Most members of the panel already have reputations for forwarding the cause of GLBT visibility. Suzanne Westenhoefer was one of the first openly gay comics to perform gay material before straight audiences in the conventional club circuit. And say what you will about her appearance on The Sally Jesse Raphael Show in January of 1991 (in the episode â€œLesbians Who Don't Look Like Lesbiansâ€) but it broke stereotypes and formally introduced straight America to the concept of the Femme Lesbian.
For seven years Frank DeCaro's sassy movie reviews brought a decidedly gay sensibility to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and his Newsday column (â€œFrank's Placeâ€) was one of the first by an openly gay writer to regularly appear in a mainstream newspaper. And even the stoic Billy Bean made a splash in 1999 when he became the second former major league player ever to publicly come out as gay.
Each show typically includes the performance of one of the contestant's secrets. This is not terribly controversial when it involves hula-hooping or lizard training, but when the secret is â€œI can break pencils with my butt cheeks,â€ the opportunity for ribald gay humor is undeniable. When said contestant's posterior secret is revealed, Jermaine Taylor quips, â€œSo you have a really tight ass?â€ to which DeCaro retorts, â€œJermaine! He didn't say he could sharpen the pencils!â€
Watching DeCaro clutch invisible pearls and fan himself while the contestant then breaks a ruler with his wood-shattering glutes is enough to make all sorts of people shriek, â€œYou Can't Do That on Television!â€ But, luckily, you can do that television. Particularly when the program in question is not being marketed specifically as a â€œgayâ€ show.
Secret Producer Burt Dubrow recently said of the show to journalist Herndon Davis, â€œIt is not a gay anythingâ€¦.it's not a heterosexual anything. This is not something that we talk about or find overly significant. We felt we'd turn the volume up a bit. It's not an integral part of the show. It's never even brought up. It's there and it's not there. Our feeling is that there was no reason to put a label on itâ€
Even if it's not promoted as the next big gay thing, the official Secret website does play up the gayness of the panelists. All but Taylor's bio openly states that the panelists are gay, and the even the gimmick of revealing some of the panelists' own secrets is played for gay laughs.
DeCaro's bio states that he once had a secret crush on Partridge Family crooner David Cassidy and that he aspires to play Bat Girl on the big screen. Westenhoeferâ€˜s biographical statement professes her obsession with actress Susan Hayward and pointedly states that Westenhoefer has a â€œtongue of many talents. She can tie a cherry stem knot and touch her nose.â€ You do the math.
There is ample television precedent of edgy gay humor getting big laughs without doing any damage to the heterosexual status quo–think Paul Lynde on the Hollywood Squares. But Lynde wasn't out, and the swinging 1970s was decidedly more gay-friendly than Bush-era America.
It's a clever twist on the original I've Got a Secret to have un-closeted gay celebrities try to expose the not-so-crucial â€œsecretsâ€ of ordinary contestants. And luckily for the GSN, the show will probably appeal to those viewers who don't appreciate the irony just as much as it appeals to those who do.
Get more information about I've Got A Secret
(premiering on April 17 at 11:30 pm) at the GSN official website.