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American Television, Situation Comedies  
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Jacobson and Drescher were married for 21 years before Jacobson came out as homosexual in 1999 and, as Jacobson explained to the Advocate in 2011, the idea for the sitcom came about during a vacation to Paris when he and Drescher found themselves falling back into their old ways of being married. In a subsequent meeting with TV Land executives, Fran pitched the sitcom by saying, "Well, our story is that my husband came out, blah blah," and the executives replied "You don't have to tell us anymore, because we just bought that. We love it."


Throughout their history television sitcoms have held a mirror up to society, and in that mirror they have reflected the presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, often in distorted and unflattering ways, but occasionally in ways that acknowledge our humanity and complexity. Although sitcoms have long relied on problematic stereotypes for their humor, as the decades have progressed television viewers in general and queer viewers in particular have demanded a more varied palette of characters. By watching "classic TV" reruns alongside current television offerings, viewers can easily perceive crucial shifts in the representation of homosexuality and homosexuals. In the future, increasingly funny and honest queer portrayals in television sitcoms are likely.

Nathan G. Tipton

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arts >> Overview:  American Television, Drama

American television has made significant strides in its portrayal of homosexuals in dramatic series and movies, but cable networks have been more daring than the "big three" broadcast networks.

arts >> Overview:  American Television, News

Although glbtq people and issues have been inadequately covered by American television news, there have recently been signs of improvement.

arts >> Overview:  American Television, Reality Shows

Reality television viewers have come increasingly to expect the appearance of gay men and lesbians on these shows because their presence helps further underscore the "reality" in Reality TV.

arts >> Overview:  American Television, Soap Operas

Treatments of gay relationships on network soap operas have always been limited; recently, however, gays and lesbians have created their own soap operas to tell the convoluted stories of lesbian and gay entanglements.

arts >> Overview:  American Television, Talk Shows

For glbt people, television talk shows have been both promising and problematic; they have brought glbt issues to public awareness, but until recently they have also presented glbt people as stereotypes and freaks.

arts >> Overview:  Canadian Television

The portrayal of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people in English Canadian television programming has been sporadic, but the advent of PrideVision promises to increase the number of shows developed for a glbtq audience.

arts >> Overview:  Censorship in the Arts

Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.

arts >> Ball, Alan

Award-winning screenwriter, director, and producer Alan Ball, whose work frequently features glbtq characters, has had great success in both film and television.

arts >> Barclay, Paris 

Award-winning television director Paris Barclay is also an activist for glbtq rights, including marriage equality and the opportunity to adopt children as he and his husband have done.

arts >> Baxter, Meredith

Since coming out in 2009, actress Meredith Baxter, best known for her starring role in the ABC situation comedy Family Ties (1982-1989), has become a spokesperson for glbtq rights.

arts >> Bearse, Amanda

One of the first primetime television actors to come out publicly as a gay person, Amanda Bearse has developed a second career as a film and television director and has become an outspoken advocate of gay visibility.

arts >> Berlanti, Greg

Writer-director-producer Greg Berlanti has had a prolific career in television, successfully incorporating glbtq characters and storylines into prime time shows.

arts >> Butler, Dan

Actor Dan Butler, best known for his portrayal of "Bulldog" Briscoe on the television comedy Frasier, not only came out as a gay man, but also authored and starred in the gay-themed play The Only Worse Thing You Could Have Told Me.

arts >> Carter, Nell

A dynamic performer on stage, television, film, and record, Nell Carter built a successful and versatile show business career; only after her death was her longtime relationship with a woman revealed to the public.

arts >> Coco, James

Quick-witted, roly-poly, sad-eyed clown James Coco proved one of the most versatile and successful American stage, film, and television actors from the late-1960s through the mid-1980s.

arts >> DeGeneres, Ellen

No matter how great her contribution to the world of comedy, Ellen DeGeneres will probably be best remembered as the first lesbian to star as a lesbian on her own network television show.

arts >> De Rossi, Portia

Portia de Rossi moved almost effortlessly from a teen modeling career to acting roles in film and television; her widely publicized relationship with Ellen DeGeneres has made her one of the best known lesbians in American pop culture.

arts >> Flowers, Wayland

From the 1960s until his death in the 1988, puppeteer Wayland Flowers presented to mainstream television audiences a campy gay point of view mediated through his puppet "Madame," who eventually eclipsed him in fame.

