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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Network TV Decides to Come Out of the Closet

Aired May 28, 2003 - 20:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Riding the reality TV wave now. The Bravo cable network is launching a new show in July. It's a matchmaking show similar to "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette" in which the goal is presumably to find a partner. Except in "Boy Meets Boy" the couple will be, you got it, gay men.
Here's how it's going to work. Over six episodes a gay leading man will choose from 15 potential suitors including -- and here's the hook, as they say -- some men who are straight.

Now our main guy doing the picking won't know who's gay and who's straight. It will be the straight men who will have to come out, so to speak. He'll dwindle down his prospects and in the end if a straight man is chosen he wins cash -- we don't know how much. If the main man chooses another gay man, the lead character gets the money and a vacation. The concept is new, but having gays as leading characters on TV is certainly not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELLEN DEGENERES, ACTRESS: I'm gay.

COOPER (voice-over): In the history of gay television you might say time is expressed in B.E. and A.E., "Before Ellen" and "After Ellen." Her 1997 coming out episode created a sensation, and the first lead gay character ever on network TV. Before "Ellen" the TV landscape was almost exclusively straight.

SCOTT SEOMIN, GLAAD: We saw a smattering of some gay characters in single episodes of shows like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Rhoda's brother was gay. "The Bob Newhart Show," he had a gay patient.

But the first regularly occurring gay character was in 1977 on an ABC sitcom called "Soap."

RICHARD MULLIGAN, ACTOR: Why don't you offer him some Froot Loops? It'll be very appropriate.

COOPER: It wasn't until well after "Soap" in the '90s when gay characters began to appear on TV in significant numbers. Remember "Melrose Place"? one of the residents was gay, but his sexuality remained taboo.

SEOMIN: He had a date, and at the end of the date they were about to kiss, and the network decided to cut away from the kiss. COOPER: It took "Roseanne" to break the lip barrier.

SEOMIN: The kiss on "Roseanne" was more of a publicity stunt than a step forward for lesbian visibility.

COOPER: In the After Ellen era gay characters have become almost commonplace on TV.

SEAN HAYES, ACTOR: OK, kiss it. Kiss it. Spank it.

COOPER: The emmy-winning sitcom "Will & Grace" is one of television's top-rated shows.

HAL SPARKS, ACTOR: I burnt my tongue.

CHRIS POTTER, ACTOR: Well let me cool it down for you.

COOPER: Cable TV's "Queer as Folk" and "Six Feet Under" explore aspects of gay life in detail.

This fall ABC debuts "It's All Relative," a show about a gay couple raising a child. Still, say activists, there's a big difference between the depiction of gay characters on network TV versus cable.

SEOMIN: We have very, very explicit sexual situations on "Queer as Folk," whereas on "Will & Grace" we've barely seen them kissing. The broadcast networks are still very nervous about gay male sexuality.

HAYNES: Yay, you're back. Yay. You're so tan and gorgeous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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