2009 Year in Review: Television

 
 

In 2009, the number of leading lesbian characters on primetime broadcast TV doubled — from one to two.

Out of the estimated 600 lead and supporting characters on network TV, seven of them of are lesbian or bisexual. And of those seven, five of them kissed women last year. And of those five, three of them made out during Sweeps.

Things looked bleak at the beginning of the year, but with the growing trend of lesbian brides getting gunned down or cheating on their wedding days, and the continued trend of bisexual characters only expressing their same-sex attraction during Sweeps, and the loss of Showtime’s lesbian drama The L Word, we’re ending the year on a downward spiral in terms of lesbian visibility.

SCRIPTED TELEVISION: BROADCAST

Primetime

The most surprising story in 2009 was the relationship between Callie Torres (played by Sara Ramirez) and Arizona Robbins (played by Jessica Capshaw) on Grey’s Anatomy.

When Grey’s fired Callie’s original lesbian love interest, Eric Hahn (played by Brooke Smith), in 2008, we expected Callie to return to the waiting arms of one of Seattle Grace’s male doctors. Presumably, so did the Grey’s writing team. They signed Capshaw on for three episodes in an apparent attempt to appease the LGBT community. However, Arizona Robbins was so well-liked by the audience, and had such good chemistry with Callie, that they offered Capshaw a recurring role, making her the the only lesbian primetime series regular when the Fall 2009 TV season started.

Arizona Robbins entered Seattle Grace as an unapologetic lesbian who had been sure of her sexuality since she was a teenager. She told Callie that she had a poster of Cindy Crawford on her wall when she was growing up, and she wasn’t just “looking at her mole.”

Callie and Arizona were never treated with a sense of “otherness” because they were in a lesbian relationship, and unlike Callie’s relationship with Erica Hahn, there was nothing titillating about her attraction to Arizona. That is, it wasn’t played up for the benefit of male surgeons like Mark Sloane. In fact, after Callie and Arizona began dating, their relationship became the healthiest one on Grey’s Anatomy, with both women learning how to love and support one another as they navigated their chaotic careers.

At the annual GLSEN awards, Ramirez said of her character’s relationship:

What we’re going to see this season with Callie is a healthy relationship — wow! Yes, it’s a drama and you’ve got to have conflict. That’s what I love about it. Regardless of who’s in the relationship, you’re seeing those universal conflicts that happen in a relationship, whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual or whatever it is. People issues.

Capshaw echoed that sentiment: “This season has been about cementing a very mature and grounded relationship and taking it forward.”

The only time the lesbian aspect of Callie and Arizona’s relationship came into focus was when Callie’s father voiced his disapproval and cut off Callie’s trust fund. He returned with the family priest later in the season, and for every Bible verse he used to attack Callie, she was ready with an excerpt on kindness and love.

The message from Callie was “You cannot pray away the gay.” While the message from Arizona was “She is still who you raised her to be.”

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