Reality TV Lesbians Become More Common
After Survivor‘s Ami and Scout became the first lesbians to appear on a network reality show in 2004, lesbians and bisexual women began appearing everywhere on unscripted television in 2005, and often in leading character roles. One of the most gay-friendly unscripted shows has been America’s Next Top Model (UPN), which featured openly lesbian Ebony in its first season. In 2005 it included Michelle Deighton who came out as bisexual on the air, and openly lesbian Kim Stolz who made it to the top five.
The CBS reality show Big Brother also included an openly lesbian character this year: Ivette Corredero, who despite being one of the least popular contestants, managed to make it to second place, winning $50,000 in the process. On the Fox Apprentice-style cooking reality show Hell’s Kitchen, contestant Jessica Cabo took third place, and achieved a reality show first by kissing her girlfriend on the air.
Finally, on the short-lived Bravo spinoff Queer Eye for the Straight Girl, Honey Labrador became, arguably, the first lesbian to give style advice on television to anyone, straight or gay. Though the show was quickly canceled, it did begin the long trek toward proving that lesbians are not universally fashion-challenged.
Daytime TV Lesbians Become Less Common
In February, popular lesbian character Bianca (Eden Riegel) left ABC’s All My Children with maybe-gay best friend Maggie (Elizabeth Hendrickson) in tow, and daytime television was temporarily lesbian-less for the first time since Bianca came out in 2000.
But it didn’t stay that way for long: in August, NBC’s Passions wrote a coming-out storyline for one of its characters, Simone (Cathy Jeneen Doe), who engaged in a brief if unusually provocative affair with another woman before descending into months of bad-storyline hell that made the days of lesbian-less daytime TV almost preferable.
Cable TV Pushes Boundaries — Sometimes Badly
Though lesbians did become more numerous on broadcast television in 2005, truly groundbreaking portrayals of lesbians and bisexual women were only seen on pay cable. On Showtime, Queer as Folk ended its five-year run, marking the end of half a decade of dyke drama in the form of lesbian mommies Melanie and Lindsay. The couple never proved to be as three-dimensional as the gay men on the show and were often saddled with the stereotypical lesbian motherhood storyline, but they also were the first lesbians on television allowed to have both careers and romantic relationships.
The L Word, in its second season, also continued to push the boundaries of what has been seen on television. Though it raised viewers’ hackles by ineptly engaging with a transgender storyline, allowing a straight male character to invade Shane and Jenny’s household with video cameras, and abandoning a commitment to representing bisexual woman, overall The L Word has done more than any other television program in history to humanize lesbians and bisexual woman.
Despite its flaws, The L Word is still the only place viewers can go to see lesbians living fully three-dimensional lives, complete with the good, the bad and the ugly.
HBO has also done its share for lesbian visibility in 2005, though its results are decidedly more mixed. The movie Lackawanna Blues included one of the few African-American lesbians on television in 2005, and Rome included a problematic same-sex relationship between two women that eventually ended in incest. And although The Wire didn’t actually air in 2005 (it’s on hiatus until 2006) Sonja Sohn will be returning as openly lesbian African/Korean American cop, Detective Shakima Greggs.
On cable channel F/X, a basic cable channel that has aped its pay cable competitors by producing edgy shows like Rescue Me, lesbians and bisexual women were represented in two shows, Nip/Tuck and Starved.
On Nip/Tuck, Roma Maffia played openly lesbian Dr. Liz Cruz, though her character has not actually had a lesbian romance on the show despite numerous spoilers that pointed to that possibility during the current season.
On Starved, Laura Benanti played a bisexual anorexic singer-songwriter, a strange and potentially disturbing combination that, thankfully, was canned when the show was quickly canceled.
Looking to the Future
If 2005 was any guide, 2006 should be a promising year for lesbians and bisexual women on television. The premiere of three gay-centered cable channels, Logo, here! and Q Television, indicates that this country is more open than ever before to programming that includes gay characters. Though the majority of programming on the gay cable channels is about gay men, nonetheless they do attempt to be inclusive of lesbians, and hopefully in the future the programming mix will become more balanced.
Cable television has also continued to become more gay-friendly as more foreign programs are aired in the U.S. The premiere of U.K. drama Bad Girls on BBC America, the continued showing of queer-inclusive Canadian teen show Degrassi: The Next Generation on The N, and the BBC America showing of the made-for-TV movie Fingersmith are all signs of progress.
There are not enough lesbians on scripted daytime or primetime broadcast television, however; in fact, the numbers are lower than they’ve been in years. But the fact that one of the few sitcoms to survive the fall 2005 television season is Out of Practice is a positive sign. Let’s hope that Paula Marshall’s character, lesbian ER doctor Regina, doesn’t go the way of Dr. Kerry Weaver on ER–in other words, that Regina gets to go out on some dates once in a while like her heterosexual brothers.
There were some unfortunate moments in the representation of lesbians and bisexual women on TV in 2005 — including numerous lesbian killers on network procedural crime dramas like CSI and Law and Order, the Wife Swap episode in which a conservative Christian mom accused a lesbian mom of being a sexual predator, and the WB reality show Starlet in which the contestants were forced to reenact the Fastlane hot tub scene.
But despite this and the other challenges that remain, overall, 2005 was a good year for lesbians on TV.