So let me get this straight: CBS has asked (told? demanded?) the production teams and writing staffs of three of its shows—two that already exist and one upcoming this season—to add gay characters to the storylines. This after the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gave the network a failing grade for lack of gay diversity—for the second year in a row. Apparently every year, GLAAD publishes a Network Responsibility Index which results from an investigative survey on the representation of gays on TV. According to the GLAAD website it is “an evaluation of the quantity, quality and diversity of images of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people on television…intended to serve as a road map toward increasing fair, accurate and inclusive LGBT media representations.” On a scale of “Excellent, Good, Adequate, or Failing,” CBS failed, which led CBS president Nina Tassler to announce the other day that those 3 aforementioned gay characters will now be added to The Good Wife, Rules of Engagement and new sitcom $#*! My Dad Says, dropped like progressive multi-cult seasoning into a presumably bland, politically incorrect salad.
If you go to the GLAAD site you can download the entire study, and find some very interesting numbers and analysis. For instance, they break down the number of LGBT characters who are of-color. They look at each network closely and count up “fictional” characters and reality show contestants—guess where there are more of-color LGBTs? Apparently FOX is merely adequate, whereas MTV is excellent and ABC is good (well, there’s ABC’s new fall ad campaign slogan: ABC is Good!) Of course I’d argue that, next to ABC Family’s Greek, FOX’s GLEE has the best (written and acted) gay storyline on television right now (see a terrific scene here); and though GLAAD thought Rescue Me’s attempt at a gay fireman storyline a few seasons back to be “problematic,” I found it funny and somewhat touching—and real (but that might be because I tend to know a lot of closeted post-adolescent dudes struggling with how to balance a desire for dick with their suburban training as capitalist, nation-building heteros; of course I do, I went to Brown, haha).
My beef though, if you can call it that, is this: how does the writing/producing team of a show suddenly take the call to go gay?
Kalinda and Alicia on The Good Wife
And how do they do it, considering it’s almost August and shows have been in production for weeks, storylines planned, and actors cast? And how do you decide whether you’re going to bring someone out of the closet or suddenly, organically, drop a next-door gay into the story? And do these suddenly-arriving, obviously-destined-to-be-on-the-fringes gay characters have to be saintly and positive? Can they be complicated peeps with real problems (well, as real as TV can be) like the lead characters who never are gay anyway? And why The Good Wife? Isn’t Kalinda already sexually-ambiguous? Isn’t that how many of us experience sexuality anyway, not exactly knowing who our co-workers and friends are canoodling with? But here’s a suggestion to CBS: If you’re gonna go there, just go ahead and let Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick discover her latent lesbianism, now that she’s done with Peter—and since, be honest, the whole subplot of her potential dalliance with the senior partner/friend from law school is absolutely DOA. (Come on, let’s be real: No one leaves Chris Noth for Josh Charles; hell, Carrie Bradshaw spent 6 seasons of Sex & the City pining for Mr. Big and not even Aidan’s new body or Mikhail Baryshnikov’s money and fame and life in Paris could keep her from him.) Let Alicia and Kalinda have an affair. Can you say ratings gold? Or why not just create all-new gay shows from scratch? Already got an idea for you: CSI: Provincetown.
But I digress.
I’m wondering if this is how black folks got our jump-start on TV back in the day? Did the NAACP have a study of the (lack of) black characters on TV, leading a benevolent TV exec to sprinkle some color into shows, leading to the—um, how can I put this?—beauty and nuance that was Good Times and Baby, I’m Back? I think so, actually. And when I get a chance I’m gonna dig in the archives to find some of those old NAACP reports. It would be great to see the work that led to the growth we’ve seen toward the wonderfully diverse African-American characters on TV (like, you know, Meet the Browns and the many, many dramas starring black folks) these days. Yeah. Right. Just hope GLAAD’s work results in something real. Wouldn’t want them to get snookered.