The official word: Just in time for the Emmys*, Logo TV is presenting “10 Episodes That Changed TV” on Sunday, 8/24 from 12:00PM – 5PM ET. Catch the groundbreaking episodes that changed television and pushed culture forward. “10 Episodes That Changed TV” features celebrated episodes of award-winning sitcoms. These episodes represent sitcoms that were ahead of their time by dealing with issues never before seen on TV. Some of the issues portrayed in these shows are still debated today such as same sex marriage, abortion, and gender reassignment.
The telecasts and storyines are below in the order that they will air. Logo did not give me the times of individual shows. Since there are 10 half-hours in a five-hour marathon, I'd guess they are airing on the hour and half-hour. Anyway, here are the shows:
1. Designing Women - E. 204 “Killing All the Right People”
A young gay man dying of AIDS asks the women to design his funeral
2. Golden Girls - E.205 “Isn’t It Romantic”
Dorothy’s friend develops a crush on Rose
3. Golden Girls – E. 519 – “72 Hours”
Rose has an HIV scare
4. Maude - E. 109 – “Maude’s Dilemma – Part I”
Part 1 of 2, Maude has an abortion
5. Maude – E. 110 – “Maude’s Dilemma – Part II”
Part 2 of 2, Maude has an abortion
6. Soap - E. 104
Jodie decides he wants a sex change operation in order to marry his football player boyfriend
7. Soap - E. 108
Jodie comes out to his brother
8. Roseanne – E. 607 “Homeward Bound”
DJ masturbation episode. Talked about masturbation openly
9. Roseanne - E. 618 – “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
Roseanne kisses Sharon (Mariel Hemingway)
10. Will & Grace - E. 214 –
Jack & Will kiss
*The prime-time awards show is on Aug. 25.
Of course, this is just a fraction of significant programming dealing with LGBT issues, including in sitcoms. (No "Ellen" coming-out episode, for example, I am guessing because Logo does not own the rights.) Here's a list I assembled in 1997, in conjunction with "Ellen's" coming-out episode.**
1952: A New York Daily News columnist reports a TV writer's complaint about "the alarming influx of queers" into positions of power in the TV business.
1954: Los Angeles documentary series Confidential File interviews a gay man who shows his face on camera. The man loses his job after the interview airs. . . . Attorney Joseph Welch, hero of the televised hearings that helped bring down witch-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy, baits the senator with a veiled reference to aide Roy Cohn's homosexuality. One critic calls the remark improper, unjust -- and highly dramatic.
1967: Police series NYPD is the first series to portray homosexuals outside of comedy sketches. The episode calls homosexuality "an area of human activity feared and detested everywhere."
1968: During televised coverage of the Democratic convention, Gore Vidal calls fellow commentator William F. Buckley Jr. "a crypto-Nazi." Buckley's retort begins, "Now listen, you queer. . . . "
1970: Situation comedy The Odd Couple, based on the play and movie about two divorced men sharing a home, premieres. Network audience research regularly indicates the audience thinks both men are homosexuals. . . . Robert Collins proposes a script for drama series The Senator about whether a homosexual should be considered a security risk. The network turns down the idea, Collins says, "because the treatment of the homosexual in my script was sympathetic and he was portrayed as neither nance nor psychopath."
1971: In only its fifth episode, All in the Family has Archie Bunker learn one of his friends is gay. President Nixon reportedly calls the episode "distasteful."
1972: TV movie That Certain Summer, a generally sympathetic treatment of a gay man, appalls some gay-rights advocates because the man declares, "If I had a choice (homosexuality) is not something that I'd pick for myself." The producers, who added the line to mollify network censors, admit their regret. . . . Sitcom The Corner Bar includes a regular gay character; when the series is overhauled for 1973, the character is among those dropped.
1973: The Mary Tyler Moore Show has an episode where Phyllis' brother is revealed to be gay. It's praised for not stereotyping a gay character, but the gay reference is a last-minute addition to a show that wasn't working. "We got a lot of compliments for that show we didn't deserve," says producer James L. Brooks.
1974: Gay activists protest an episode of Police Woman with killer lesbians; the episode is not rerun. . . . On M*A*S*H, Hawkeye and Trapper intervene when Frank tries to get a gay soldier discharged.
