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2001 - July
'Shame on Emmy for shunning QAFolk' from
by Barry M. Frieman
July 20, 2001
The recently announced prime time Emmy nominations sent a mixed message to gay TV viewers and certainly added fuel to the fire that keeps young gay actors from taking those first steps out of the Hollywood closet.
On the one hand, many of "our shows" were nominated for Emmys, leading those who advocate for visibility to claim a victory. On the other hand, Queer As Folk, the one gay-themed show deserving of nomination and whose nomination would really have been a victory, did not receive even one.
Not for Sharon Gless. Not for Peter Paige. Not for cinematography.
Not for music. Not for costumes. Not for makeup. Nothing.
Some have been applauding Hollywood’s bravado in recognizing the fine work done on programs like Will & Grace, and on miniseries like Armistead Maupin’s Further Tales of the City, and HBO’s Ellen Degeneres: The Beginning.
These shows garnered Emmy nominations notwithstanding and, in some cases, because of their gay content. Many argue that they are to our generation what shows like All in the Family and Good Times were to a generation of burgeoning feminists, gay activists, black activists, and others in the 1970s.
But Will & Grace and its gay contemporaries really haven’t pushed the envelope. And that’s OK.
Will & Grace is entertainment. Its creators developed the show as entertainment, a sitcom, and more in the "wacky group of friends" vein than in the "comedy flows out of tension" vein, and it’s the latter type that broke ground in the ’70s.
Comedy writers today have either been forbidden by political correctness or simply forgotten how to write shows like this All in the Family and M*A*S*H. Instead, every sitcom now follows the mold of Mary Tyler Moore, creating a wacky circle of friends.
Like it or not, Queer As Folk is our generation’s All in the Family, but the meatheads who hand out Emmy nominations prefer the wacky gang at Will & Grace.
But Will & Grace is arguably no more or less gay to middle America than Frasier. Recently, MSNBC aired a special on "Gay Hollywood" and interviewed a woman standing in line to see a Will & Grace taping. She loved the show, but still believed that gay people should all be put "on an island somewhere."
That’s the irony of Will & Grace. You can laugh at the antics of Will and Jack and their gal pals and still be a hateful homophobe.
The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences did go out on the ledge a bit more by nominating Showtime’s Further Tales for an Emmy as Best Miniseries. Last time out, More Tales received five Emmy nods and won none. Now, am I a naysayer or a pragmatist in predicting that Armistead doesn’t stand a chance against Disney’s Anne Frank?
More to the point, anyone who’s seen Further Tales knows that this wasn’t really a gay story this time out: This was the story of MaryAnn and Dee Dee’s search for the Rev. Jim Jones, with a little bit of Mouse — hmm, Disney’s Mouse v. Armistead’s Mouse — having sex thrown in.
Now if they film the next part, where gays become the tragic figures of the mid-1980s when AIDS hits, you can be sure Showtime would get an Emmy because that is politically correct and puts us gays in our familiar slot as tragic heroic figures. So how far have we come from An Early Frost?
Quite far, if people are paying for Showtime to see its highest rated new show, Queer As Folk. But not quite far enough if the program isn’t being recognized as the landmark it is by its Hollywood peers.
Queer As Folk is not just entertaining, controversial, and erotic, it’s historically significant in the same way that the sitcoms of the early 1970s were historically significant. At times, Queer as Folk is the most intelligent show on television. And while that isn’t always saying much, often that is saying quite a bit.
Certainly Sharon Gless’s portrayal of Debbie Novotny is a standout and worthy of recognition. The woman is a walking ad for PFLAG and acceptance.
An even more potent Emmy miss was the incredibly understated performance by Sherry Miller, who guest stars as Justin’s mom. Her evolution over this first season from ignorant mother of a "normal" teenage son to accepting mother of her normal gay teenage son has been nothing short of incredible.
Sure, sometimes, the show is as banally written as Melrose Place or 90210. But the difference is that we’re dealing for the first time with a cast of same sex characters, and that’s what makes it important.
This is our generation’s All in the Family, whether we know it or not. And Brian Kinney, the show’s single-minded heartthrob, is our Archie Bunker. I just hope the little blond dingbat survives into next season.
And that those meatheads over at the Academy join the rest of us here in the 21st century.
Barry Freiman owns an attorney placement firm in Rockville, Md., and is a freelance
writer who has contributed to online news and entertainment sites. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.