“Out of Practice” Features Leading Lesbian Character

The cast of Out of Order (Regina on the left)

Another lesbian doctor is coming to TV, but unlike ER‘s Dr. Weaver, this one will make you laugh.

The cast of the new sitcom Out of Practice, led by Stockard Channing (The West Wing, The Laramie Project, The Truth About Jane) and Henry Winkler (Arrested Development, Happy Days), includes a lesbian ER doctor, played by Paula Marshall (Cheaper by the Dozen, Veronica Mars). Although CBS has yet to show more than a few clips to the press, sources who’ve seen the pilot tell us she’s one of the best lesbian characters they’ve seen on a network television show in a long time.

Debuting in September 2005 on CBS, Out of Practice is a sitcom told from the point of view of the family’s sole non-medical doctor, a psychologist specializing in marriage counseling who finds his own marriage unexpectedly on the rocks. Here’s the official description of the premise:

Ben’s (Christopher Gorham) family has never considered him a real doctor. He’s just a psychologist, and they are all real doctors. Older brother Oliver (Ty Burrell) is a successful plastic surgeon, sister Regina (Paula Marshall) is an ER-action junkie, Mom (Stockard Channing) is a prominent surgeon whose career eclipsed Dad’s long before their divorce, and Dad (Henry Winkler) is dating his receptionist. But all the real docs look as though they could learn a thing or two from Ben. From the Emmy®-winning team behind the legendary “Frasier” comes the story of a family of physicians who each need a bit more practice and the not-so-“real” doctor whose professional advice each of them just may end up seeking.

According to our sources, Regina’s lesbianism is woven easily and fairly matter-of-factly into the family dynamics introduced in the pilot (like in one scene where Regina teases her brother that she’s slept with more women than he has). Regina herself is a very refreshing character: smart, funny, and past the whole coming-out angst. And the focus on her career and family will be a welcome reprieve from the the endless parade of motherhood-focused storylines most TV lesbians are saddled with these days.

Paula Marshall plays lesbian ER doc Regina BarnesRegina will be also be one of the few lesbian characters ever to be a series regular on an American sitcom. Prominent lesbian characters on network television have tended to be confined primarily to dramas, like Dark Angel, Once and Again, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and ER. When sitcoms feature queer characters, they’re usually gay men or bisexual women, the latter cropping up occasionally in the last few years, on sitcoms like That 80’s Show, Coupling, and Two and a Half Men. There have been a few recurring or supporting lesbian sitcom characters, like the lesbian couple on Friends, or Roseanne’s mother on Roseanne. But Ellen DeGeneres’s openly gay characters on the ABC sitcom Ellen, and then the short-lived CBS sitcom The Ellen Show, have been the only leading lesbian sitcom characters ever on TV–until now.

And since the other two pilots in development with leading or supporting lesbian characters did not get picked up, Regina is also shaping up to be one of the only lesbian characters on network TV next season, period.

Regina will face the same limitations all sitcom characters do: she’s one character among five on a thirty-minute show (twenty without commercials) in which the principal objective is to make the audience laugh. So even if it’s given maximum attention by the writers, Regina’s character development across the sitcom’s entire first season is likely to be amount to less than what you’d get from a single episode of The L Word.

She’s also single (like the rest of the family), and maintains in the pilot that she wants to remain that way, which means her storyline may stay focused primarily on her family interactions and her career, rather than her love life.

Nonetheless, another funny lesbian character in America’s living room every week is long overdue–and to both break down stereotypes of lesbians, and give lesbian viewers a sitcom character to identify with, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

Out of Practice debuts on Monday, September 19th on CBS;

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