The television landscape has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. As television became more and more open to exploring LGBT characters and storylines, people across the country were introduced to new friends on their screens—people that they could connect with—and hearts started changing. We can certainly tip our hats to television programming that challenged perceptions and began breaking down barriers.
Throughout the years, NBC has featured characters and shows that we could relate to as an LGBT audience. After a lifetime of representation as nothing more than a punch line, the LGBT audience welcomed new NBC shows like Friends that represented a major shift.
When CJ Lamb (Amanda Donohoe) kissed fellow lawyer Abby Perkins (Michele Greene) in a 1991 episode of the popular series LA Law, it sent shockwaves through the television viewing audience. For LGBT viewers, it was an acknowledgement of their existence. Even through the initial backlash among some conservative viewers, that episode remains a major moment for lesbian and bi women in entertainment.
NBC’s mega hit Friends lives on in reruns as one of the world’s most beloved and popular sitcoms. Rachel, Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Joey and Chandler became like family to viewers and the show never shied away from dealing with real life situations. Ross’s ex-wife Carol leaves him when she realizes she is a lesbian, but working together as co-parents, Carol and Ross remained a big part of each other’s lives. When Carol’s girlfriend Susan is introduced into this ongoing storyline, Carol and Ross experience the same sort of tension that all exes and new partners share, with bitingly funny results.
Friends even celebrated the first same sex television marriage between Carol and Susan in the episode “The One with the Lesbian Wedding” long before gay marriage became legal in most states. And just as many LGBT people have, Carol faced rejection from her family because of the union, so it was Ross who stepped up at the wedding to give her away. Originally airing in 1996, many feel this episode was a major moment in the push for LGBT marriage equality.
NBC’s popular medical drama ER ran for an impressive 15 years, and featured LGBT characters throughout its run. There was a lot of impact when the hard-nosed, no nonsense Dr. Kerry Weaver (played by Laura Innes) found herself falling in love with another woman. Her romance with Dr. Kim Legaspi (Elizabeth Mitchell) showed a softer side of Kerry, and allowed her to be seen as vulnerable. ER also tackled the issue of coming out in the workplace, which Kerry did in response to a homophobic superior. Even though her love affair with Dr. Legsaspi didn’t last, Kerry Weaver found love again with firefighter Sandy Lopez (Lisa Vidal). The two had a child together, and when Sandy died from injuries sustained in a fire, Kerry was forced to battle Sandy’s family for custody of their child. ER handled this storyline with sensitivity and seriousness, and opened the discussion on an important issue of concern for all non-biological same-sex parents.
The comedy Will and Grace is rightfully credited with breaking serious ground with gay characters. Not only did the sitcom feature two out gay male leading characters, Will (Eric McCormack) and Jack (Sean Hayes), but it also highlighted Karen Walker (Megan Mullaly) who identified in the series as bisexual. The series also purposefully featured guest stars who had already come out publicly, including Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell. Will and Grace helped make it possible for viewers to soften their preconceived notions and begin to understand the LGBT community, inspiring a new generation of LGBTs to be out and proud.
In the last few years, NBC has continued to feature LGBT characters in their primetime shows. Heroes had its biggest hero explore a growing attraction to her female roommate. Law and Order SVU continues to feature LGBT characters and storylines. The New Normal, by out writers Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler, featured two gay leading characters who were trying to start a family. Hannibal features Margot (Katharine Isabelle), a reoccurring lesbian character as an integral part in the series.
In daytime syndication, The Ellen DeGeneres Show brings the lovable Ellen DeGeneres into homes across the country. Now in its twelfth season, Ellen is a favorite with viewers of a broad demographic. DeGeneres encourages the world to get up and dance, and is an accepted and well-respected advocate and activist for the LGBT community.
With Ellen’s support behind the new series One Big Happy, NBC will again be bringing the lives of LGBT characters to television. Written by the hilarious (and out) Liz Feldman, and starring Elisha Cuthbert, Kelly Brook and Nick Zano, One Big Happy will take a humorous look at some of life’s most beautiful and challenging situations. This story of an unconventional family reflects our changing lives and what it truly means to be a family now.
One Big Happy premieres Tuesday, March 17th at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
This post was sponsored by NBC.