As we all know, network television has been a nearly constant source of disappointment to the LGBT community over the years. When a lesbian relationship does make it to the networks, it generally is short-lived, or ends tragically. Today, columnist Page Wiser of the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out that a lesbian kiss on network TV has become the “lesbian kiss of death,” marking an obvious ratings push and a possibly near demise for a series.
Is she right?
The column centers around Susan’s kiss with her boss on the latest Desperate Housewives episode, which StuntDouble examined on Monday: “It started like every other organic, long-term lesbian relationship on television: with liquor and a complete misunderstanding.”
People used to use the phrase “jump the shark” to pinpoint the decline of a television show (in honor of Fonzie water-skiing over sharks on Happy Days), Wiser explains, but these days a show’s demise seems to follow a lesbian kiss: Is it the lesbian kiss of death?
I think most of us can agree that the Callie/Dr. Hahn romance was an obvious attempt to make a splash when ratings slid on Grey’s Anatomy, and really, I had stopped paying attention to the show months before they bi-sexualized Callie. If anything, the romance got me wanting to watch again, but the way Hahn was pulled out of the show made it clear that I stopped for a reason: The characters bugged me, the writing was sloppy and plotlines that used to be creative struck me as desperate. I give it a season more, two tops.
“There’s a big difference when a kiss like that happens naturally, and when it comes off as a blatant ratings grab,” Jon Hein, creator of jumptheshark.com, told Wiser via email. “This Desperate Housewives kiss is a blatant attempt to be ‘controversial’ and get people interested in the show. I think it failed, and gave new meaning to the title of the ABC program.”
I don’t think the lesbian kisses are to blame for a show’s end, it’s their timing.
If a compelling lesbian relationship were actually established early on, or at least when a show was still popular, would it be a kiss of death? If viewers cared about the characters beforehand, if the writing was better, if the rest of the show was not completely losing ground — would it make a difference at all? Until this actually happens, it’s hard to say.
Wiser lists some shows where a lesbian kiss was followed by cancellation, some up to three seasons after the kiss. I highly doubt the “jump the shark” moment comes that early, but in some cases she has a point: Misha Barton’s kiss with Olivia Wilde on The O.C.. came toward the end of the road for that show — but that may have been the whole killing off Marissa thing too. Courtney Cox’s show Dirt had a hard time getting viewers in the first place, so I don’t know if the Cox/Aniston kiss made much of a difference.
People stop watching a show when its time is up. It’s sad that some of these shows even make it long enough for a “jump the shark” moment when so many amazing shows (Veronica Mars, Arrested Development) are prematurely canceled. In most cases, it’s obvious that a lesbian kiss has been placed in a show to attract more viewers. It generally follows the sexist and homophobic notion that “two babes making out is totally hot,” while two men kissing is rarely, if ever, played up in an attempt to boost ratings.
While it is nice to see two ladies together on primetime once in awhile, the motive by TV execs is sometimes insulting and shows how little the LGBT community is valued by the mainstream.
Do you think the lesbian kiss has become a final attempt to boost ratings in primetime?