1975: The National Gay Task Force encourages an advertiser boycott of a Marcus Welby, M.D. episode about a teacher molesting a teen-age boy. The script is changed to explain the difference between homosexuals and child molesters.
1976: TV drama The War Widow shows a woman leaving her husband for another woman. . . . Days of Our Lives briefly includes a lesbian character and storyline.
1977: Three's Company, a comedy series about a man pretending to be gay so he can share an apartment with two women, premieres; by its second season, it's the most popular series on TV. . . . Sitcom Soap includes a gay character played by Billy Crystal, who later fathers a child and is more involved with women than men during the series. In the '90s, a Soap producer will still be arguing that the character "did not convert" to heterosexuality but "was going through a very tumultuous time." . . . Harding LeMay, head writer on Another World, proposes adding a gay character to the soap but is turned down.
1978: TV movie A Question of Love has a lesbian woman in a custody fight with her ex-husband. One critic calls it "remarkably sensitive, thoughtful and superbly acted." . . . Another movie, Sergeant Matlovich vs. the U.S. Air Force, dramatizes the story of a gay sergeant fighting to stay in the service -- a story similar to the one in the movie Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story, 17 years later.
1979: Lou Grant begins its third season with "Cop," an award-winning episode with two gay-themed stories, one about a homosexual police officer, the other about whether a list of victims of a fire at a gay bar should be published.
1981: Dynasty premieres with gay character Steven Carrington, who over the series' course marries twice and fathers a child. . . . Sidney Shorr, a TV-movie about a lonely gay man, becomes the series Love, Sidney, in which his sexual preference is never mentioned.
1982: CBS forces the dismissal of Meg Foster from new series Cagney & Lacey (while keeping co-star Tyne Daly) because, as an anonymous executive puts it, "We perceived them as dykes." Sharon Gless succeeds Foster and, according to a history of the series, develops "a large lesbian audience." . . . Brideshead Revisited, a lush miniseries with Anthony Andrews as the beautiful and gay Sebastian Flyte, airs.
1983: Daytime drama All My Children showcases a lesbian character, child psychologist Lynn Carson. . . . St. Elsewhere includes a story about a gay politician with AIDS, believed to be the first depiction of AIDS in a prime-time network drama.
1984: Brothers, a comedy about three brothers, one of them gay, premieres on Showtime and later airs in syndication. Two broadcast networks turned down the series.
1985: An Early Frost, a TV movie about a young man who reveals to his family he is gay and has AIDS, premieres to great acclaim. But critic Vito Russo argues that it and another 1985 movie, Consenting Adult, are less about the gay men than their straight families. (A year later, Showtime will air As Is, an AIDS drama about a gay man and his lover.)
1988: Protests, especially from gay activists, precede and follow an episode of drama Midnight Caller in which a bisexual man in San Francisco is deliberately spreading AIDS.
1989: "Strangers," an episode of thirtysomething with a scene of two men in bed together, loses a reported $1.5 million in advertising. ABC declines to repeat the episode.
1991: Abby and C.J. on L.A. Law join for what The Lesbian Almanac calls the first lesbian kiss in prime time. But C.J. is bisexual and Abby straight. . . . Sheila James Kuehl, a former actress on Dobie Gillis, and Dick Sargent, the second Darren on Bewitched,come out. . . . Tongues Untied, Marlon Riggs' documentary about being black and gay, is televised on PBS amid praise and controversy.
1992: MTV series The Real World includes gay and lesbian characters in its mix of young people living under one roof, among them Beth A. in the second season and Pedro Zamora, who will die of AIDS in 1994, in the third. . . . Melrose Place premieres with a gay regular character, Matt Fielding, whose social life is mostly off screen. In a series famous for bed-hopping, Matt will not even be allowed an on-camera gay kiss in a 1994 episode. . . . Star Trek: The Next Generation, wanting to do a gay-rights story, presents "Outcast," in which Commander Riker falls in love with a genderless creature who is not allowed to be involved with beings who have gender. . . . The season-ending episode of Northern Exposure flashes back to the founding of the show's Alaskan town by the lesbians Roslyn and Cicely.
