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American Television, Drama  
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Although the kiss between Abby and C.J. was actually a quick peck on the lips viewed from behind one of the women, it was quite enough to re-ignite the furious debate over depictions of same-sex desire on television begun in 1989. On November 7, 1989, ABC aired the "Strangers" episode of the "yuppie" series thirtysomething, in which the series' two main gay characters Peter (Peter Frechette) and Russell (David Marshall Grant) are introduced and, in due course, fall into bed together.

Joe Wlodarz has noted that the most sensational and controversial aspect of the episode is the physical enactment of the two men's desire (both insinuated and visually confirmed) as they share a post-coital moment in bed and talk about their experience of losing friends to AIDS.

However, according to Richard Kramer's script, the bedroom scene was to be preceded by a seduction scene in which Russell kisses Peter and to be concluded with an erotic/affectionate embrace in bed between the two. The viewing audience never witnessed these two moments, leading gay author Armistead Maupin to suggest that the gay kiss, and particularly the gay male kiss, can only be imagined to be "repulsive to most viewers because they have been systematically denied sight of it."

A similar censoring befell Melrose Place's hapless Matt Fielding during the 1994 season finale. In the final episode, the visiting best friend of main character Billy Campbell (Andrew Shue) falls for Matt, and a scene was shot in which the two characters kiss before retiring to separate beds. However, as Larry Gross notes, conservative critics chimed in with protests and threats of boycotts. In response, the network altered the scene. Instead of kissing, the two men shook hands, exchanged a meaningful glance and moved towards one another, before the camera cut away to Billy looking through the blinds of his apartment with a shocked expression.

However, while gay male expressions of sexual desire seemed to remain firmly in the closet, lesbian kisses were appearing more frequently and with less fanfare. On January 11, 1997, an episode of the ABC show Relativity showed a close-up, passionate, ten-second kiss between Rhonda Roth (Lisa Edelstein) and her girlfriend Suzanne (Kristin Dattilo). Surprisingly no network affiliates pulled the episode from their schedule, even though ABC heavily marketed the show's content.

Speaking with Advocate columnist Robert Pela, GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) spokesperson Alan Klein noted that the lack of negative response to the show was clearly a sign that times and perceptions are changing.


Changing Perceptions and Breakthrough Representations

Despite changing social and media perceptions, however, there is still a lingering reticence on the part of broadcast network executives to televise overt displays of homosexual affection and desire. Indeed, in recent years cable and subscriber networks have been far more pathbreaking in their depictions of homosexual content than the networks. For instance, the broadcast networks would not have dared attempt what subscriber network Showtime executed in 2000 with the debut of Queer As Folk. Billed in 1999 as the first all-gay soap opera, Queer As Folk exploded on Britain's Channel 4 before being transplanted, for U.S. viewers, to Pittsburgh.

Produced by life partners Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman (who also created the series Sisters and 1985's An Early Frost), Queer As Folk offered an unflinching, no-holds-barred slice of queer life, including foam parties, nipple piercing, and recreational drug use. There was also no shortage of erotically charged same-sex lovemaking scenes, usually between amoral Lothario Brian Kinney (Gale Harold) and his much younger boyfriend Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison).

Yet, in the face of this rampant hedonism, the show also provided a balance of sympathetic characters who sought and achieved meaningful--if tenuously held-- relationships. In the show's first season Michael Novotny (Hal Sparks), whose best friend is Brian, became intimately involved with chiropractor Dr. Dave Cameron (Chris Potter) and, although this relationship ended at the conclusion of season one, Michael soon found a much longer-term partner in HIV-positive professor Ben Bruckner (Robert Gant). Best friends Emmett Honeycutt (Peter Paige) and Ted Schmidt (Scott Howell) also did a turn as lovers in season three.

Living among Queer As Folk's predominately gay male cadre was a lesbian couple, Lindsay Peterson (Thea Gill) and Melanie Marcus (Michelle Clunie), who served as dual mothers to Gus, the infant offspring of Lindsay and Brian. The two women also had the show's longest-running relationship.

Lindsay and Mel helped pave the way for another Showtime series, the steamy lesbian hit show The L Word, which premiered in January 2004. Although The L Word was widely praised, it also drew criticism similar to that received by Queer As Folk. Constance Reeder, columnist for the lesbian publication off our backs, complained that The L Word was not groundbreaking TV but was, instead, "Queer As Folk with breasts."

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