NEW YORK – As the broadcast TV channels unveiled their fall schedules last week, one characteristic of the 2013-14 TV season became clear: It will be a lot more heterosexual than the current season, which officially ends Wednesday.
Among the shows that won’t be back next year are The New Normal, Go On, Smash, The Office, 1600 Penn, Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, 90210, Emily Owens, M.D., The L.A. Complex and Partners, all of which featured gay or lesbian characters. Southland, a cable series that featured a major gay character, was also recently canceled by TNT.
With the possible exception of The Office, which finally expired a couple of seasons later than might have been ideal, these shows were all killed because they didn’t attract enough viewers. Network TV shows exist to deliver eyeballs to commercials, and if they fail to do so in large enough numbers, they’re doomed, no matter what.
Nevertheless, I’m sad to wave goodbye to some of these shows. This was the year that U.S. prime-time television went to new places with its gay characters, many of whom were unquestionably, proudly and uncompromisingly gay – but had a lot more going on besides.
Two scenes stand out from the season. One is from Go On, in which widower Ryan King (Matthew Perry) tried to recover from his wife’s death with the help of a support group, one of whose members was Anne (Julie White), who had also recently lost her wife. Over the course of the season, Anne and Ryan went through many similar challenges – returning to the dating scene after a long and happy relationship, wondering what their late partner would make of their new lives, general grieving.
It may seem ridiculous to trumpet a lesbian being permitted to experience such basic emotions. But until recently gay characters were almost exclusively defined by their sexuality, while also being denied the freedom to express it.
Elsewhere, on The New Normal, a show centered on the lives of an affluent gay couple, David, an Eagle Scout, tried to help a beleaguered local scout troop. This despite the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay scoutmasters. Then someone outed him to the national office. In one scene, Scoutmaster Pat explains to David why he reported him: Pat isn’t a homophobe, but he doesn’t want his son to have a gay role model.
David is still rich and successful and in good health, but he’s also being denied the chance to fully participate in society, and he’s hurt. It’s a nuanced portrayal of homophobia that hasn’t appeared on television before. With the loss of all these shows, I’m not optimistic that we’ll see it again soon.