Mister D: Yes, there’s a Bette mention in here and I saw the scene where they mention her (very cute). But protests have already ensued on Twitter wrangling in an angry Ellen Barkin. When will the religious right learn that when it comes to television, at least, no is listening to them….
Gay-themed sitcoms on NBC, CBS aim for ratings and laughs, not controversy and protests
By Rob Lowman
August 26, 2012
“Face it, honey. Abnormal is the new normal.”
The line is said by openly gay actor Andrew Rannells on NBC’s upcoming “The New Normal,” which debuts Sept. 11. Rannells plays Bryan and he and his partner, David (Justin Bartha), are hiring a surrogate in order to become parents.
A plotline like that may have once been a shot across the bow in the culture wars, but nowadays, with the success of ABC’s “Modern Family,” it’s probably closer to the truth as far as sitcoms are concerned.
NBC is more likely more concerned about ratings than it is protests for “The New Normal,” although there already is one.
Meanwhile, on Sept. 24, CBS debuts the comedy “Partners” about a couple of friends – one gay, Louis (Michael Urie), and one straight, Joe (David Krumholtz), who have been pals since boyhood and are partners in an architectural firm. When Joe proposes to his girlfriend, Ali (Sophia Bush), it puts a strain on the friends’ relationship.
“Partners” was created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, who were behind “Will & Grace,” the successful sitcom that ran from 1998 to 2006 about a gay male lawyer and his best friend, a female interior designer.
Endorsing gay marriage on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in May, Vice President Joe Biden even cited “Will & Grace” as doing “more to educate the American public (on the subject of gays) than almost anybody’s ever done so far. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”
Later that month, University of Minnesota communication studies professor Edward Schiappa and his colleagues said that based on five studies, they found that the presence of gay characters on television programs decreases prejudices among viewers.
“These attitude changes are not huge,” Schiappa told news organizations. “They don’t change bigots into saints. But they can snowball.”
Gay characters on television have been proliferating in the past few years thanks to shows like “Glee,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Smash” and “Modern Family.” Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is even supposedly a fan of the ABC sitcom.
“I’m personally just so appreciative to `Modern Family’ and to `Will & Grace’ because they are huge successes,” says Ryan Murphy, co-creator of “Glee” and “The New Normal.” “I think so many people watched those shows and are educated, and those shows changed views.”
Murphy says “The New Normal” is loosely based on his own life.
“The show came about because my partner and I have been having conversations about surrogacy and meeting with people and talking about it,” he says.
Writing what you know was also the aim of Kohan, who is straight, and Mutchnick, who is gay. The two have been friends since high school.
Mutchnick remembers having framed pictures of Bette Midler, a gay icon, in his bedroom as a kid. (There is a Midler joke in the opening episode of “Partners.”) He says for some reason he decided as a teen to tell Kohan, whom he calls “this iconic straight high school personality,” about being gay.
“David was fantastic,” Mutchnick says. “I think every gay man should have a straight man in his life. And I was lucky enough that I was able to create a life and a great career with him, too.”
While “Partners” and “The New Normal” feature gay characters, neither are gay-centric.
“It’s what people are going through now,” notes “The New Normal’s” Bartha, known for his roles in “The Hangover” films. “We’re really writing, hopefully, a great depth to this couple,” adds Murphy. “It’s not easy to be a gay couple having a child.”
“The Book of Mormon” Broadway star Rannells says he was ready to sign up for “The New Normal” just from a general outline of the show that Murphy gave him.
“You know, as a gay man, it’s hard to sort of find projects that you can play a gay man that it feels like it’s a fully developed character that’s not just the best friend or just the bitchy boss,” says Rannells, 34, who had a recurring role on the first season of HBO’s “Girls.” “This is a fully developed person that I get to play. And certainly the gay aspect is a big part of it, but it’s also just a fraction of what I get to do in the show.”
On the other hand, not being gay doesn’t preclude being cast as someone who is, so audiences best not assume. Bartha, for instance, has been linked romantically with Ashley Olsen.
Former Superman Brandon Routh – who just became a father for the first time with his wife, actress Courtney Ford – plays Louis’ lover on “Partners.” The 31-year-old actor says it took a while for him to get over playing the superhero in Bryan Singer‘s 2006 film “Superman Returns,” although he thought Clark Kent had some nice comedic moments.
Over the past few years, Routh has been taking on more comedic roles, including doing some stuff for the comic website Funny or Die.
“I realized that I have to maybe take a step back if I wanted to go into a new territory,” says Routh, whose male nurse character, Wyatt, is described by Kohan as “no dummy. It’s just that he’s without guile.”
Of course, while sitcoms have been evolving since “All in the Family” in the early 1970s, not everybody is happy to see more gays joining in, especially when it comes to being parents. The Christian right organization One Million Moms already has called for a boycott of the premiere episode of “The New Normal.”
“I was very excited that I was mentioned by first and last name in the boycott,” Rannells says with glee. “It’s my first boycott!”
Murphy – though he’s not surprised by the action (it’s not the first boycott one of his shows has faced) – thinks the group should watch the show before protesting it and that members might actually like it.
“I actually think they would love it,” he says, though the statement sounds more like wishful thinking.
“The New Normal” has its own “All in the Family” Archie Bunker-style character in Ellen Barkin’s Jane, who is the mother of Goldie (Georgia King), a single mom whom Bryan and David choose as the surrogate.
In the first episode, the gun-toting Jane shows Archie’s curmudgeonly disregard of all minorities and even her daughter and grandchild are embarrassed by her. Yet, as with Bunker, you get the sense her heart is in the right place.
Murphy, 46, says that some of the most memorable times he had with his parents as a kid was watching “All in the Family” and then talking with them about the show.
“Was that good? Was that bad? What was that? I liked that about the show,” he says.
Murphy, likewise, expects viewers will talk about some things the characters say on “The New Normal.”
“Obviously,” he says, “I think that’s a good thing.”
What: Best guy friends – one gay, one straight – have their relationship tested when the straight one plans on getting married.
When: Premieres at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 24.
The New Normal
What: New sitcom about a gay couple who hire a surrogate mother.
When: Premieres at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 11.
Where: NBC. firstname.lastname@example.org
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