social sciences >> Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is a watchdog group dedicated to promoting accurate representations of the glbtq community in the media.

arts >> Gilbert, Sara

Actress Sara Gilbert, who became a favorite with lesbian audiences for her portrayal of tomboy Darlene on the long-running television series Roseanne, came out publicly as a lesbian in 2004.

social sciences >> Gingrich-Jones, Candace

Candace Gingrich-Jones, the half-sister of former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, serves as a spokesperson and Senior Youth Outreach Manager for the Human Rights Campaign.

arts >> Harris, Neil Patrick

Child actor Neil Patrick Harris has made a successful transition to mature roles, showcasing his singing and dancing abilities along the way; he has also spoken out on behalf of glbtq causes.

arts >> Harris, Sam

Multi-talented Sam Harris is best known as a singer and actor; since coming out publicly in 1999, he has lent his voice to the cause of glbtq rights.

arts >> Hayes, Sean

Actor Sean Hayes gained renown and awards for his role as a gay character on the hit comedy series Will & Grace, but did not come out publicly as a gay man until 2010.

literature >> Holleran, Andrew

The pseudonymous Andrew Holleran has placed his homosexuality at the center of his commercially and critically successful novels.

arts >> Keenan, Joe

Best known for his work as a writer and producer for the hit television show Frasier, Joe Keenan is also the author of richly comic gay-themed novels.

arts >> King, Michael Patrick

Writer, director, and producer Michael Patrick King has been creatively involved in a number of ground-breaking television series featuring gay themes and strong women.

arts >> Kuehl, Sheila James

Once best known as a youthful actor, Sheila James Kuehl is now a respected California state legislator and a vigorous advocate for glbtq rights.

arts >> Kulp, Nancy

Accomplished character actress Nany Kulp, who specialized in playing prim, straight-laced spinsters, publicly acknowledged her lesbianism only towards the end of her life.

arts >> Leifer, Carol

Comedian, writer, actor, and producer Carol Leifer never anticipated that after the age of forty she would find personal fulfillment by recognizing her lesbianism, becoming a mother, and standing up for glbtq rights.

arts >> Lynch, Jane

Out lesbian actress Jane Lynch has forged a successful career on television, in movies, and on the stage, including some memorable turns portraying lesbian characters.

arts >> Lynde, Paul

American comedian Paul Lynde, most famous for being the crucial "center square" on the 1970s television game show Hollywood Squares, created a campy bitch comic image but was fiercely closeted.

arts >> Mapa, Alec

Alec Mapa has enjoyed success as an actor and on the comedy circuit. He is also an activist for glbtq rights.

literature >> Maupin, Armistead

A sharp social critic, novelist Armistead Maupin places his gay characters within a large framework of humanity, creating a social history of San Francisco during the tumultuous decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

arts >> Moorehead, Agnes

Although she was not publicly out as a homosexual, actress Agnes Moorehead became a lesbian icon by virtue of her choice of roles during a long and distinguished career.

arts >> Nixon, Cynthia

Award-winning actress Cynthia Nixon recently acknowledged publicly that she is bisexual and in a loving relationship with a woman.

arts >> Pierce, David Hyde

Award-winning actor David Hyde Pierce, best known for his comic performance on the long-running hit comedy television series Frasier, belatedly acknowledged his homosexuality in 2007.

arts >> Reilly, Charles Nelson

Funnyman Charles Nelson Reilly gained fame during the 1970s as a regular guest on game shows and celebrity talk shows, but he was also an accomplished character actor, director, and teacher.

arts >> Sargent, Dick

Most widely remembered as "the second Darrin" on the television sitcom Bewitched, actor Dick Sargent remained closeted for most of his career, but came out in 1991 and embraced gay activism as a "new mission in life."

arts >> Shores, Del

Playwright and screenwriter Del Shores explores the intersection of Southern culture and glbtq culture with empathy and humor; he has also been active in championing equal rights.

arts >> Star, Darren

Responsible for such pop culture touchstones as Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place, and Sex and the City, writer-director-producer Darren Star has had a prolific career in television.

arts >> Stiers, David Ogden

Best known to television viewers for his role as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on the series M*A*S*H, David Ogden Stiers has had a long and successful career.

arts >> Sykes, Wanda

Actress and comedian Wanda Sykes, who has never been shy about addressing sensitive or controversial issues on stage, has also become a spirited advocate for glbtq rights.

arts >> Vilanch, Bruce

Comedy writer and performer Bruce Vilanch has appeared on stage, television, and film and is a tireless proponent of glbtq causes.

arts >> Zadan, Craig (b. 1949), and Neil Meron (b. 1955)

Prolific film, television, and stage producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have created a diverse body of work, including a number of theatrical films and television features with glbtq themes.


