aisha Muharrar, Writer for the NBC comedy, “Parks and Recreation” and former writer for Fox’s “Sit Down, Shut Up.”

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  • Family Home

    Miss “Brothers and Sisters”. Sally Field was wonderful.

    • Tina

      You’re right, she was brilliant!  I found some of the other characters annoying, though!

  • salzburg

    New Girl and Two Broke Girls, Prime Suspect, and The Playboy Club… What it is to be a WOMAN in AMERICAn culture. What is the message?

    • salzburg

      Maybe you should add to your list youtube’s: 

      Killing Us Softly 4 (2010) – 1/2 
      Killing Us Softly 4 (2010) – 2/2

    • Anonymous

      It takes an American TV corporation to ruin a great series such as Prime Suspect. I watched the trailer for this crap by chance. By chance the night before I had just been watching the original with Helen Mirren. In the original DC Jane Tennison was a complex character that took time to unravel as the series developed. She did not engage car chases, or was involved in punch ups nor much of any action nonsense that the new version has seen fit to fill this cheap side show version with. Nor was Dame Mirren’s character a pretty young blond thing. She was a driven, alcoholic middle aged woman trying to navigate the Metropolitan police force. The original Prime Suspect aired in 1992 through 94. The new American version is a through back to a stereo type and shows just how awful commercial TV is. 

      As to rest of the shows,  yawn.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VDH4GYJMIUFU373W3XUQVD2V4E Patrick

    The Hour on BBC America shows a strong female character.  But no one should watch these terrible sitcoms for any reason.  They are chintzy, cynical, laugh-track ridden pieces of garbage that are somehow less redeeming for humanity than reality TV.

  • Crafty

    Now the small screen will really be able to live up to it’s much deserved moniker, “The Boob Tube”.

  • Winston Smith

    The shows that are being touted this year (Playboy Club, Pan American,Whitney, etc.) may be giving women larger roles, but they are generally being used as objects of physical attraction to men rather than having anything meaningful to say. The shows are comprised of little more than adulterous sex with no redeeming value whatsoever.  The writers lack creativity and any kind of moral compass, and so they pawn this garbage off on the stupid American public as entertainment.  Then we wonder why we have so much divorce, out of wedlock pregnancy, and fail to see how far downward our society has slidden.

    • TFRX

      You want to reconsider that last sentence? People may think you are implying a causality there.

      And I’ll invite you to find a show made less moral by the sheer power exercised by any TV writer’s moral compass. Do you know where writers stand on the totem pole in Hollywood?

      • Winston Smith

        I believe that it works both ways.  Hollywood reflects what is going on in society.  At the same time, Hollywood people definitely have a leftist agenda and use their influence both in terms of money and work to push that agenda and change society to their way of thinking.  People like Barbara Streisand, Sean Penn, Whoopi Goldberg, and many many others use their fame to push their leftist causes. They are entitled to free speech, but they definitely have a leftist agenda. So, no, I don’t retract the last sentence, and I do believe that there is a causality.  They also “turn up the heat on the pot” and steadily try to foster an environment in which people no longer question or object to what would have been considered objectionable a generation or two ago.  And please don’t bring up the red herring of conservatives want to bring back slavery, and segregation, etc.  That has nothing to do with the immoral cesspool into which our society is jumping into with both feet.

        • TFRX

          “Hollywood people definitely have a leftist agenda”.

          Hey, it’s natural storytelling selection: Writers with agendas are usually crap writers, and nothing stands out more like a sore thumb than a right-wing writer with an agenda, because they seem to want to impose things on scripts that aren’t recognized as humans acting or speaking like humans by audiences, and aren’t entertaining or funny. To wit, the movies “An American Carol” and the abomination that was the first part of “Atlas Shrugged”.

          A generation ago, Dan Quayle was trying to tell us that a white professional woman in her 40s with a six-figure income was encouraging inner-city black teen girls that getting pregnant and

          And “liberal Hollywood” didn’t make Murphy Brown have an abortion.

          Actually, liberal Hollywood is very light on the whole “pregnancy scare” idea. I can’t imagine you complaining word one about the moralizing over abortion, loose women and pregnancy scares as they are shown on TV and moves: Lots of keeping the baby, or having an abortion (a legal one) and having lots of regrets, or whew! not being pregnant, and straightening up and flying right. So very unlike the real world. So very anec-data.

          And as far as celebrities and politics, maybe (as in how right-wingers don’t get satire and are doomed to fail at making it) there’s just something in the water. I can’t otherwise explain why the right wing has the lunatic ravings of Ted Nugent and Craig Nelson and there are a good number of left-wing celebrities who risk their public reputations by speaking politically, and do not make fools of themselves.

