Most producers of the GLAAD-nommed TV dramas and comedies did not set out to make big statements or change people’s lives with their shows. But with LGBT teens, grown adults and committed couples among their characters, these shows have the tangential effect of scraping away at bias and encouraging closeted viewers to come out.
Linda Schuyler, co-creator of Canadian teen soap franchise “Degrassi,” saw the influence at a Los Angeles junket for the show. She and the cast met young transgender viewers who felt encouraged by one of the show’s recent threads about a female-to-male transgender teen.
“Their parents were so thankful for this storyline,” Schuyler says. “It’s hard enough bringing up teenagers anyway, and there’s no real guidebook on how you deal with you teenager who feels they’ve been born sexually into the wrong body.”
Adam (Jordan Todosey), one of the 30 characters in the ensemble drama, reps a first for the four-time GLAAD nominee. Although the CTV and TeenNick show had previously dealt with homosexuality in high school, the character Adam allowed them to explore issues such as stand-to-pee devices in boys’ restrooms, as seen in the episode “Cry Me a River.”
Marlene King, creator and exec producer of ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars,” also sees the lives of a young aud empowered by TV characters. The drama features four besties taunted with threats from the mystery character A. One of these teens is Emily (Shay Mitchell), a lesbian learning to own her sexuality after years of secrecy.
King says she receives at least one tweet a day from a young viewer who came out to her parents because of Emily. When “Pretty Little Liars” airs, the program dominates Twitter for the night as a trending topic. Among these fans are “shippers,” short for relationshippers, who have debates about which girl Emily should date.
“Straight and gay people are having these conversations,” King says. “The sexuality part of it seems to be not nearly relevant as, who are these people, and who would be the best person for Emily?”
While these onscreen teens struggle with sexuality, many of the older LGBT characters find themselves facing other issues. In Showtime’s “The Big C,” Lee (Hugh Dancy) struggles with cancer alongside protagonist Cathy (Laura Linney). Significantly, Lee is introduced as a male incorrectly thought to be sexually interested in Cathy. Although the season two arc was a team effort, “The Big C” had Hilly Hicks Jr., a gay man on the writing staff, to help guide the team and point out when moments with Lee rang false.
“He was very clear about saying, ‘I’m just one gay guy,’ ” Bicks says. “It’s not as though anybody speaks for an entire segment of the population.”
Max (Adam Pally) of ABC’s “Happy Endings” also features touches of real-life experience. Max might be less into fashion and shopping than other gay male characters on TV, but creator and exec producer David Caspe did not intend this as a social statement. Like the other characters in the show, Max is based on one of Caspe’s friends.
However, the show sometimes addresses the nature of Max’s personality. In the episode “The Quicksand Girlfriend,” Max’s best friend Penny (Casey Wilson) looks for a more stereotypical gay friend who’s into shoes and sample sales. She is eventually introduced to Derrick (Stephen Guarino), who fits the bill.
“That was us pointing to the meta joke of who Max is as a character and how people are writing about him,” Caspe says. “It’s to show that other character that you do see on TV a lot.”
With other GLAAD-nominated shows, the focus is on the importance of relationships and family. In its “White Wedding” episode, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” featured a same-sex marriage between Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw). “It dealt with the issues that any woman or man confronts when getting hitched,” says Betsy Beers, executive producer. “The nerves, the disagreements that arise over planning, dealing with the expectations and pressures that family brings.”
The same could be said for ABC’s “Modern Family,” last year’s co-winner for GLAAD’s TV comedy award. Co-creator and exec producer Christopher Lloyd says of the three Pritchett clans, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) are the most relatable because of their young daughter Lily.
“Every parent remembers those anxieties in dealing with a first child,” Lloyd says. These viewers can relate to Mitch and Cam discussing “why their child isn’t teething at the right age or hasn’t gotten into a preschool yet.”
“I don’t want it to sound like we’re on any kind of overt political journey because we’re not,” he adds. “We’re just trying to depict interesting characters in a truthful way, and if it has the lucky secondary effect of making people think twice about gay couples, then that’s good.”
Four other TV shows are also GLAAD-nommed: “Shameless” and “Torchwood: Miracle Day” in the drama series category, “Exes and Ohs” and “Glee” in the comedy category.
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