"The New Normal" was supposed to be the new normal.
After "Modern Family" brought two gay dads into the spotlight on ABC, NBC was bringing audiences a show that put a gay family at its center. "The New Normal" executive producer Ryan Murphy had already shown two gay teens' first sexual encounter on "Glee." There was little concern his new show's central couple (Bryan and David) would be the chaste, sexless gay men generally seen on primetime television.
I tuned in eagerly when the show premiered, elated to see a romantic gay duo given the amount of screen time generally reserved for straight sitcom leads. Television executives served up a pilot tackling surrogacy, adoption and homophobia. Finally, mainstream television had gotten progressive.
Except its characters hadn't. Bryan is (or maybe, "was," since the show was just canceled) a flamboyant creative type who often speaks in shallow maxims peppered with stereotypical references. He's effeminate and materialistic, but he harbors no issue with being "different." David is successful, stable and often uptight. "The New Normal" makes a point to show him as a football fan, the kind of masculine professional you'd have no problems bringing home to meet your parents.
Sound familiar? Fourteen years ago, NBC brought audiences the same couple. Back then, they were named Will and Jack. Those two men never had a romantic relationship, but at the time "Will & Grace" premiered, they had the most emotionally developed relationship between two openly gay characters on TV.
Critics often speak of "Will & Grace" as the show that altered the formula for gay characters on TV. Prior to the show's premiere, gay characters were relegated to sitcom cameos -- generally in "very special" episodes -- or bit parts as criminals on cop dramas. After the show debuted, studios added gay characters to numerous programs, and LGBT themes became prominent on network television. The shift was even more pronounced on cable, especially when "Queer as Folk" debuted in 2000 on Showtime and actively explored gay sexuality.
Fast forward to today. Politically and culturally, this is a watershed period for the LGBT community. Same-sex marriage has been approved in 12 U.S. states and 11 countries. After months of sports leagues readying for openly gay athletes and targeting a culture of homophobia, NBA center Jason Collins was the first active American athlete in a major sport to come out. In movies and television, audiences are seeing LGBT teens, same-sex marriage and gay families with greater frequency -- but the conversation around them still hasn't changed.
While my fellow blogger Kevin Rector looks at how news, politics and policy reflect and impact LGBT individuals, I'll be exploring how the gay community is represented in pop culture, the arts and media. As LGBT issues and out public figures increasingly step into the media spotlight, I'll be looking at what they're saying, how they're being discussed and why it matters.
As the status of individuals has changed in our country, representation has shifted as well. The space between Will Truman and Jack McFarland has gradually been filling in. To some extent, the spectrum is beginning to expand, including all the diverse groups represented by the LGBT label.
Once that process is complete, television will look like a place where "the new normal" is genuinely new.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun