Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gays in Daytime: We Have A Long Way To Go

In the wake of the news that "Kish" (Kyle and Fish) will soon be invisible on ONE LIFE TO LIVE's Llanview canvas, I took pause to think about the gains and losses of gay and lesbian characters on daytime in the past year.  Sure we have been treated to more stories and representation than ever before.  Yet I can't help but wonder if this was necessarily a good thing.  Are we better off now than we were before 2009? Let's examine the evidence:  

THE GOOD:  Crystal Chappell (Olivia) and Jessica Leccia (Natalia) were given a beautiful mature story line to play out about two women who simply come to terms with their love for each other.  The story unfolded slowly over a the course of a year, and did not miss a beat in exploring the confusion and complexities of same sex love.  Plus the revelation that Mayor Doris [Orlagh Cassidy] was also gay fused the story with humor and fun, and her coming out to her daughter Ashley was an emotional high point of the year. 
THE BAD: GUIDING LIGHT was canceled at the dramatic peak of this story.
THE UGLY: Before the show ended, the writers had Natalia uncharacteristically betray Olivia by running out of town after learning of her unplanned pregnancy (four months after conception!).  There were certainly ways that the show could have accommodated Leccia's real-life maternity leave that would have maintained the integrity of both characters.  By the end of the series, the couple never shared a kiss or made love, whereas all other couples in Springfield had a chance to kiss and display affection before and during the final episode.

THE GOOD:  The wedding of Bianca and Reese was celebrated by all of the Pine Valley community, and even made the cover of Soap Opera Digest! The chemistry between Eden Riegel and Tamara Braun was electric and sprarkled in every scene they had together.  Ultimately their love won out and the two happily left town together in April. 
THE BAD: Their wedding bliss was short lived once Bianca found out that Reese had been smooching Zach, who just happened to be Bianca's baby's father, and her sister Kendall's husband.  Because realistically, doesn't this happen to most lesbian couples?
THE UGLY: Reese's bisexuality had to be "punished" by being blinded, a flashback to archaic 1950s views of women's sexuality common in literature and films from that era.  Riegel was unfairly scapegoated in the media by head writer Charles Pratt for the unpopularity of this story with viewers. 

THE GOOD: Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann) have continued to be featured as an out-and-proud gay couple in Oakdale, gaining acceptance and love from the rest of the town.  Dr. Reid Oliver's [Eric Sheffer Stevens] coming out bodes well for increasing dramatic tension and giving the Emmy nominated Hansis more to do. 
THE BAD: The couple is peripheral at best, given minor airtime once or twice a week with Noah disappearing for weeks on end.  They were saddled with a prosaic triangle involving Noah's film professor played by a grossly miscast Forbes March. Their love scenes have been completely invisible, and now non-existent.  With ATWT ending in September, 2010, we will tragically be without our "Nuke" fix.
THE UGLY: In a bizarre move, Luke's parents adopted adult Noah in order to authorize a crucial surgery.  So now two of the only three gay guys in Oakdale are brothers?  Ick!

THE GOOD: The writers bravely brought back Philip Chancellor III from the dead as an out gay man, and managed to keep it a secret up until the air date.  Plus we got to see Adam Newman play fast and loose with sexual identity in order to keep Rafe from finding incriminating evidence.  Actor Chris Engen walked off the set allegedly offended by his character's interest in another man, among other things.
THE BAD: After dropping the I'm-alive-and-gay bomb on his family, Phillip was virtually ignored and was soon escorted out of town.  Adam is now unambiguously heterosexual, and Rafe has been relegated to the D-list of airtime.
THE UGLY: In a head-scratching move, the writers and actor Thom Bierdz presented Phillip as arrogantly justified in using his sexuality to fake his death and emotionally hurt Jill, Kay, and Nina for the past 20 years, sending a bizarre message that it was easier to be dead than gay in the 1980s.  This is offensive not only to viewers who were gay in the '80s, but a slap in the face to the millions who actually did die as a result of the AIDS epidemic.  And that "scandalous" scene between Adam and Rafe? Never did a touch on the chin say so little.