1993: Sisters adds the character of a lesbian TV producer. . . . Picket Fences begins an episode with two 16-year-old girls kissing. Toned down considerably from the original script, the scene takes place in the dark. . . . Amanda Bearse, Marcy on Married . . . With Children comes out.
1994: Tales of the City, a miniseries about life among gay and straight people in San Francisco, airs but PBS brushes off calls for a sequel. . . . Roseanne Conner shares a kiss with a lesbian on Roseanne.
1995: The Jenny Jones Show invites Jonathan Schmitz to meet someone with a secret crush on him. He learns during a taping that it's a gay acquaintance. Three days later Schmitz goes to his admirer's home and murders him. . . . A newspaper report quotes CBS golf analyst Ben Wright as saying that lesbians in the sport hurt women's golf"; there are no open lesbians on the golf tour at the time. Wright at first denies the remarks. Months later, and only after more revelations about Wright's conduct, CBS pulls him off golf coverage -- but continues to pay him. Wright admits only to making some insensitive remarks.
1996: Friends includes a lesbian wedding, with Newt Gingrich's gay sister Candace in a guest role. . . . Plans begin for Ellen's coming-out episode, as Entertainment Weekly estimates there are 22 gay and lesbian characters in prime-time series. . . . Supermarket tabloid the Globe runs several stories claiming talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell is gay; her popularity is unaffected.
1997: Breaking the Surface, a movie about diver Greg Louganis, includes scenes of Louganis abused by a male lover but no scenes of them kissing. . . . Family drama Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, airs an episode on anti-gay prejudice, derived from poet Walt Whitman's visit to town. . . . Ellen DeGeneres acknowledges she is a lesbian and awaits the public reaction to the April 30 episode of Ellen.
**The list was part of a longer story, which preceded the list with this:
People astounded that a network comedy will have a homosexual leading character may be asking how television got to that point.
Others will wonder what took so long.
While homosexuals are not always treated sympathetically on TV, portrayals that tried to avoid being negative or stereotypical date back more than 25 years. Even though there is disagreement in various references on who achieved certain firsts -- for example, who was the first homosexual character in a daytime drama -- many firsts have already been achieved.
Actor-director Rob Reiner well remembers what it was like in 1971, when he was on the series All in the Family and the show did a gay-themed episode. "It was amazing," Reiner said of the reaction to the show, in which Archie Bunker thinks one of Mike's friends is gay -- and learns instead that one of Archie's own friends is. "The audience went nuts, it was a big, big scream, when Archie finds out his football-playing friend is gay. . . . "Not that there isn't a stigma to being gay today, but it's nothing like it was in 1971," Reiner said. "Now there are gay rights and gay marches and people feel comfortable with their sexuality. It's a lot different. . . . "I don't think it's that big a deal, to be honest. . . . If you remember the series Soap, Billy Crystal played a gay character. A very popular show, and he wasn't the lead but he was a main character, and that was also back in the '70s. This is 20 years old. Why are they making such a big deal out of it?"
Indeed, where Ellen Morgan may be the first leading character in a series to be a lesbian, that's an incremental step beyond the lesbian news anchor in the ensemble comedy Muscle in 1995, or the major supporting character who was a lesbian in the drama Heartbeat in 1988.
As for an openly gay actor playing a gay character, Harvey Fierstein did that as a supporting player in the sitcom Daddy's Girls in 1994.
That does not mean change has been smooth. Major productions involving gay characters often encounter protest, station pre-emptions and loss of ads.
Nor do precedents always hold. In 1975, after homosexual characters had appeared in several sitcoms, ABC told Barney Miller producer Danny Arnold he could no longer include a gay recurring character because the show was airing in the networks' new "family viewing hour." (Arnold risked $100,000 to tape an episode with the character, which ABC finally agreed to broadcast; the family hour was overturned in court on First Amendment grounds in 1976.)
And doors sometimes open just a little way. References the Gay Almanac and the Lesbian Almanac do not need much space to list gay and lesbian characters on TV. And the list reaches to include Jack Tripper, John Ritter's character on Three's Company, who pretended to be gay.
The following chronology does not include every moment of TV's interaction with gays and lesbians. But it does try to show the long road