Bierly, Mandi. "Glee Sex Talk: Let's Hear It for Burt Hummel! (And How Did Your Sex Education Compare?)." Entertainment Weekly (March 9, 2011):

Buxton, Rodney. "Sexual Orientation and Television." The Museum of Broadcast Communications website.

Chambers, Samuel A. The Queer Politics of Television. London: I. B. Tauris, 2009.

Cochrane, Kira. "G2: Glad to be Glee: The Musical Comedy that Inspired Show Choirs and Flash Mobs Around the World Returns to TV Next Week." The Guardian (London) (January 7, 2011): Features section: 14.

Davis, Stephen. "Pre- and Post-Stonewall Male Imagery." Stonewall and Beyond: Lesbian and Gay Culture. Columbia University Libraries Exhibition Held from May 25 to September 17, 1994. New York: Columbia University Libraries, 1995:

Deggans, Eric. "Glee Fills Role as Pop Culture Icon as Ugly Betty Ends." The St. Petersburg Times/ (April 11, 2010): ugly-betty-ends/1086320.

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Frutkin, Alan James. "Will Power." Mediaweek 10 (September 11, 2000): 38-40.

Gonzalez, Sandra. "Glee: Chris Colfer 'Absolutely' Expects Opposition to Sex-Themed Episode." Entertainment Weekly (November 6, 2011): opposition-to-sex-themed-episode/.

Goodridge, Mike. "Believe the Hype." The Advocate 823 (October 24, 2000): 89.

_____. "Relatively Revolutionary: A Sitcom Featuring a Gay Couple With a Daughter--Shocking, or Just Good Business Sense? Both, Say Producers." The Advocate 900 (14 October 2003): 52-54.

Gross, Larry. "What Is Wrong with This Picture? Lesbian Women and Gay Men on Television." Queer Words, Queer Images: Communication and the Construction of Homosexuality. R. J. Ringer, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1994. 143-156.

Hart, Kylo-Patrick R. "Representing Gay Men on American Television." The Journal of Men's Studies 9.1 (2000): 59-79.

Holleran, Andrew. "The Alpha Queen." The Gay and Lesbian Review 7.3 (2000): 65-66.

Jensen, Michael. "Meet the Men Playing Modern Family's Gay Dads." AfterElton (September 22, 2009):

Joyrich, Lynne. "Epistemology of the Console." Critical Inquiry 27 (2001): 439-467.

Kaye, Lori. "Where Are the Funny Girls?" The Advocate 828 (November 21, 2000): 85-89.

Kregloe, Karman. "Ugly Betty is Freaking Fabulous (and Gay). AfterElton (March 23, 2007):

Logan, Michael. "Secrets of Desperate Housewives' New Gay Neighbors Revealed!" TV Guide (October 19, 2007): 41771.aspx.

McCormick, Patrick. "Out of the Closet and into Your Living Room." U. S. Catholic 63.4 (1998): 45-49.

Maupin, Armistead. "A Line That Commercial TV Won't Cross." The New York Times (January 9, 1994), sec. 2: 29.

Netzhammer, Emile C. and Scott A. Shamp. "Guilt By Association: Homosexuality and AIDS on Prime-Time Television." Queer Words, Queer Images: Communication and the Construction of Homosexuality. R. J. Ringer, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1994. 91-106.

Poniewozik, James. "Modern Family Watch: Lips Service." Time Entertainment(September 30, 2010):

Voss, Brandon. "The Gay Divorcee." (June 15, 2011):

_____. "Better Off Out." ( April 21, 2009):

Walters, Suzanna Danuta. All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Warn, Sarah. "Desperate Housewives Outs Gay Teen with a Kiss." AfterElton (February 21, 2005):

Wong, Curtis M. "Michael Urie on The Cherry Orchard, Gay Characters on TV after Ugly Betty, and Directing Films." The Huffington Post (November 26, 2011):

Zeman, Ned. "'Bed, Burbs, and Beyond." Vanity Fair 537 (2005): 197-205, 264-6.


    Citation Information
    Author: Tipton, Nathan G.  
    Entry Title: American Television, Situation Comedies  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 28, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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