Nets lost on outing

FCC crackdown stifling gay portrayals on TV

The FCC crackdown on network broadcasting is about to get a lot worse, according to producer Craig Zadan.

Zadan, along with producing partner Neil Meron, “Six Feet Under” exec producer Alan Poul, producer Bruce Cohen, Sandra Bernhard, “The L Word” co-creator Ilene Chaiken, “Queer as Folk” co-creators Ron Cowan and Dan Lipman, praiser Howard Bragman and OpusComm Group prexy Jeffrey Garber participated in a Daily Variety-sponsored roundtable discussion on Friday about the current state of gay and lesbian representation in the entertainment media.

Zadan used ABC’s recent battle to air an unedited “Saving Private Ryan,” which had already aired twice on the network, as an example of the extremes to which the FCC has gone.

“There are as many people who don’t want ‘Saving Private Ryan’ broadcast as there (are people) who don’t want to see gay people on television,” Zadan said. “We are entering this McCarthy-esque period right now with the FCC. What is about to happen, I think, is going to be quite frightening.”

The producer also discussed his experience with network censorship last year when his film “The Reagans” was booted from CBS, eventually landing at Showtime.

“I think that was the first time ever that a major event for sweeps was taken off the air two weeks before broadcast because of the conservative Republicans who attacked the show and made threats,” Zadan said. “That was the beginning, and now each week it has gotten worse and worse. I think the same group that got ‘The Reagans’ off of CBS were the exact same group of people that tried to get ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ out of movie theaters.”

Out on ‘OC’

Although the panel agreed shows such as Showtime’s “Queer as Folk” and “The L Word” would never be considered for airing by the networks, Cohen mentioned a recent episode of Fox’s “The OC” as an example of possible network progress.

” ‘The OC’ is doing a major lesbian arc right now,” Cohen said. “Mischa Barton and this really hot lesbian did a makeout, open-mouth kiss with tongues a few weeks ago. I have never seen anything like that on network television. This completely flew under the radar of all of the people who are against this stuff.

“Fox and ‘The OC’ (creators) must have had some feeling, evidence and faith in their audience that this younger demographic is not batting an eye over this one way or another.”

Although a recent episode of “Desperate Housewives” featured two males locking lips, Chaiken said nets are far less likely to air male-on-male action.

“I still think that there is a big difference between the genders,” Bragman said. “Where straight men think that two lesbians (kissing) is the hottest thing is the world, two men is the scariest thing in the world.”

Youth boost

However, Bragman was hopeful that younger demographics eventually would change the current constricted network slate.

“The younger generation doesn’t really care” whether someone is gay or straight, Bragman said. “Same-sex marriage is fine by them. I do take heart in the fact that a kid can come home from school and, where we watched ‘Bewitched’ or ‘My Three Sons,’ they get to watch ‘Will and Grace.’ That visibility is making a huge difference.”

Despite the progress that has been made in gay and lesbian entertainment on network and cable TV, Poul pointed out that the Federal Communications Commission’s fight against general indecency has shifted the gay/lesbian agenda.

“We were always able to focus on the gay and lesbian issue very narrowly, but now there is this huge black cloud (over us),” Poul said.

Bernhard brought a moment of levity to the discussion when she declared the “red states should not be allowed any entertainment.” She said: “They should have two or three really Christian broadcast channels, and if there is anyone there who doesn’t like it, they will have to move to the blue states, where all the beauty and the art and the good food and the creativity comes from.”

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