THE GOOD: 2009 was a great time to visit Llanview as Oliver (Scott Evans) and Kyle (Brett Claywell) struggled with their feelings of forbidden love.  Dorian's gay wedding-athon lent sharp humor and political relevance to the show. The gay wedding episode in which Oliver loudly declared his love for Kyle to the entire town was one of the most inspiring and empowering moment on television ever.  Tia Dionne Hodges's amazing portrayal of ends-justify-the-means activist Amelia was spot-on accurate and reflective of many individuals I have known.  With the addition of Nick, OLTL could boast the only realistic and compelling gay triangle on television. The New Year's Eve scenes during which "Kish" first made love was depicted beautifully, artistically, and realistically.  And it was smokin' hot!
THE BAD: Nick and Amelia who? These two complicated and fascinating characters have disappeared  from the canvas.  Oliver having unprotected drunken sex with Stacy was not the smartest move, but it certainly lent legs to the drama and set "Kish" up for years of rich story ahead. 
THE UGLY: We won't get to see those years of rich story.  On March 10, ONE LIFE TO LIVE announced they were unceremoniously dropping this story, once again demonstrating that gay characters are disposable, extraneous and inconsequential.

Keep in mind, I am critiquing the shows that had the guts to try to tell meaningful stories this past year.  This is not in any way meant to let B&B, DAYS, and GH off the hook for failing to even attempt to include gay and lesbian characters.  But as a gay man, the message to me from network soaps is clear: You are expendable, you are unimportant, your stories don't count.  2009 was the gayest year in soap history but come September, all those characters will have gone the way of Lynn Carson, Hank Elliot and Billy Douglas. Is this progress folks? Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Then press here for a more optimistic perspective on the future of gays/lesbians on Indie Soaps. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at


  1. Fantastic and spot on. It's hard to imagine that even in this day and age, daytime is dominated by 20-30 yr old WASPs. Maybe it's because they choose to dismiss characters of diversity, that soaps themselves are being dismissed by the viewing public.

  2. Clearly this is not progress because LGBTQ viewers and LGBTQ characters still do not have equal standing with respect to heterosexuals in both real and reel life. If there were ever a soap that would do justice to an LGBTQ storyline, it was OLTL. And thus far, OLTL did that because it allowed the KISH story to play so many beats and arcs - coming out, falling in love, a love triangle, gay marriage, gay bashing, gay parenting - in the 10 months that KISH have been on air more so than the other soaps' LGBTQ storylines. So it is all the more disheartening, discouraging and disappointing that ABC capitulated to hatemongers and ignored and dismissed a segment of their audience - the LGBTQ viewers, their friends, supporters and even non-LGBTQ supporters who followed and loved KISH. Evidently, LGBTQ folks and KISH lovers are second class citizens whose voices are considered insignificant compared to the rabble rousing of the so-called "mainstream audience," whoever they are.

  3. We have so far to go. I liked the Kish storyline so much I actually cried. I tell young people all the time that if we must be active to make sure people see our lives as being equally valid as theirs. Good luck OLTL you will have to do it with alot less viewers. So spot on I told people when they put periphery characters with no attachment to anyone who only inacted with the awful GEX who has killed every character in their orbit. It would only be a matter of time until we thought we were doing good and they pulled the rug from under us.

  4. I am so disappointed in One Life to Live. I am a long time viewer, but will be no longer. When Oliver and Kyle disappear from the scene, I will disappear as a viewer.

  5. Before Otalia got wildly popular, and somebody in charge got a wake up call of what was really going on within that storyline, Otalia was the most subversive gay storyline I’ve ever seen on TV. From the message of God being okay with two women loving each other, because he’s all about love... to... not only the normalcy of two women raising a daughter together as a family, but that they had the happiest family life and the most well adjusted kid on the canvas. And most importantly they did this without being preachy, so they were winning people over left and right to their message. Some religious conservatives must have just been beside themselves.
    Once we had that scene with Olivia and Sister Ann discussing God being about Love and then one shortly after that with Natalia voicing to Olivia that same sentiment and then to slam the point home, Natalia getting the best of Father Ray in a religious discussion on the subject, I knew it would only be a matter of time before it hit the proverbial fan. So I wasn’t surprised when they proceeded to systematically dismantle the original message of Otalia in the last few months of the series. It was hugely disappointing, but I really think the damage was already done at that point, so I still consider Otalia an enormous win for the cause.
    Also, as disappointing as Season 1 has been of Venice, I am praying they can get their crap together for Season 2, because I really want these independent ventures to be wildly successful to give a big ole FU to the mainstream.

  6. I've been seething about this situation for more than 24 hours and I'm IN the demographic that these shows want, except that I'm also African-American.

    I agree with everything that you posted in the article, but I also want to point out that IF you exchange the word "gay" with "person of color", "disabled person", "older person", etc, lots of viewers would realize and understand that they're also expendable, unimportant and their stories don't count.