          • Winston Smith

            You are right.  It is natural storytelling.  And before the worldwide flood in Noah’s day, people were doing all of their “normal: activities until God decided that He had had enough of man’s rebellion and immorality and destroyed them all in The Flood.  And they are spending eternity separated from Him and regretting all of their natural storytelling.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            From one narrow perspective, that’s the story.  Other cultures have a different view. Besides, I doubt the antedeluvians were done in by their television watching habits.

          • TFRX

            There were those wicked, wicked cave paintings. Somebody was gonna get smote for that.

          • TFRX

            I thought we were approaching the realm of an adult conversation.

            And then you did that.

          • AC

            what? i don’t understand what this is supposed to mean?

          • Winston Smith

            My point is that those who embrace this kind of entertainment argue that is simply reflects what is going on in society.  Rather than take the low road and give the masses this garbage, why not take the high road and create programs that have moral and social value.  And of course, that means that we have to pick someone’s morality rather than sink to the lowest common denominator.  My perspective is a Biblical morality reflecting Christian values.  And since there is virtually nothing on TV that reflects my values, the only programs that I generally watch are news, some sports.  but that’s ok.  I have much more useful things to do with my time than vedge out in front of the boob tube anyway.

          • Anonymous

            PBS has many great shows. 

          • Winston Smith

            I agree.  I probably watch more on PBS than any other network.  I was going to mention that in my previous post.

          • nj

            WGBH (Boston) rebroadcasts MI5 (BBC Production) here. One of the best dramas, ever. Ensemble acting, but female roles are strong, well conceived, well acted.

          • Anonymous

            Thanks, I’ve heard that is good and have it on my list of things I want to watch.

          • nj

            Careful, it’s addictive. It’s not strictly a serial program (each episode stands on its own), but character development from one show to the next is important. The writers have no qualms in killing off some of the regular characters to create some sense of realism. And characters have flaws and demons, and even bad guys and “terrorists” are multidimensional.

            Good stuff.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            The problem with trying to make stories with your values is that you already know what the conclusion is.  Understand, I was raised in a fundamentalist culture, so I get it.  There’s no mystery and no surprise.  You know the end in advance.  There’s no genuine conflict–question as to which side will win.  Stories that fit a fundamentalist viewpoint (or are written to teach any viewpoint) are author tracts, not good narrative.

          • steve

            Imagination need not reside in the exclusive realm of the secular.

          • TFRX

            “Morality” and “lowest common denominator” are more often bedfellows than you realize.

            The last act of many an “edgy” teleplay falters because at least one character has to “learn a lesson”. (IIRC, the ground rules Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld laid out included the belief that “there would be no lessons learned by anyone on the show”. You tell me how that worked out.)

            It’s lazy and weak storytelling, and provides the dual function of keeping Standards & Practices happy, and also keeping a ton of the “lowest common denomintor” sorts who hold your moral values happy.

            If these things offend you, first convince your fellow self-labeled Christians to give up watching that stuff and make ABCFamily the #1 network. Then maybe I’ll listen to you.

          • steve

            See the children’s book by Peter Spier – I believe it was a Caldecott winner in 1977 or 1978. - you may enjot it

        • Anonymous

          What about the violence agenda put forward by right wing Stalone and Schwartzenegger (who cheated on his Democrat wife)?

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            To smite the wicked and wipe out nations is a family value–read “Joshua.”

          • Winston Smith

            I certainly don’t support the mindless and unnecessary violence of action movies made by the the individuals that you mentioned (or anything similar regardless of the political viewpoint of those involved in making the movie or tv program) and refuse to watch any of their senseless movies.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see the need to remake the great Prime Suspect.  Make something new. 

  • Dpweber83

    Moar Kat Dennings plz

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Plz tranzlaet into English.

  • Moondancer010

    On New Girl.. isnt she cute and talented..
    And i just roared when one of the guys she lives with
    started to undress and kept referring to ‘teabagging’..
    Wasnt it funny.    A talented woman.. a bad scrip and
    3 doucebags  — I switched it off.

  • Margaret

    Tom, As a Pan Am stewardess for 18 years and now a faculty member at an Ivy League medical school, the new Pan Am TV show, as a reflection of who we were then and how that generation laid the groundwork for our lives today is welcome.  Women are taking their places as decision makers.  The entertainment industry is recognizing that we are a market for their products.  Men in the 18 to 34 year old bracket are not the only ones that advertisers want to reach.    

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    There is one left-wing idea that Hollywood values:  recycling.

    • TFRX

      “Be careful with that joke–it’s an antique!”

