Answering my own questions since 2001

Hiding a Pregnancy on Network Television

Julie and I recently finished watching season four of “How I Met Your Mother”. It’s obviously just “Friends” 2.0, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. I like how the show gets very post-modern with plots and time lines. Plus, of course, Neil Patrick Harris is kind of a revelation.

This season both of the female leads, Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders, were pregnant. In the second half of the season, I enjoyed watching the meta-show of “Conceal the Pregnancies”. The show’s producers devised all sorts of creative strategies to hide the actresses’ growing bumps.

You’ve got the clothing options, which the show deployed early on. There’s the big flowy scarf, the loose-fitting shirt and the big dressing gown:

Big Scarf

Loose Fitting Blouse

Dressing Gown

Several variations of the big bag:

Big Bag

Bag_Table

Another Purse

The rather unconvincing newspaper:

Newspaper

The cereal box:

Cereal

Finally, if you’re looking for something really formidable, just have the actor stand behind something solid, like a cooler:

Cooler

Or, she can carry something and stand behind something:

Basketballs_Oranges

I posted a photo set of 18 bump-hiding tactics on Flickr.

In what I’d imagine to be a nod to this issue, both actress’s characters make a joke about being pregnant in the final episodes of this season. I’m not sure what the thesis would be, but there’s surely a Women’s Studies essay in the metaphor of hiding these women’s pregnancies. What’s the opposite of ‘emasculated’?

44 Responses to “Hiding a Pregnancy on Network Television”

  1. Tundra

    Absolutely awesome article, thanks! I wouldn’t have thought to look out for it myself. This sort of thing fascinates me.

    Joe Pike Reply:

    Fascinates you? What? Why?

    Jess Reply:

    Nah, it fascinates me as well. All the stuff that goes on behind the scenes in programmes like this. Really interesting article!

    Eric Reply:

    Maybe fascinating is the wrong word, but I would say it’s interesting in a sort of “Heh, that’s pretty clever!” kind of way.

  2. Derek K. Miller

    Enfeminated? Infeminated?

    Kari Byron, the one woman on MythBusters, has been pregnant this season, and they were making a bit of effort to conceal it (mostly with clothes), apparently because — as you would expect for that show — many parts of a single episode are recorded weeks or even months apart, which would make for some interesting bump-continuity issues.

    Oddly, they have never taken such continuity into account for Ms. Byron’s constantly-changing hair colour.

    Derek K. Miller Reply:

    I should follow up that by the time Byron was seriously, seriously pregnant, she and the show’s directors made no effort to hide it and all, and mentioned it pretty frequently. (Especially when her pregnancy prevented her from doing things she’d normally go all in for, such as hang gliding.)

    Eric Reply:

    I really don’t get why the producers, directors, etc. would care about continuity on Mythbusters. Mythbusters is a show about science experiments, not a sitcom.

  3. Sean Hagen

    I recently found out about this show through my sister, and just recently finished watching the fourth season. That show is the reason I’m considering getting cable, so I can watch the show in September for Season 5.

    Never knew that about the pregnancies though. Although now that you’ve pointed it out, it is kind of obvious. But they do a pretty good job of drawing your eyes away from their bellies towards something more interesting ( or flashy ).

    And yes, Neil Patrick Harris is amazing. Just bought “The Bro Code” ( by ‘Barney Stinson’ ) the other day at Chapters. Funny book.

  4. Norlinda

    How did you take those screenshots?

  5. Gwen

    You forgot the eating contest where they didn’t hide Ali’s pregnancy and used it. They were also very tongue in cheek about pointing out the hiding.

  6. Rob Cottingham

    Loved this, Darren.

    The whole thing reminds me of the Austin Powers hiding-the-naughty-bits-from-the-camera sight gags.

  7. allie

    the best was on frasier where they just kept making jokes about how daphne was gaining weight instead of covering it up. i enjoy these things in tv shows, when they give a little joke to the audience, they don’t take themselves too seriously.

  8. Lisa

    Add to that – Lexi Grey on Grey’s Anatomy.

    The writers seem to be using the same she’s-eating-so-much-she’s-getting-fat tactic like Daphne on Fraser. (Which actually really bugged me).

    As for being Friends 2.0, I agree but I’m enjoying this one more, probably because I’m closer to their demographic. It’s also interesting how the Friends always drank coffee, whereas this crew is all about the booze.

  9. Quinn

    Well it worked for me! I watched Season 4 and didn’t even notice! Maybe I’m just dumb…

  10. rmama

    The fact that Robin had few good lines after she started looking pregnant was more glaring.

  11. RenQuixote

    Hah… I’ve watched a few episodes, ‘cos I’m in love with Hannigan and Harris.

    Strangely, the only episodes I watched were the ones where the two women were pregnant, and while I didn’t notice the bump-cover-up, I did notice that Hannigan’s boobs seemed bigger. :P

  12. Diggum

    I don’t think this really constitutes a gender roll’s type issue, to be honest. Although, I realize Hollywood is a grossly mysoginistic (I can’t spell that and I’m too lazy to google. :D) place, if the characters in these shows were not written to be pregnant, then it would be fairly obtrusive to the illusion they are trying to create.

    Maybe I’m way off base here, but i think that if we are too quick to play the “gender discrimination” card, then it will devalue our notions, and make action less likely to be taken, when legitimate discrimination issues do arise.

    darren Reply:

    I just thought it ironic that often a workplace complaint is that women are expected to behave as men. And even here, in a network sitcom, they need to conceal a fundamental aspect of their femininity.

  13. Nick

    I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s misogynist, though definitely not as progressive as Cassavete, but concealing a pregnancy because the character on the show isn’t pregnant isn’t all that big of a deal. The show is called ‘How I Met Your Mother’, if they wrote a pregnancy into the show, that’d be the end of the road for a fairly popular show. (I don’t have to spell that out, do I?)

  14. Art M.

    There pregnant !!!
    How did that happen ???

  15. Robert

    To Art M.

    “There pregnant!” What in hell does that mean? Would you mean “They’re pregnant?” Learn to spell so we can understand your messages.

    JT Reply:

    Ya you’re spelling and gramer arn’t very good.

  16. Amy

    Pregnancy is NOT a fundamental aspect of femininity. Are women who don’t, can’t, or won’t have children less feminine than pregnant women? No. Femininity isn’t necessarily tied to fertility.
    The point of this article should be that pregnant women can function in the workplace as NORMAL people do.
    This is an interesting article that I liked a lot but the gender stuff at the end is misguided.

  17. M

    Also, there was a point in the season where Barney made an offensive joke and then “We didn’t see Lily for __ weeks” I forgot how many. A blatant write out as a way to cover for pregnancy issues.

    X Reply:

    It wasn’t “pregnancy issues” – that was when Allyson Hannigan left to actually have the baby, and I thought they played that pretty well.

  18. underexposed

    great! really remarkable that someone noticed that lol

  19. anon

    i mean, if an actress is pregnant and her character isn’t, it’s simply maintaining the audience’s sense of truth. i see nothing wrong with it. at least they’re still shooting.

  20. Eric

    They also did this sort of thing on The Nanny. I also think they did it in Seinfeld as well.

  21. Stefan

    Haha, amazing. I didn’t notice this at all, but seeing Lily standing behind the basketballs is indeed very awkward!

  22. lulubermudez

    LOL! What’s fun is that they know we know they’re trying to hide those bellies and still make fun of it… I LOVE this show’s intellectual comedy!

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