    This has certainly been a wakeup call for me and I understand why I stopped watching soaps for a huge chunk of my life.

    Thank you for the article.

  7. Dkellergirl - I couldn't agree more!

  8. It's just an alarming state of affairs in daytime television, no doubt. The focus on implausible plots---let's have a little more shock value, people!---has taken away from character development, so I understand it can be hard to warm up to new characters and learn more about them. That didn't seem to be the case with Oliver & Kyle, who received a good share of airtime given their relative "newness." There are numerous folks on all the soaps who seem to serve no purpose in their respective communities, but that certainly wasn't the case with them. This is a sad case of misplaced blame, in my opinion.

    Just months ago we were applauding how Oliver/Kyle/Cris/Layla---all minority characters---had established themselves on screen. With the latter two basically gone from the action (except Cris's silly part in the Jessica mess), all progress is lost. This is not new to soaps; it's a white, conservative domain that will remain that way until its eventual death. Time to really get behind the indie soaps...

  9. Damon, being gay most of my 49 years, and a soap watching for the better part of 30 years (god, Im old!) this hits home to me. Well done and bravo and...well-written and well thought out.

    I cant help but think if the STILL LARGELY LILY WHITE AND NON-INCLUSIVE soaps of today had integrated, racially and sexually (gee, maybe reflecting real society) 15-20 years ago (as primetime was changing with "The Cosby Show" and "ER") the ratings for soaps wouldn't be in the toilet!

    I dont feel expendable...even if TV writers want to make me feel that way!

    Congrats again on an eye-opening and thoughtful essay.
    Alan Carter

  10. Spot on comments! I was one of those ppl that wasn't on board w/ the Kish storyline at the VERY beginning, only b/c neither Oliver nor Kyle were "main" characters. I was afraid of this -- that b/c neither was a "main" character they would be expendable & the storyline would be for pure shock value. I decided to give OLTL the benefit of the doubt. They have failed. Kish is a very real couple & had the potential to be one of the more stable couples in the canvas. But noooo, they were unceremoniously dumped. This smells like the suits folded against certain people who perhaps disliked Kish -- same thing that we now know happened w/ Otalia! Stuffy old men in suits who have a serious disconnect w/ the fans. Today's soap "fans" wouldn't know good storylines/characters if they bit them in the butt. If I had a dime for everytime I heard a 'youngen' say "I don't want to see an (insert older character's name) have sex" or "(insert character name) is sooo cute" but can't act his way out of a paper bag, I'd be rich. I'm PO'ed about Kish!!! Seriously PO'ed!!!

  11. Very good article.

    I agree that Mayor Doris [Orlagh Cassidy] coming out to her daughter was an emotional highlight of the year. I loved this parent coming out to a child twist on the traditional coming out story and think it was very well done.
    We all know that the PTB missed the boat with Otalia.

    I really think that OLTL is screwing themselves by taking away the Kish storyline. They are far more interesting than most of the other characters on the show, and are missing a true opportunity to show them raising a child.

    I honestly think that the way that the networks are run, our only hope for honest storytelling is in independent/internet soaps.

  12. I think all of the gay members of the soap opera media ought to stop covering OLTL in protest, see what that does for the show's post-Kish ratings.

    Quite simply, gays and lesbians still have a long, long way to go before we get even close to being given the same rights as straight folks. Sadly, these examples hammer that point home.

  13. I'm actually going to take a slight counter-position here. Damon, this essay is excellent, and you have certainly noted strengths and weaknesses of the current state of affairs.

    But what I see is that many, many soaps are TRYING, in their own ways, to at least incorporate GLBT issues on their canvas. What we're seeing, however, is that there always seems to be some "pulling back" or "chickening out" at the end.

    I don't really think it is the headwriters and executive producers (for the most part) who are at fault. They have been TRYING.

    When the Nuke kissing ban hit, all indications were that the problem was P&G cowardice.

    And when Kish was fired, all indications were that the problem was ABC-Disney was blaming Kish for softness in OLTL's ratings.

    I think we're seeing the problem of advertiser-supported television and affiliate-dictated cowardice and conservatism. This is probably generally true (look at how chaste the gay network, LOGO, is)...but it is especially true in daytime, where advertisers seem to want to reach out to a small niche of white, heterosexual, stay-at-home women.

    This is a breed of women that is being accused (falsely, I believe) of being afraid of/uninterested in diversity and varieties of sexuality. It is the mistaken feeling that "Fraus hate gays" (I saw that quote yesterday) that leads to this fear-guided decision making by networks and advertisers and production houses.

