LGBT Panel at TV Academy Assays Several Decades of Change

The rainbow flag is the new black, and LGBTs are the new normal in a medium that has evolved but still has further to go.
Frank Micelotta – Invision
The LGBT panel at the TV Academy

From 1972’s Golden Globe-winning telefilm That Certain Summer to current hits Glee, Orange Is the New Black, Scandal and recently departed The New Normal, LGBT images on television have evolved dramatically. That much is a given. But as a panel Monday night at the TV Academy demonstrated, behind the kaleidoscope of change is the work of showrunners, talent, executives and advocates who have moved the business so far -- and yet, see further progress still necessary.

Dan Bucatinsky -- who won an Emmy for playing openly gay White House reporter James Novak on Scandal -- praised the ABC drama's showrunner, Shonda Rhimes, for allowing characters to unfold in a natural way. He quipped, though, that "when the most romantic thing you can say about your (onscreen) husband is that he called off the hit on you ... ." The openly gay author and Grey's Anatomy co-executive producer had warmer words for his real-life husband, writer-director Don Roos.

Next up was actor Wilson Cruz, who now serves as GLAAD's national spokesman. The openly gay My So-Called Life alum pointed out that LGBT people of color are "practically invisible on television."

STORY: LGBT TV Characters Down From 2012 Record, GLAAD Study Finds

The moderator -- Stephen Tropiano, author of The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV -- moved next to actress Amber Tamblyn, who was quizzed on her Two and a Half Men character's sexuality. "Is Jenny gay? Or bi? I’m not qualified to answer; I’m not a writer (on the show).” She added, “I don’t know, but she loves to ___ ___.” (You’ll have to fill in the explicit blanks yourself.)

Panelist Paul Colichman, CEO of Here Media, talked about his company’s evolution from scripted dramas like the steamy Dante’s Cove -- “It was really the gay Dark Shadows,” Colichman said, before quipping that Dark Shadows was itself pretty gay -- to the upcoming From Here! on OUT. The latter is a self-referential scripted comedy, which Colichman described as a cross between Tootsie and Thirty Rock.

If Colichman represented the boardroom, the next panelist, Tony nominee Andrew Rannells, focused briefly on the bedroom, noting that on NBC's short-lived The New Normal, his character was seen in bed with his on-screen male partner without it being an issue. Tropiano pointed out that when thirtysomething showed two men in bed together, the show lost a half-million dollars in advertising.

Sherri Saum told the approximately 300-person audience that she’s been enjoying her experience playing the lead on ABC Family’s The Fosters. “It’s been just love, love, pure love all the way!” she enthused. She added that she was moved by the stories of kids coming out because of the show.

STORY: Network Axes Fall Hard on Gay Characters

Another emissary from the executive ranks was Christy Dees, vp development at Bravo. She said that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy had relaunched the network a decade ago, and described the network’s demographic as “women and gay men -- our Will & Gracers.”

Last on the panel but, as it turned out, far from least, was actor and transgender activist Laverne Cox of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black. She spoke about her experiences playing a transgender character on the show -- a trans person playing a trans character “is revolutionary, apparently!” -- and the impact her character has had on viewers. She struck a celebrity-loving chord in the room as well: when the panel ended, Cox was mobbed by fans who waited patiently for a chance to have a picture taken with her.

Academy governors Daniel Evans III and Howard Meltzer organized the panel.

Twitter: @jhandel