Move over Will & Grace: The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has released a list of upcoming television shows featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters in 2006—and they're not all on HBO or Showtime.
On Jan. 2, GLAAD praised four new network series that feature gay characters—ABC sitcoms Crumbs and Emily's Reasons Why Not, CBS' Love Monkey, and NBC's The Book of Daniel—as shows in which "viewers can be both entertained and educated by stories on television that reflect the diversity of families and communities across this country."
Crumbs, which debuts Jan. 12, stars Fred Savage as Jane Curtin and William Devane's gay son—and probably the only sane member of the Crumb family. Savage plays Mitch, who returns home to help his brother deal with their mother's release from a mental institution and her realization that her philandering ex-husband has procreated with another woman.
Emily's Reasons Why Not, which premiered Jan. 9, features African-American actor Khary Payton as Heather Graham's sassy gay sidekick; Love Monkey, debuting Jan. 17, has a gay character (Christopher Wiehl) who is a sportscaster and former professional athlete.
The Book of Daniel, however, is already attracting its share of controversy. The family drama, starring Aidan Quinn as an Episcopal minister with a 23-year-old gay son and a bisexual sister-in-law, was dropped last week by NBC affiliates in five parts of Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana due to complaints from viewers and several conservative Christian organizations. An NBC spokesperson noted Jan. 6, the night of Daniel's debut, that the affiliates that have rejected the show make up less than 1 percent of NBC's audience. On its website, GLAAD encourages viewers to call their local affiliates and demand the opportunity to make judgments about the show themselves.
Damon Romine, entertainment media director of GLAAD, said Daniel has the potential to be groundbreaking, particularly with the character of the minister's son, played by Christian Campbell. "[He's] a gay character of faith in a family of faith that accepts and embraces their gay son, and that is something that we don't see very often on television—I mean, especially on network television," said Romine. According to Nielsen, Daniel's debut didn't draw the expected numbers. The limited-run series came in third behind CBS dramas Close to Home and Numb3rs.
Though portrayals of gay characters on network television and cable are seemingly on the rise, Romine said viewers shouldn't forget that gay characters are still underrepresented in mainstream media. "At the end of the day, many of these characters are minor or supporting roles; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters continue to represent well below 2 percent of all scripted characters on broadcast television," he said. "There is a false perception that gay characters are everywhere, and I think it's because it's still unusual and interesting to see gay characters on television."
Romine said GLAAD and the gay community always hope for realistic depictions. "We are thrilled whenever there is a representation of a character that is multidimensional, meaning that we're seeing all sides to that character, including a romantic side," he noted. But will the proliferation of gay characters on TV mean more roles for gay actors? "I would like to think that the more gay characters there are that the more opportunities there are for gay actors," said Romine. "As more actors come out, I think we will see a change to where more gay actors are either taking gay roles or being cast in those roles."
Romine also said networks will continue to include LGBT characters because they boost ratings and help shows develop a stronger fan base, as was the case with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and All My Children.
He said networks have made the decision to increase LGBT portrayals for another reason, as well: "It's the right thing to do."