Although most people associate the month of May with the Kentucky Derby, Memorial Day weekend traffic or beautiful spring bouquets for Mom, television has only one thing on its mind: Out with the old and in with the new. Manhattan is awash with TV folks in town for the upfronts, the annual ritual in which the networks present their fall schedules to advertisers in hopes of wooing big bucks. It is too early to tell which network will be the big winner, but this year there is a clear loser: gay characters.
Now we take for granted the many gay characters and openly gay actors appearing on television. Glee's Kurt and Blaine became the gay Luke and Laura for the teen set, and even over in soap land Days of Our Lives refused to be outdone in the gay teen drama department. Nevertheless, this year's TV cancellations fell very heavily on shows featuring unique and dynamic gay characters.
One that will be especially missed is the closeted gay cop played by Michael Cudlitz on TNT's underrated SoCal police drama Southland. Although some gay fans may miss the frequent shirtless appearances by Shawn Hatosy and Ben McKenzie or Regina King's fabulously no-nonsense detective Lydia Adams, it was Cudlitz who struck the strongest chord for his unexpected characterization. As author Christopher Rice proclaimed on Facebook after hearing of the cancellation, "Michael Cudlitz's portrayal of Cooper was one of the most stereotype-smashing and unexpected depictions of a gay man on prime time T.V. in my lifetime so far." Let's hope he won't be the last.
Over on the comedy side, no one was laughing over the loss of Happy Endings on ABC. Adam Pally's loveable disaster Max Blum was just one of the many ways in which the show, which was often compared unfairly with Friends, turned many viewers' expectations upside down. Entertainment Weekly's Melissa Maerz wrote:
In some ways, [Max is] the most traditionally straight character on the show, except for the fact that he sleeps with dudes. And he's best friends with Brad, an actual straight guy who happens to keep a teacup piglet as a pet and loves twirling, twirling, twirling! ... Both of these characters subvert the "token friend" role a lesser show might've pegged them with.
Hopefully an 11th-hour attempt to move the show to a basic cable network will pay off.
Even if you weren't in the mood for groundbreaking gay characters, we lost traditional ones too. Despite spending most of its two-year life as a punching bag for its own viewers, people were nonetheless disappointed about the failure what could have been on NBC's SMASH. As much fun as the Debra Messing scarf watch and hilarious drinking games were, a parade of gay characters danced off the stage when NBC posted the show's closing notice. Songwriter Marc Shaiman didn't seem all that disappointed with his status update on Facebook: "To no one's surprise, 'SMASH' has been cancelled. Please, don't cry for us, Argentina, we left long ago love."
Marc Shaiman may not be that upset personally, but with SMASH and so many other gay-friendly shows gone, openly gay performers are feeling the pinch of unemployment. Gone too are Jai Rodriquez and Lily Tomlin now that ABC has foreclosed on the Reba McEntire starrer Malibu Country. And the fantastic Andrew Rannells, who burst out of the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon into homes all over the country, has been thrown out with the bathwater now that NBC has abandoned its baby The New Normal. Perhaps this will give Marc and Jai and Lily and Andrew a reason to get very Mickey-and-Judy-put-on-a-show-in-the-barn and bring their talents together under one roof on the Great White Way.
While we await that show, the good news is that some favorites persist. There's another year ahead for straight-for-pay stars Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother and Jim Parsons on The Big Bang Theory over at CBS and at least one more school year of 90210 and The Carrie Diaries on the CW and two more for Glee on FOX, and Modern Family continues its powerful reign at ABC. New shows will come this fall, including Sean Saves the World, with Sean Hayes triumphantly returning to NBC as a divorced dad trying to have it all. Lesbian drama The Fosters (produced by Jennifer Lopez, not Jodie) is coming to ABC Family, and its eponymous protagonists will join a whole host of gay characters in the cable arena, headlined by HBO's venerable gay workhorse True Blood.
So even though many shows have recently joined other gay and gay-friendly shows that previously ended this year (30 Rock, Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23, Enlightened, Fringe with Jasika Nicole's fabulous Astrid), clearly not all is lost. This presents each of us with options in how to spend our summer. We can spend the next few weeks hoping that the Emmy nominations in July right some of these network wrongs, wait around glumly until fall to see how the new crop of shows goes or follow the lead of SiriusXM's Frank DeCaro, who tweeted, "I'm so mad at every programming director right now that I can't read any more about the upfronts tonight. I'm going back to watching porn."