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Explain High Concept.  Does it mean deeply stupid?

  • AC

    o god, i can’t believe i’m about to complain about this, but – I can’t stand the fact that women in more technological/scientific jobs are still portrayed like the girl on that Big Bang Theory Show. I won’t watch it for this reason…….
    we have an opportunity now to ‘glamorize’ fields that frankly, this country needs interest in, but noooo -the smart girl is still always the ugly one…

    • AC

      that’s true, i forgot about Bones. But then, she’s pretty but so smart she’s socially inept? not fair….

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        Haven’t you noticed that smart people are treated with contempt these days?  They’re called elitist and socially inept.  It’s a shift in values that isn’t a good development.

    • Ghee

      And for the one “dumb” girl there are many very smart and distinct “smart” girls!
      Leslie Winkle
      Amy Farrah Fowler
      Bernadette Rostenkowski
      Priya Koothrappali
      Beverly Hofstader
      Stephanie Barnett
      Elizabeth Plimpton

      • AC

        what shows are they in? I’m not the biggest tv watcher, so if you could point me in the right direction…

  • Yar

    While China eats our lunch in manufacturing and clean energy, at least we are entertained.  Can 10% of our population support the other 90%?  The question should be; How do we pay for our service industry?

    America is not sustainable in its current form.

    • ElfmanNW

       Actually given the current distribution of wealth and income the top 10% could support the remaining 90%.  Could, but don’t and won’t. 

  • Bobose3

    >>>What is it in the culture right now that has studios so high on women?

    It’s called backlash.

    “High on women”??? I don’t think so. It’s a less overt form of sexism than outright butt pinching or systemized exclusion — push the vapid, vacuous women to the fore and then say — “see how many opportunities women have now? see how far we’ve come? no need to keep fighting, girls — you’ve already made it.” Meanwhile, the really insightful, moving stories (and storytellers) are shunted aside and forgotten.

    Playboy bunnies?  (And in real life, it’s the likes of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman taking center stage). Really? Any day now, we’ll see a remake of “Debbie Does Dallas” touted not only as family entertainment but as a great women’s movie with a strong female protagonist — That Debbie… what a gal.

  • JuliaD.

    28 female here, also CRINGING at PanAm…it’s mostly about the “TONE” they don’t have right. They address backwardness with “CUTENESS”…Just dressing a woman in a tailored retro suit is not going to automatically sell the story of women the way Mad Men can. It’s all in the writing.  When a character with no depth addresses sexism in a “cute” way, rather than exposing it as a truth the way MadMen does…it almost promotes the old sexism ALL OVER AGAIN…dangerous and vapid.

  • Bluzader

    1) Didn’t “Siskel & Ebert” review some movies back in the 70′s or 80′s that address “sexploitation”? Those comments may still apply.
    2) Based on the adds that I have seen, where are women of color in this new season?

    • Anonymous

      I think they are wisely avoiding appearing in any of this crap. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    If these shows didn’t have a laugh track, I wouldn’t know that an attempt at a joke had just floated by.

  • JuliaD

    28 female here, also CRINGING at PanAm…it’s mostly about the “TONE”
    they don’t have right. They address backwardness with “CUTENESS”…Just
    dressing a woman in a tailored retro suit is not going to automatically
    sell the story of women the way Mad Men can. It’s all in the writing. 
    When a character with no depth addresses sexism in a “cute” way, rather
    than exposing it as a truth the way MadMen does…it almost promotes the
    old sexism ALL OVER AGAIN…dangerous and vapid.

  • NCassidy

    Regarding Two Broke Girls and other TV comedies…

    I absolutely hate laugh tracks!  If a comedy can’t stand on its own without that distracting laughter (often at lines that aren’t even remotely funny), it’s probably poorly written.  I wish the producers and writers would just get it through their heads that much of the public doesn’t want them telling us that something is supposed to be funny.  I don’t watch them…

  • ellie

    Parks and Rec is one of the few shows we make time for and the favorite of our 11 and 13 year old girls.  Leslie Knope is a smart, funny,
    kind, attractive woman, who can get things done.  Great writing!

    • NCassidy

      And it has no laugh track!  A true test of a good comedy. 

  • Ginak

    Compare this crop of shows to “Golden Girls”; Middle aged ( and elderly!) women doing their thing. Where are these represntations now?

    • Tina

      THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Erin in Iowa

    TV writers (lots of men) try to write women characters the same way they write male characters – tough with a fear of committment - thinking this is womens’ “empowerment”, as opposed to genuinely empowered – smart and single without being a floozy. 

