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American Television, Drama  
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Despite advertiser resistance to its inherently depressing content, by 1987 AIDS had begun surfacing in the plots of several prime time television shows, although, as Emile Netzhammer and Scott Shamp have pointed out, the fact that regular characters must be around for next week's episode usually prevented central characters from becoming infected with a disease that will probably kill them. In order to circumvent this quandary, network executives featured AIDS on individual episodes of shows including 21 Jump Street, The Equalizer, and Midnight Caller but, in doing so, created a causal link between AIDS and gay men.

For example, the 1988 episode of 21 Jump Street, "A Big Disease With a Little Name," shows Officer Tom Hanson (Johnny Depp) being assigned to guard from peer harassment an AIDS-stricken hemophiliac male teenager. This Ryan White-type AIDS scare scenario alters when Hanson discovers that the teen is not hemophiliac. Instead, the teen tells Hanson he is gay and refers obliquely to the "real reason" why he has AIDS: unsafe sex. This connection was perpetuated in the media precisely because the earliest reported AIDS cases resulted almost exclusively from unsafe sexual practices among gay men.

Although TV movies such as PBS's Andre's Mother, HBO's And the Band Played On, and ABC's Our Sons attempted to cast AIDS sufferers as noble victims cast off by society, the connection between gay men and their sexual practices nevertheless remained firmly in place.

Andre's Mother, the Emmy-award winning adaptation of gay playwright Terrence McNally's drama, aired in 1990 as part of the American Playhouse series. The show's conflict revolved around the refusal of the eponymous Andre's mother (Sada Thompson) to accept her late son's sexual identity, even as Andre's lover Cal (Richard Thomas) battles continually for this acceptance.

Andre's Mother shifted the "AIDS outsider" dynamic away from the deceased Andre, who is reverently remembered by friends and Cal alike. Instead, Andre's mother becomes the outsider, shut out by both his gayness and his disease, before reluctantly moving towards acceptance as the movie ends.

It remains unclear how much these televised depictions of AIDS resulted in an overall increase in societal AIDS awareness and in increased understanding and compassion for those most affected by the epidemic. However, with the shift in AIDS demographics away from gay men, television portrayals of homosexuals began to break new representational ground.


Gays Enter the Television Mainstream

But even before the specter of AIDS rose in media prominence, another landmark event occurred on a prime time series. In 1981 television audiences for the wildly popular ABC show Dynasty were introduced to Steven Carrington (Al Corley from 1981 to 1982 and again in 1991) and Jack Coleman from 1982-1989), the first openly bisexual, and later gay, recurring character in a dramatic television series.

Steven weathered traumas typical of a nighttime soap opera: bisexual liaisons resulting in an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, widely circulated rumors about his homosexuality, and gay lovers murdered by his outraged father, oil baron Blake Carrington. Although deeply conflicted at the outset, Steven finally received praise and recognition from Blake who, in 1991's Dynasty Reunion, acknowledged to Steven and his partner, "I am so glad to see that you have someone who loves you as much as I do."

Steven Carrington notwithstanding, Dynasty long maintained a marked queer appeal. The show effortlessly combined the trappings of glamorous opulence with scheming, backstabbing characters who exuded an appealing amorality.

Dynasty episodes were further highlighted with moments of gloriously high camp, particularly in the memorable "catfights" between the two leading ladies, Krystle (Linda Evans), Blake's present wife, and Alexis (Joan Collins), Blake's former wife. Both straight and queer TV audiences quickly came to expect, if not demand, a weekly hair pulling, furniture-throwing, name-calling, and dress-shredding showdown between the two otherwise impeccably dressed and well-mannered (if not always well-behaved) society scions.

Following the demise of Dynasty, producer Aaron Spelling (who also created and produced Dynasty) debuted Melrose Place in 1992. Melrose Place began as a spin-off from another popular Spelling production, Beverly Hills 90210, a teen-oriented show that featured many different, though incidental, gay characters during its ten-year network run.

Departing from its teen cousin, Melrose Place focused on the lives of a group of young professionals who all share the same Los Angeles apartment complex. The series also featured a recurring gay male character, Matt Fielding (Doug Savant), who was alternately praised as a revolutionary step forward for gay men on television or reviled as a representational nobody.

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