In his column, "Best Gay Week Ever," Michael Jensen, an editor for AfterElton.com, analyzes the state of 2008 television, what shows for the fall season had gay characters, how they were handled, and if they were worth watching.
He also gushed over the men of Playgirl magazine and Bravo's Top Design, as well as lamenting the loss of gay characters played by actors like Fred Savage in Crumbs and Anthony Azizi in Commander in Chief. Both shows were canceled in 2006.
Now, I've complained a lot about the lack of minorities in broadcast TV, but this year may be an unprecedented time in terms of number of homosexual characters on the airwaves. It's to the point that a good majority of the shows in prime-time has at least one gay role, one gay actor, or one gay writer.
ABC is probably the most guilty. Turn to the alphabet network to see the most gay characters and the most shows created by gay writers and producers, outside of Here! TV. It has, by my count, seven programs either featuring openly gay characters, or characters created and written by gay people.
For starters, there's Desperate Housewives on Sunday nights. Openly gay writer Marc Cherry created the program. The show features three openly gay, reoccurring characters. The show is about five women who live on a seemingly idyllic neighborhood street named Wisteria Lane. Marcia Cross plays Bree Van de Camp, a conservative, uptight mother of two who learns her son is gay. Teri Hatcher plays Susan Meyer, this generation's Lucy Arnez, a single mom who discovers she has two annoying, gay, next-door neighbors.
Also on Sunday nights, ABC has Brothers & Sisters, another show created by and run by two gay men, Jon Robin Baitz and Greg Berlanti. In its season finale in May 2008, we got to see a gay wedding in action. The series centers on the Walker family, a family unraveled by the loss of its patriarch. The eldest son, Kevin Walker, and his uncle, Saul Holden, are both gay. The show has done more to explore gay relationships than any other show currently on prime-time.
The other shows on the ABC network like Eli Stone, Pushing Daisies, Ugly Betty, Greek, and Dirty Sexy Money, all deal with gay people in tangential ways, but all have regular or reoccurring gay persons.
There are shows that don't but do have regular gay actors. For example, CBS' How I Met Your Mother on Monday nights features the Emmy-nominated actor Neil Patrick Harris who was outed as being gay last year. Yet, his character on that sitcom is the most hetereosexual horndog you'd ever meet. Strangely, the blogger Perez Hilton, Harris also outed Wentworth Miller, who stars on the FOX drama, Prison Break, another supremely macho role in a male-oriented show on Monday nights.
While Harris confirmed Hilton's suspicions, Miller has yet to come out of the closet. There's speculation that if he revealed that he's gay, then that would hurt the audience of that FOX series. This may or may not be true. For some, however, revealing you're gay helps your TV experience.
On CBS' Survivor: Gabon, which premieres Thursday, Sept. 25, the 17th season of that show will parade one of its contestants who announced that he's homosexual, Charlie Herschel, a 29-year-old, New York lawyer . While his announcing that fact about his orientation may not have much relevance on the reality-game show. Take note that two of Survivor's winners, the first, Richard Hatch in 2000, as well as last year's winner, Todd Herzog in 2007, were both gay. Being gay could help you win reality-game shows!
Wednesday nights include FOX's Bones, a series about two people, a female scientist named Temperance Brennan who examines the bones of murder victims to determine who they are and how they died and the FBI agent named Seeley Booth who assists her. The show also features an assortment of supporting actors. One of which is Eric Millegan. Millegan is openly gay, but his character's sexuality is never made an issue.
On NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, openly gay actor B.D. Wong plays a criminal psychologist and his orientation is never made an issue either. It's not like some big secret waiting to be revealed melodramatically and then never brought up again like in TNT's new show Raising the Bar with its character Charlie Saganski, played by Canadian actor Jonathan Scarfe, or the CW's Gossip Girl with its character Eric Van der Woodsen, played by Connor Paolo.
Of course, most gay characters on prime-time TV are played for laughs, as in HBO's Entourage, CBS' New Adventures of Old Christine, NBC's The Office, Comedy Central's The Sarah Silverman Program, and FOX's new sitcom Do Not Disturb. In those shows, the gay characters are there to portray the stereotype and of which to be made fun.
One interesting note is the increased presence of gay characters in prime-time TV that are gay and also African-American. First off, the cable network LOGO is premiering this year, a new series called Shirts & Skins about a gay basketball team. This follows that network's conclusion of Noah's Arc, the first ever TV series about gay African-Americans.
On HBO, openly gay, Oscar-winning writer Alan Ball recently premiered his new vampire drama, True Blood, on Sunday nights. The series includes Nelsan Ellis who plays Lafayette Reynolds, the show's black gay cook. In 2001, Alan Ball created the HBO program, Six Feet Under, which introduced another, though, less flamboyant, black gay character, Keith Charles, played by Mathew St. Patrick.
Privileged, a new dramedy on the CW on Tuesdays, also offers its viewers a black gay cook. This one is named Marco and is played by Allan Louis.
On FX's The Shield, which started its seventh and final season this year, back in 2002, the show introduced a black gay character played by Michael Jace. NBC's ER, which starts its 15th and final season this year, has consistently had a lesbian character played by Laura Innes who has had an African-American girlfriend. This past season, the long-running medical drama revealed another black gay character. This one, the brother of one of the emergency room doctors, Chaz Pratt, played by Sam Jones III.
On ABC Family's college fraternity show Greek, there is another black gay character, a teenager named Calvin Owens, played by Paul James. On NBC's remake and updated Knight Rider series, which begins on Sept. 24, Sidney Poitier's daughter, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, will portray a black lesbian character. The cable series The L Word on Showtime returns for its last season in early 2009 and will feature Pam Grier, as another black lesbian character.
It was also just announced that ABC's sophomore series, Pushing Daisies will out Sy Richardson's character of the Coroner as being gay, making him the oldest black man to ever portray a gay black character.
That's at least 25 TV shows and over two-dozen gay characters and about a third of them are black or some other minority. I'm not drawing any conclusion. I'm merely noticing a pattern.
Granted, most, if not all of these characters are sidekicks, never the main course. Perhaps they appear as different flavors to spice up these shows, sprinkled in dashes. The show are not about these gay characters or centered around them. While all of this may be a very progressive step, it's still a baby step.