TCA: With ‘Betrayal,’ Are Viewers Ready for a Cheating Female Protagonist? (Update)

TCA: With 'Betrayal,' Are Viewers Ready for a Cheating Female Protagonist? (Update)

Hannah Ware plays a woman torn between her husband and a man out to get him

Viewers have forgiven Don Draper for endless affairs, Walter White for cooking meth, and Tony Soprano for killing people. Will they forgive Sara Hadley for cheating on her husband?

Hadley, played by Hannah Ware, is the protagonist of ABC's upcoming "Betrayal," a 13-episode series that follows her affair with a man who, she soon realizes, is trying to bring down her husband.

"We're not boiling anybody down to heroes or villains. It's risky to the extent that we're aiming high," executive producer David Zabel said at a Television Critics Association panel on Sunday. He said the show "hangs on the premise that the audience will have an appetite for sophisticated storytelling."

The show will test whether viewers can overcome a longstanding double standard about cheating. Sex columnist Dan Savage recently asked fans to consider, as a thought experiment, how people would have treated Hillary Clinton if she, rather than Bill, had cheated with an intern.

Zabel thinks "Betrayal" can overcome the double standard: "They've overcome it on 'Scandal."

Well, kind of: "Scandal" protoganist Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) has had an affair with the president, but at least she isn't married to someone else. He is. Olivia may be the other woman, but he's the cheater.

Cable audiences have winced through Don Draper's dalliances, but broadcast viewers seem less permissive. Fox's "Lonestar," about a man leading a double life with a wife and girlfriend, was canceled after two episodes.

"Betrayal" asks audiences to not only sympathize with a cheater, but sympathize with a cheating woman. So far, they haven't even been kind to non-cheating women.

One of the mysteries of "Breaking Bad" is why audiences spent so many seasons rooting for Walt even as they detested his wife, Skyler, for objecting to his meth-making. Eventually she had an affair, and it nearly brought Walt's empire down.

Yes, soap operas have found countless women torn between their cold husbands and hotblooded young lovers. But this is primetime. And Hadley's husband is sympathetic.

Executive producer Lisa Zwerling said most of the "Betrayal" writers are married, and find themselves rooting for all of the characters. They tried to portray an affair without casting blame.

"It's kind of how it really goes down," she said. "There's no clear bad guys."

Viewers may not see guys. The question is whether they'll see a bad woman.

(For the record: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Henry Thomas plays Hadley's husband. In point of fact, he plays another character.)

  • Eric Armstrong

    News flash! Viewers have been bombarded
    with cheating women all along, it’s no new concept! ABC had desperate
    Housewives for how many seasons? And they replaced it with of all things
    Mistresses! But then the same network is shoving another infidelity series down
    our throats called Betrayal, and with all of the same themes, regardless of how
    they try to spin the story it all revolves around infidelity! Are we amazed
    that it got off to such a bad start? It’s nothing new people; it doesn’t matter
    if the character we are supposed to identify with is a male or a female because
    the subject matter is more of the same. Put it in a court room, hospital or
    police department we are still let with a tired storyline that would have been
    better suited for an episode of an existing show instead of its own stand alone

  • calilife4me

    The writing is, simply, poor. Why does she cheat? No one knows. Is it because her husband didn't like the tie she bought for him? Or because he couldn't go to an unscheduled lunch in the middle of his workday? She doesn't seem unhappy at home and has a good relationship with her husband and kid. In fact, she has more chemistry with her husband than with the guy she's cheating with.