  • salzburg

    Want to see women who are valued for who they are and what they have to offer as characters. Realistic normal looking women who are successful and not objects of sexual fantasies are a rarity.

  • Tina

    1)  Castle is brilliant!  It is consistent, yet it sometimes tweaks with its own genre in terrifically creative ways!!!  I will MISS the character, Captain Roy so much!

    2)  Pan Am:  At least we get to hear Bobby Darin songs in the background; otherwise, for how much that slightly older generation of women influenced teenage me, the show rings false except for some of the set direction.

    3)  Thank goodness you have such fantastic guests on today (at least thru the first half hour!)

    4)  Follow the money:  what was the advertising for (I ran for snacks, so I don’t know).  The only people with jobs are women in health care; can they afford the automobiles that were probably the main things advertised?

    5)  It took me until my late fifties to get rid of the Paradigm of Womanhood that the 1963 Era (Pan Am) sold.  I was filled with self hatred that no counseling could get rid of because of the heavy, heavy doses sold then as representing Truly Feminine Women — Pan Am DOES get THAT right; ironically, nowadays more women actually look like the Ideal anyway, so I don’t know that the young women are suffering as I did (unless they are all in disguise via plastic surgery!!!) 

  • AC

    i wonder how women portray themselves via youtube or other media formats? how much of that is used as a research tool for tv writers?

    • Tina

      Insightful questions!!!  

  • Cristina

    It’s a bit funny as I’ve been mulling over the new line up as I see previews and start to watch shows.  What most intrigued me was Pan-Am.  I noticed Desperate Housewives is in it’s final season but right behind it comes Pan-Am.  I didn’t find this coincidental.  I can’t say as I watch either, nor will I, however I figure Pan-Am will go the route of Desperate Housewives.
    Now what about Rizzoli and Isles?  Certainly a favorite of mine!  The Closer, not a favorite for me however been around a bit with a strong female lead.  
    Two Broke Girls, oh fabulous love it!  A bit risque at times but sadly that is life!  Certainly more realistic though!

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Given the snippets of shows that you’ve been playing, I’m glad that I choose my television programs through Internet services.  I’m not missing anything.

  • Tncanoeguy

    Conservative – wives submit to your husbands – Christians must be having fits.  It’s the end of Western civilization! 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    You call this sexual humor?  It’s not funny, and it’s not sexy.

  • salzburg

    The culture is changing with internet. Porno is entering many more homes, and it is becoming more main stream in acceptance. It is becoming okay have a female character as an object. Woman are being dehumanized. 

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Say humans are being dehumanized, and I’ll agree with you.

  • Anonymous

    Prime Suspect is in name only. People should rent the original and sit back and watch a real excellent drama. A cop show without anything blowing up or anyone getting shot in every episode. They took a tenacious, difficult and brilliant character, Jane Tennison, and turned her into an action figure.

    I think I’d rather watch reruns of Kojak.

    • Anonymous

      I’m curious to know if the UK version of Law and Order is any good.  So many great English shows are ruined when they try to remake them here.  I think one difference is that the English shows usually only have six episodes a season so they tend to be more of one writer’s vision than American shows which are written by committee and pander to the lowest common denominator.

      • Anonymous

        I’ve seen a few episodes and it’s pretty good. As good as any Law and Order we had on this side of the pond.

        Look at the Office, it was done pretty well. Not as over the top as the British version, but well done.

        Basically cable wins with dramas, how can anyone top the Wire.

        • Anonymous

          The Office is one of the few exceptions. 

          • TFRX

            I highly recommend the Anglo-American series from last year “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”.

            That David Cross, of “Arrested Development” fame, can succeed in the no-laughtrack crowd with several British comedy vets should be no surprise.

            (And in keeping with this hour’s topic, the female characters are fully represented non-ciphers who are not pushovers.)

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Or the original Hawaii Five-O

      • Anonymous

        Book em Dano…

  • Brian

    “… Female anti-hero with loose morals …”
    Sex & the City definitely had some loose morals, but none of the violence like in Sopranos.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      X Files:  monster of the week

      Law and Order:  murder of the week

      Sex in the City:  lay of the week

      Rinse, repeat.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Or she jumps the shark…

  • Newtonpk2002

    Nothing on Harry’s Law?  Great last season, sadly corrupted this one into a Boston Legal refun

  • Ruth

    I have come in late so I don’t know if you talked about AMC’s The Killing. The main character has so much depth, and is tremendously flawed, but she’s terrific and believable, and has totally sucked me in.

    • AC

      i forgot about this show – i liked it a lot too, but watched online, not on tv….

