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"Angels in America" Airs on HBO (December 7, 2003)

Angels_in_america_streep_pacinoTen years after its successful run on Broadway Tony Kushners' AIDS drama Angels in America conquered television when it aired on HBO in December 2003.  It was shown in two three-hour installments, with the first airing on December 7, followed one week later by Part 2.  It starred Meryl Streep (pictured here as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg), Emma Thompson and Al Pacino as the vile Roy Cohn (pictured with Streep).  Jeffrey Wright was the only actor from the Broadway run who also appeared in the TV production.  Streep, Thompson and Wright played multiple roles. 



Emmathompson_angelsinamericaHBO's production was critically acclaimed and won a slew of awards.  At the time its eleven Emmy Awards was the most ever awarded one show.  Angels joined other acclaimed TV movies such as And the Band Played On (also on HBO, ten years earlier), Andre's Mother (PBS) and An Early Frost (NBC) in bringing the tragedy of AIDS into America's living rooms.






"Queer as Folk" Debuts ... and Pittsburgh Cringes (December 3, 2000)

Queer_as_folk Queer as Folk originated in the UK and in December 2000 a US version began airing Sunday night on Showtime.  It was set in Pittsburgh, but the city didn't embrace it.  For instance, its iconic football team, the Steelers, wouldn't allow any display of team insignia on clothes or in bar/club scenes.  Perhaps it was because the city was depicted in the show as a mini-Sodom - and gayer than San Francisco or New York.  I told friends that if the city was really this gay I would never have moved away.  (In reality it didn't hold its first gay pride parade until a few years after the series concluded.)  Pittsburgh was chosen in keeping with the UK's version which was set in the gritty industrial city of Manchester.  In actuality the show was mostly filmed in Toronto.


Next_QueerasFolk Although I found plenty in the series to criticize (e.g., too much sex; Brian's sex appeal escaped me; Michael's supportive mom Deb was a bit crass), I tried not to miss an episode (it was the reason I signed up for pay cable).  And it was refreshing to see unvarnished gay lives represented, bringing back memories of when Tales of the City aired on PBS in 1994.  Of the show's ten main characters, I liked Emmett Honeycut the best.  As a former Pittsburgher I found Michael, his mom Deb (played by Sharon Gless) and Uncle Vic, in their depiction of blue collar residents, to be the most authentic.  Perhaps because I was older than most of the show's characters by at least 10 years I identified most with Uncle Vic. 




I also liked the show's selection of music which was made available on a number of CD compilations.  One song I especially liked, Straight to ... Number One, was from the first season and was played during a hot encounter between Brian and Justin (each episode was guaranteed to have a few such steamy scenes).


The show aired for five seasons and had 83 episodes (compared to just ten for the UK version).  And in 2004 Showtime began airing a distaff version of QAF called The L Word (QAF did have a lesbian couple).  It had 70 episodes that aired over 6 seasons.   

AIDS Claims "The Real World's" Pedro Zamora (November 11, 1994)

Pedro_zamora Pedro Zamora was an openly gay cast member of MTV's fledgling reality series The Real World.  He was cast for the 1994 season that took place in San Francisco.  During casting Zamora made the show's producers aware that he was HIV-positive and subsequently educated his housemates and, by extension, the viewers of the series about AIDS.  Sadly, his health quickly deteriorated after the show's taping ended and he died the day after the final episode aired on November 11, 1994.  He was only 22 at the time of his death. 


1985_an_early_frost_002 November 11 also happens to be the date in 1985 that the landmark TV movie about HIV/AIDS, An Early Frost, aired on NBC.  It starred Aidan Quinn who appeared earlier in the year with Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan.  Co-starring Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazarra as his parents and Sylvia Sidney as his grandmother, the movie told the story of Quinn's character, Michael, coming home to tell his family that not only is he gay but he has contracted AIDS.  It aired a month after Rock Hudson's death from AIDS complications.    


AIDS_deaths_by_year In the mid-80s an AIDS diagnosis was truly frightening because so little was known about treating it and drug regimens proved highly toxic for many patients.  Zamora died during the peak years for AIDS deaths (1992-95).  However, at the time of his death a glimmer of hope arrived for persons struggling with HIV/AIDS as a category of drugs known as "protease inhibitors" was emerging from clinical trials with encouraging results.  Although not a cure, they would prove effective in extending and improving the quality of life for many.

Gay Drama "Noah's Arc" Debuts on LOGO (October 19, 2005)

Noahs_arc_logoIn December 2000 Queer as Folk debuted on Showtime, a drama that portrayed a world of gay men and lesbians - all of whom were white (just like NBC's Friends).  Gay cable network LOGO remedied this exclusion by producing the drama Noah's Arc, which aired its first episode on October 19, 2005. 


