Shows embrace gay characters without the drum roll
The late activist Vito Russo comes home to the GLAAD Media Awards this year in Gotham.
Not only are exec producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, last year’s recipients of the Vito Russo Award, returning to the gala with their nom for the NBC series “Smash” but Jeffrey Schwarz’s HBO doc “Vito” is nommed in the category.
“Russo was one of the founding members of GLAAD,” Schwarz says. “That organization came out of his work, and it preceded ACT-UP. GLAAD was a response to the fear-mongering and misinformation that the right-wing media was spewing about AIDS, especially on the front page of the New York Post.”
Schwarz goes on to say he’s gotten “wonderful responses from younger people who’ve seen the film. They’re almost angry that they didn’t know about Vito.”
Younger auds have also been particularly responsive to another GLAAD-nommed doc, Sundance Select’s “How to Survive a Plague,” about the medical response to the AIDS epidemic, which took Russo’s life in 1990.
“What I found with ‘Plague’ when it went out in January at Sundance was that anybody under the age of 35 is shocked to learn how disenfranchised gay people were,” says producer-director David France, who is adapting the doc for an ABC scripted miniseries. “Across the board, they identify with the characters in the film, and they see in their youthful self reliance images of inspiration. In an earlier day, people would have just seen them as gay people.”
Meron and Zadan see a similar reaction to the fictional gay characters in “Smash.”
“The gay presence is so matter of fact, it is never underlined,” Meron says.
“As opposed to a drum roll: now the gay character!” says Zadan.
“And no one complains. That’s the breakthrough,” adds Meron.
TeenNick’s “Degrassi” series has garnered a few complaints for its many LGBT characters over the years.
“The Florida Family Assn. did quite a campaign to our broadcaster to get advertisers to pull ads from our show,” says creator-exec producer Linda Schuyler. “They felt that we were encouraging people to become gay. Fortunately, their campaign didn’t have any traction with our broadcaster.”
Schuyler’s new series “The L.A. Complex” on CW is also GLAAD-nommed in the drama series category. The show’s creator-exec producer Martin Gero put the gay-rapper character Kaldrick (Andra Fuller) into the show’s first season, before the Frank Ocean story broke. Casting, however, wasn’t easy. “Thirty percent of the guys coming in just did not show, which is crazy for a series lead,” he says. “But we knew, this story: It felt new.”
Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), the gay African-American character in HBO’s “True Blood,” stirs great pride in creator-exec producer Alan Ball. “ Lafayette dies in the book, but I really responded to him, and beefed him up in the show,” Ball says.
“I really like that he’s African-American and gay in Louisiana, and he’s unapologetic about the way he dresses and what he wants, and if anybody gives him grief he fucks them up.”
GLAAD prexy Herndon Graddick has praised the networks for their inclusive of gay and lesbian characters, but feels transgender people continue to be underrepresented on TV. That’s not the case on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” also GLAAD-nommed.
“We’ve been doing those stories for a while,” says creator-exec producer Shonda Rhimes. “We just did a story about a young couple who met in a transgender support group, and he was having one of his first surgeries.”
The show’s characters Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) got married a couple of seasons back. Will they tie the knot again now that it’s suddenly legal in Seattle?
“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Rhimes says. “Their marriage not being legal was a big deal in the show, so if we had them marry again it would have to feel special and different and new.”
In addition to “Vito” and “How to Survive a Plague,” other GLAAD-nommed docs are First Run’s “Chely Wright,” TodPix’s “Codebreaker” and Variance’s “Hit So Hard.”