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    There have been good shows that presented real women in interesting lives–Joan of Arcadia and Once and Again are examples.  Those died after a couple of seasons.  Audiences have a good deal of the blame in the current television lineup.

    • nj

      Another Once and Again fan, here. One of many good series that met with a premature demise: Freaks and Geeks, Homicide; Life on the Street (late 90s), Chicago Code, Lie to Me, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Southland…. Why is it that some of the best programs die quickly and dreck like 2.5 Men seems to go on forever?

      I’m not even sure about the overall premise of today’s show. Are there more roles (statistically significantly) for women now than in the past? Don’t know.

      Among the usual mass-market fluff and junk, i can think of any number of programs where the female roles were balanced, realistic, non-stereotypical: NYPD Blue, West Wing, the aforementioned early cancellations. 

  • Tina

    To the caller who asked where the great women of color are in the new line-up:  As I said earlier, I will really miss the character of Captain Roy on Castle, an African-American character played with fabulous depth.  Well, as if TV does have a quota system, we lost a Black character, but he will be replaced by a female African-American character.  I really don’t know most actors names, but I recognize the actress who will play this character as someone who will deliver a great performance.  My response when Capt. Roy was killed off was to cry out loud in a double way:  one because of the plot, one because one fabulous African-American character has left the screen.  

  • Christine Francis-Barta

    I grew up as a child in the seventies fascinated with my mother’s MS. Magazines.  I knew that “Women’s Lib” was cool, but, did not fully appreciate it until I was older.  I benefited personally from what the women of the early 60′s endured, and I know that. I think a generation behind me do not even realize that, and, even if they are involved in the writing and production of these shows, they may still not be able to fully grasp how much they miss the mark.  Mad Men, for me, was incredibly difficult to watch. I tried, and, I “liked” the show, but, I cringed through every episode I watched. That is what makes it so good. Because I am  a “vintage reseller” I watched both The Playboy Club” and “Pan Am” to see the styles portrayed, but, the content of both shows failed to affect me at all.  Personally, I have low expectations of the shows, and feel like  sophisticated criticism will not make a difference to the shows, but, I do worry at times, about re-writing the history of the feminist movement for the next generation.

  • Tina

    P.S.  The insightful comments from the guests continued past the first half hour, lasting the entire show!   Thank you!!

  • Tina

    For anyone who gets certain PBS stations, though they may not be (?) new this season, some great shows include:  Rick Steves’ Europe; The Story of India; Music Voyager; History Detectives; Doc Martin; William and Mary; Masterpiece (that new name sounds SO pretentious, IMHO!); Masterpiece Mystery; Tavis Smiley Show

    I don’t know when the next season will run, but HBO’s Treme series about NOLA just after Hurricane Katrina is fabulous — AND you get to learn about so much that is new in NOLA music!


  • Ghee

    As a young girl in the 60′s I dreamed of becoming a stewardess. It seemed so glamorous and adventurous! Such independence. So liberated. My grandfather used to bring me home PanAm trinkets from his business trips. I felt being a secretary was so boring and such a stereotype. I vowed I’d never take a typing class just so I’d never go down that path. I wanted to go into my family’s plumbing business but was told, as a girl, that was impossible. I wanted any alternative to just getting married and having kids like my mom did. Stewardess seemed like a great alternative. And the idea of traveling seemed so exciting. Liberation for women didn’t come all at once. It came in steps, sometimes baby steps. I truly believe that it is very important to see where we have come from to understand where we are and where we need to go. I am interested in seeing where the PanAm TV show takes this.The idea of women as spies for the government is an interesting twist.

  • Anonymous

    How can you have a serious conversation about women’s rights and how far we have come when young girls are listening to the lyrics Eminem and company and thinking it is okay.  Having young girls and working with youth groups I see first hand that girls continue to give their power to boys.  Before we can talk about how these period pieces are viewed by older people, we must talk about how girls are growing up today and their place as opposed to boys.  There hasn’t been nearly the progress that Ms. McNamara ascribes.

  • Markknoeller

    What do you think about Battlestar Galactica.

  • Cory

    A bunch of Mad Men rip-offs.  A bummer if you don’t especially like Mad Men.

    I’ll give Terra Nova a shot.  In America in 2011 I’m bigger than ever on a little sci-fi escapism.

  • http://www.emilyfox-kales.com Emily Fox-Kales

    I particularly appreciated the show’s guests pointing to the limitations of the recent rise of “women-centered” television. As I point out in my new book on popular movies (Body Shots: Hollywood and the Culture of Eating Disorders) too often the rhetoric of “choice” and “empowerment” is simply mainstream media’s version of “feminism lite.”
    emily fox-kales

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