    I see hope! The hope is in the creative forces behind the soaps--and the sooner we can free them from advertisers and affiliates, the sooner these shows can better achieve their goals.

    Indie soaps (which you all have been promoting), and the move toward subscriber-based funding of the networks are important steps on this rehabilitation of soaps.

  14. Well done, Damon! Of all those shows I've only watched ATWT and I'm so sad to see it go in September... ATWT's treatment of Nuke was far from perfect but I did love them a lot. It will be weird when Nuke no longer exists.

    That's why I'm so happy with the other soap I watch (the Dutch GTST). Their gay character Lucas Sanders is so much fun to watch. The whole show is really good.

  15. Soaps can make gay characters work. But they need to cast good actors. If the soap press should “go after” anyone, it’s Brad Bell. He has autonomy, he’s EP and Headwriter, he owns B&B, it’s the number 1 soap on the planet, he can do whatever he wants on B&B, and Bell has never written a gay char. Yet it’s set in LA and in the fashion business! How ridiculous is that? B&B has never been good with racial or sexual diversity, but no one dares to take Brad Bell to task in the soap media bec he’s a Bell and he has power. Brad Bell’s tired excuse is the 30 minute format. If he had the balls to make Felicia bisexual, w/c the show has hinted at in the past, a same sex rel would work bec Lesli Kay’s a great actress. Kim Zimmer was rumored to join B&B in a role w/c would pair her with Susan Flannery. LK being paired with KZ would most likely be a hit with the audience bec KZ and LK can rise above any crap Brad Bell writes. That's not the same for an "actor" like Scott Evans since Evans is a talentless, goofy performer. Carlivati's writing, the political overtones of the Kish storyline and Evans's acting are to blame for Kish being written off OLTL.

  16. AMC's 90's stories of gay Michael Delaney and then Kevin Sheffield had a lot of GOOD, especially the Kevin/Kelsey storyline...which I *think* helped AMC win the Best Writing Emmy that year.

    Of course the BAD with both stories was that neither guy had a real romance, and didn't even get an exit storyline...they just faded away.

  17. lonely, while I agree with you, that based on its setting, B&B should have gays on their show, I disagree with your argument about gay storylines just needing good acting.
    I don't think you can get a better actress to play gay, then Crystal Chappell, and TPTB still cut the legs out from under that storyline before the cancellation. And that was after a year of Otalia being one of the best written and acted storylines in Soaps.
    Lesli Kay is already playing gay over on Venice and is not even remotely convincing or generating any heat with Chappell. Meanwhile, Nadia Bjorlin, who I don't think anybody considers a great thespian, is on fire playing a lesbian on Venice.
    So bottom line, I don't think acting or writing has anything to do with why the kabosh was put on Kish.

  18. I'm amazed at the lack of objectivity in these responses. From reading them I've spotted so many clich├ęs it's enough to make even a semi-sane person wretch:

    ** There's no diversity in daytime television. The sky is falling!
    ** Daytime television is lily-white, white bread, pasty faced, vanilla, WASPy
    **It's all an inside job by right-wing bigot homophobic hater conservatives in charge who take orders from like-minded housewives and grandmas
    **Blacks, handicapped, homosexuals, old people in daytime are mistreated and don't matter at all

    Yada yada yada...whine and complain all you want. Daytime is a dying genre-period. The ratings reflect that. We can all be so giddy over DAYS and AMC gaining ratings strength but when they're still pulling in numbers under 3.0 you have to realize that 25-30 years ago, numbers like that were for shows at the bottom of the pack.

    Putting in gay characters is not going to boost ratings of struggling soaps. OLTL tried it with Kishie and it didn't work. Go back to the early '90s when OLTL introduced the Ryan Douglas storyline (or whatever his name was). OLTL had already peaked by then and was already on its perennial downhill path. Ironically, AMC (Bianca) and ATWT (Luke/Noah) saw some ratings spurts when their sexualities were up front and center, but it was only brief; shares continued to slide; not just of those shows but of soaps overall.

    Web soaps aren't going to pull in the audiences that were forever accustomed to telelvision. Is the average person going to be perched at their computer monitor watching soaps online?

    Let's face it; the general soap audience is fading fast, and it's not because of the p.c. "privileged" groups' status in daytime. Soaps today are not what they were 25+ years ago; audience aside, the writing, production values, direction, the actors themselves were completely different. It's clearly a night and day comparison.

