Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yes, Virginia, There Are Gays on TV

"Why are you looking at us like that?"

Having spent yesterday caught up in debate mania, I missed this Times article about the progress openly gay actors have made in landing TV roles. It doesn't say much that gay viewers don't already know (the headline is "Out in Hollywood: Starring Roles Are Rare"), but it's nice to see actors like Bryan Batt of Mad Men and Jasika Nicole of Fringe mentioned alongside the usual suspects like T.R. Knight and Neil Patrick Harris. One thing that did catch my eye:
Never before have gay story lines been so prominent. Nor have there ever been so many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters on television — 83 by a recent count from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, not counting reality shows, daytime dramas or gay-oriented cable networks.

Hollywood, with its depictions of cowboy lovers and lesbian neighbors, has done much to make gay men and women part of mainstream American life.

That makes things sound much rosier than they are. Gay characters in general and lesbian characters in particular don't have nearly the kind of visibility on network television such reporting would have you believe. Or, if you will: There are gays on TV, you just have to strain your neck to see them.

If you haven't already, you can dig through GLAAD's findings yourself. For the record, there are currently zero lesbian leading roles to be found in scripted broadcast programming. (We're typically underrepresented on network reality shows as well.) In supporting roles you'll find zero confirmed lesbians, though FOX's Bones and House each have a bisexual supporting character and ABC's Grey's Anatomy has something brewing between the heretofore heterosexual doctors Torres and Hahn. (I've already weighed in on that; my expectations are low.) NBC's Knight Rider, meanwhile, has a supporting character who is either bisexual or lesbian; as AfterElton's Michael Jensen reports, the creative geniuses behind that show aren't sure of her orientation. With cancellation looming on the horizon, they're running out of time to make a decision.

That leaves the recurring character category, the paltriest category of all, and naturally that's where we make a showing with the town mayor on NBC's Friday Night Lights and Marge's sister Patty on The Simpsons. There will also be a lesbian couple on The Goode Family, Mike Judge's upcoming animated series on ABC, voiced by former SNL-ers Laraine Newman and Julia Sweeney. But never before have gay storylines been so prominent! Yay for gays! That lesbian chic thing has really taken off, hasn't it?

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