Before next week’s four-part LGBT television miniseries, “When We Rise” on ABC, it is worth taking a look back from whence we’ve come in America’s living room. While LGBT characters and same-sex displays of affection are fairly commonplace today, it wasn’t that long ago when the very appearance of a gay character was down right shocking let alone any scandalous “gay behavior.”
Only 46 years ago, February of 1971, in the fifth episode of All in the Family, the very first gay man in a sit-com was put front and center. From an article by AJ Aronstein,
“While episodes that deal with racial prejudice occupy a bigger place in our collective memory of the Bunkers, the economy and precision of Lear and co-writer Burt Styler’s takedown of gay stereotypes still make for incredible viewing. Although “Judging Books By Their Covers” did little on its own to cement All in the Family’s rise in the ratings, it deserves a fresh look… We should remember that the process didn’t begin with Will and Grace or Glee.
It began with Archie.
Or more accurately: it began with Archie’s macho, pro-football, strike-opposing, archery-and-photography aficionado bachelor friend Steve.”
It would be a full 23 years and another scandal later when America would finally witness its first same sex kiss in March of 1994 on Rosanne. As The New York Times reported,
“The March 1 episode of “Roseanne” was to feature a kiss, exchanged in a gay bar, between Mrs. Arnold’s character and a character played by Mariel Hemingway. According to Mr. Arnold, however, ABC will not allow the episode to be broadcast as is because it violates network standards.”
The episode did air with an audience of 30 million viewers watching; the sky didn’t fall and the Earth didn’t go hurling into the sun.
However, two months later on FOX’s hit show Melrose Place when heartthrob Matt Fielding (played by Doug Savant) went in for his man, the camera cut away at the last minute. It would still be another six years before America witnessed a kiss between two men on Dawson’s Creek in prime time viewing.
Arguably the all-time greatest “gay TV” moment came in 1997 when Ellen finally came out. We’ve all been there; done that; but not like she did!
After Ellen came Will & Grace, Modern Family, Orange is the New Black and a whole host of shows, complex LGBT characters, and stories on network and cable television. The New York Times recently published an article on “14 TV Shows That Broke Ground With Gay and Transgender Characters”