    I feel it's apropos to say that gays in daytime will not have a long way to go because by 2015 you're likely not to see ANY soaps on television.

  19. Playing Devil's advocate here TheGheyOracle . . . What IF SOAPS actually reflected society? (I know what a concept in 2010! Not so LOL) Would they draw in more viewers? I have always watched soaps (whether it was my choice or not . . . Play pen was where the TV was you know and no remote controls back in the 60's!)

    I must admit I stopped for awhile and then "OTALIA" and Mayor Doris Wolfe happened and then Crystal Chappell happened . . . I'm back at it again! I just happen to think that in these days (being lesbian and disabled . . .) all TV programs should be diversified! I mean it is 2010 . . . I agree with Nelson--That because the Soaps themselves are NOT diversified . . . The public is not tuning in. I think that is why I stopped viewing them way back when. While OTALIA was not perfect in any way . . . It definetly had its good points! I so LOVED that they also made Mayor Doris (totaly LOVE they way Orlagh Cassidy played her also) a lesbian. I doubt this would have happeed if they had not been cancelled (I say that because of something Orlagh said in one of her Tweets at one point). . . . But within that same vein . . . What did they have to lose at that point? Why not go whole hog and let them be as affectionate as the straight couples . . . Except bigotry rears its nasty head! Their had to be someone or something blocking it . . . I mean Guiding Light was cancelled at this point . . . What did they have to lose--Viewers? What a message they could have sent . . .

    I'm so sorry to learn that OLTL is losing KISH . . . While I do not watch OLTL right now . . . I did enjoy them as a couple. Has OLTL given a reason for letting them go? Just curious as to their reasoning!

    I'm not sure that web series is the way to go . . . Having said that I do enjoy "Venice The Series" (one of my guilty pleasures) But a lot of that has to do with Crystal Chappell and what she gives back! She puts her actions where her mouth is . .. Plus she's a whole lotta fun! I enjoy that . . . I also totally enjoy Hillary B Smith in the series! Can't wait until Season 2 to find out some stuff!

    I hate that Soaps are on their way out . . . But I do think they need to catch up to 2010 and diversify their casts and just catch up in general . . . I'm not saying that will solve the problem in this very fast paced world we live in (we want EVERYTHING NOW!!!! I mean fast food . . . Movies over the Internet . . .) While I still love the ever slow world of soaps I understand why people do not want to invest time in a soap. I still enjoy the medium . . .But would LOVE to have more divesity. Maybe it would not have taken me 30 years to come out if soaps had been more up to date on their diversity and I would have seen a lesbian on daytime TV way back when (and I don't mean Donna Pescow on AMC way back when)

    PS. Seriously B&B has had no gay characters on it . . . IN the fashion industry in LA! COME ON BILL BELL WAKE UP! Get a clue dear! Watch some reality TV and get a real clue! We are here . . . We do exist . . . Uhm especially in the fashion industry! Wake up call!

  20. Par None,

    Nadia Bjorlin cannot act, she's nothing but a talentless hack that looks like a blow up doll. She can't act her way out of a tight dress. She's been destroying Days since her ghoul girl days, and she still is completely crap at acting, whether playing a straight girl or a lesbian.

  21. Par None,

    TPTB on GL did not fire Chappell and TPTB did not fire the Nuke actors. Could they have used her more in Otalia and used Nuke more? Yes, but it was OLTL that fired their gay couple. Big diff.

    Yet, Wheeler is attacked bec she's a Mormon and Goutman is attacked for the Nuke kissing ban. But Carlivati won't be attacked for Kish because Carlivati is openly gay, so the soap media is playing favorites with him.

    Gay fans love to play the "Kish is being victimized" card. Not everything is homophobic. Crystal Hunt who plays Stacy was already let go before the Kish actors, but to the gay fans it's a homophobic conspiracy against Kish. Why would any sane executive get rid of Kish if they were bringing in the ratings? They and Stacy were not, so they're out. TVGC already reported that Frank valentini fired kish, and it wasn't engineered by Brian Frons or ABC or some right wing homophobic group. Yet the gay fans of Kish are painting them as victims and the gay fans are claiming that it's all the doing of homophobes.

  22. Very interesting comments folks. But instead of throwing stones and casting blame, I would be interested in people answering the question posited in my post. Are gays/lesbians better off for having this representation the past 12 months?

    To put it another way, I'm more interested in what you think about the effects of these decisions, versus the cause.