DarrylstephensThe show revolved around the lives of four black and Latino gay men living in Los Angeles.  (Actor Darryl Stephens, left, who plays Noah, is openly gay.)  It became LOGO's highest rated show, but oddly, was cancelled after two seasons and 17 episodes.  (Word was that it was too expensive to produce.)  Two years later a Noah's Arc movie was released in a small number of theaters (the usual fate of gay-themed films). 




Lafayette_reynolds3Matthew_st_patrickRegardless of whether the characters are gay or straight, the most common way to get African Americans characters written into shows is as part of an ensemble with a white cast.  Recent examples of such gay African American roles include Lafayette Reynolds from True Blood (portrayed by actor Nelsan Ellis, far left); police officer Keith Charles on Six Feet Under (portrayed by Michael St. Patrick, near left), and Cameron and Mitchell's friend Longines (pronounced "lawn-ja-ness") from the ABC sitcom Modern Family.


Other posts about the LOGO cable network:

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Gay Issues on TV  

LOGO Cable Network Debuts




"Curb Your Enthusiasm" Coins the Phrase "Pre-Gay" (September 11, 2011)

PregayIn the last episode of the HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm's eighth season (airdate: September 11, 2011) Larry had a very amusing encounter with his girlfriend's 7-year old son.  Larry was truly captivated by the boy, Greg, who was innocently flamboyant.  Larry referred to him as "pre-gay" because he had all the tendencies of a gay man but was too young to understand.  Because Greg had told Larry that he was a big fan of Project Runway and loved fashion, Larry gave him a sewing machine for his birthday.  Greg was thrilled but his mother (played by the wonderful Ana Gasteyer) was perplexed.  She turned to Larry and asked, "Are you trying to turn him gay?".  Larry, gave her a priceless look that communicated, "Isn't it fairly obvious he's well on his way?"


Rob_frydlewicz_1964Rob_frydlewicz_snowsuitNot only did Greg remind me of the gay character Kurt from Glee, but of myself when I was a little kid (pictured).  I would flit around the house and enjoyed playing with my friend Diane's and Mary Kay's Barbie Dolls.  And I remember wrapping my sweater around my shoulders when I went with my family to church.  What I also remember is that no one in my family gave me grief.  Perhaps it was because I did some "boy" things as well, e.g. played with building blocks, airplanes and toy cars (which I enjoyed smashing with bricks.)  And I'm sure my dad was encouraged when I showed an interest in baseball as I approached my teen years. 


Happily, especially in light of what happens in schools nowadays, I didn't face much in the way of harrassment from schoolmates - and this was in a factory town near Pittsburgh.  However, my 4th Grade teacher told my parents that, despite my good grades, I wasn't chosen to attend art school on weekends because she didn't consider me a serious child. (I think if she said that today she could be sued for hurting my feelings.)  Yes, I was a happy, high-spirited child, but it's a disposition I would have expected a teacher would welcome.  I don't know what she expected from a 10-year old boy, perhaps participate in a Civil Rights march?         




HBO Presents "And the Band Played On" (September 11, 1993)

And-the-band-played-on-original Based on Randy Shilts' 1987 book by the same name, the TV movie And the Band Played On told the story of the unfolding AIDS crisis and the various obstacles presented by various parties as authorities attempted to determine a way to stop the spread of the deadly disease.  It aired on HBO on Saturday, September 11, 1993.  Its star studded cast included Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Ian McKellen, Swoozie Kurtz, Anjelica Huston, Richard Gere, BD Wong and Steve Martin among others.  Although it recieved critical acclaim, some critics wrote that this cast of well-known actors might distract viewers from the seriousness of the plot.    


Randy_shilts The movie won the Emmy for Best TV Movie.  After it aired it was released in theaters around the world - but not in the U.S.  And less than 6 months after the movie aired Randy Shilts (left) succumbed to AIDS at the age of 42.

Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Debate Gay Issues (August 9, 2007)

Visible_vote_logo_hrc For the first time in a U.S. presidential campaign a debate was held specifically to discuss issues important to gay voters (e.g., anti-discrimination legislation, same-sex marriage, HIV/AIDS, immigration reform, ending "Don't Ask Don't Tell").  Sponsored by the LOGO cable network and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Visible Vote '08: A Presidential Forum aired the evening of Aug. 9, 2007.  Six Democratic candidates participated: Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Mike Gravel; Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich; and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.  Questions were asked by HRC's Joe Solmonese, journalist Jonathan Capeheart and lesbian rock musician Melissa Etheridge.  (Republican candidates were offered a similar platform on a different date but none responded.) 




Dennis_kucinich Bill_richardson Only Kucinich (far right) and Gravel came out in support of same-sex marriage; the others favored civil unions.  The one gaffe of the night was when Bill Richardson (near right) said that he believed being gay was a choice.  He rescinded (or "clarified") his comment the following day.

"Absolutely Fabulous" Introduced to America (July 24, 1994)

AbFab The pleasure-seeking duo of Eddie Monsoon and her best friend Patsy Stone was introduced to American TV audiences the evening of July 24, 1994 when cable network Comedy Central began airing the popular UK sitcom Absolutely FabulousOther cast members included Eddie's disapproving teen daughter Saffie, her somewhat dotty mom, and daft office assistant Bubble.  The show was probably best known for Eddie's term of endearment, "sweetie darling".  Eddie and Patsy were played by British actresses Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.




Patsy_and_eddieAbFab was embraced by gay viewers not only for the show's high-camp quotient but also because many identified with Eddie and Patsy's tireless pursuit of being hip and glamorous.  The humiliating fixes Eddie and Patsy got themselves into were not unlike those experienced by Lucy and Ethel or Laverne and Shirley - but with a touch more debauchery (and a lot more booze).  And although it appeared that Eddie and Patsy had no redeeming qualities (their lives were more pitiable than fabulous) viewers were occasionally reminded that they were the products of mothers who were either distant (Eddie's) or completely absent (Patsy's).   


Some of my favorite AbFab memories:

  • Interviewed on a morning "chat" show, a stunned Patsy could only manage to say, "You can never have enough hats, gloves or shoes".
  • Eddie regularly brought up the fact that pop singer Lulu was one of her most famous PR clients.
  • During a trip to Morocco, Eddie and Patsy arranged to sell Saffie. 
  • In one episode Bubble became super efficient and arranged for Eddie to adopt a Romanian child, much to Eddie's horror.  It turned out it was a dream of Eddie's. 
  • After a humiliating night at an awards ceremony Eddie and Patsy woke up and found themselves on a garbage barge in the middle of the Thames. 


In 1995 CBS produced a bowlderized version of AbFab called High Society, starring Jean Smart of Designing Women fame and Mary McDonnell (who later starred in the Battlestar Galactica TV series).  It aired on Monday but didn't catch on with viewers and aired just 13 episodes over two half seasons. 



Gay Son on TV Drama "Political Animals" is a Refreshing Mess

Political_animals_tj_hammondGay TV characters of late seem to be either sainted daddies, bitchy fashionistas, or winsome quipsters.  It's been years since a drug-addled, self-loathing, suicidal homosexual stumbled across our TV screens.  Until now.  In USA Network's limited-run political drama, Political Animals, which aired in the summer of 2012, TJ Hammond (played by cutie Sebastian Stan) was the openly gay son of Secretary of State Elaine Hammond (played by Sigourney Weaver), and he was a mess. 


Not since Queer as Folk's mild-mannered accountant, Ted, became addicted to crystal meth had a character been depicted in such an unappealing fashion.  But it was actually a refreshing change from the abundance of politically correct, "we're like everyone else!" portrayals.  


James_wolk Ben_benson_madmenElaine also had a straight son, Doug, played by actor James Wolk.  After USA decided not to renew Political Animals for a second season, Wolk turned up in a brief role as the gay love interest of Max on the ABC sitcom Happy Endings (since cancelled).  Then he was cast in Season 6 of Mad Men as eager-beaver account executive Ben Benson (pictured, near left), a character, who it turns out, may also be "family".  And most recently, he now co-stars on another show about advertising, the CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones.  

Showtime Sitcom "Web Therapy's" Gay Pedigree

Lisa_kudrow_webtherapyThe delightfully biting sitcom Web Therapy debuted on Showtime the evening of July 19, 2011.  It follows the travails of Fiona Wallace, played by Lisa Kudrow, a self-centered, impatient and somewhat caustic therapist who conducts three-minute sessions online.  All of the show's action is shown on two computer screens. And although Kudrow is its star, the show has quite a gay pedigree. 



Dan_bucatinskyDon Roos (who directed Kudrow in her first film after Friends, the critically acclaimed The Opposite of Sex) and his husband Dan Bucatinsky are its co-creators along with Kudrow (Bucatinsky also plays Fiona's assistant, Jerome, pictured); out actor Alan Cumming plays a womanizing media mogul; another openly gay actor, Victor Garber, portrays Fiona's long-suffering closeted husband of 17 years, Kip; and Lily Tomlin plays Fiona's mother.  Finally, Rosie O'Donnell plays the put upon and devoutly Catholic assistant of Alan's character. 



Victor garber and lisa kudrow web therapyA few weeks after watching a handful of episodes I was on the uptown subway platform at 14th St. waiting for the 1 train and saw Victor Garber waiting as well.  Not one to usually approach a celebrity, I was emboldened by his character so I walked up to him and told him how much I enjoyed his role and how refreshing it was to see him in a comedic role.  He was very gracious.