Why does TV welcome out stars more than film?


Quick, name five out TV stars. Now name five out movie stars. No, not TV stars who sometimes moonlight in movies, but legit, marquee, top-of-the-poster names who are out. That first group came a lot faster, didn’t it? With former Heroes star Zachary Quinto‘s coming out over the weekend, the number of out lesbian, gay and bisexual TV actors and personalities continues to grow, yet the number of out movie actors remains sadly low.

The Boston Globe recently puzzled over this dichotomy of outness in the two mediums, wondering aloud why TV seems to be a more welcoming place for openly LGBT stars than the silver screen. As the article says:

There certainly is a growing indifference about seeing openly gay actors in this country, but only on the small screen. In the movies, Hollywood still operates under a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, with rumors of closeted stars hiring PR agents to construct straight hookups for them in the tabloids. Television, on the other hand, has become a far more frank environment, a place where openly gay actors are finding lots of work — and not just playing gay characters.

Of course, it’s not all cut and dry. Many stars these days cross back and forth between the two mediums, Quinto included. Others out lesbian or bisexual TV and movie stars include Amber Heard, Evan Rachel Wood and Cherry Jones.

But switch back to primarily TV personalities and you find the list of out stars grows exponentially with names like Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Jane Lynch, Rachel Maddow, Rosie O’Donnell, Sara Gilbert, Anna Paquin, Wanda Sykes, Sarah Paulson, Cynthia Nixon, Heather Peace, Linda Hunt, Jasika Nicole, Kirsten Vangsness, Heather Matarazzo and Clementine Ford, just to name a few.

The list for out gay and bisexual men on TV is much longer, too. Think Neil Patrick Harris, Chris Colfer, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, John Barrowman, Alan Cumming, Cheyenne Jackson and Sean Maher, among others.

So why, then, does it appear to be more acceptable to be out on TV than in film? Some of this is probably economics. It costs more to get a major motion picture produced than a TV pilot. So the risk on TV is lower. And, as the Boston Globe piece points out, TV is “a more flexible testing ground … there are more shows in production than movies, more roles available.”

The paper also hypothesizes that it’s a pocketbook issue for viewers as well. People don’t directly pay for each TV show, like they do for each movie. So while they might not shell out 10-plus bucks to go see Ellen on the big screen playing a part, they’ll happily click on the TV to watch her every day. I guess that makes sense, but in a way not. I spend way more each year on my cable bill than I do on movies, even if you add in the ridiculous cost of concessions.

The other difference though is that TV shows tend to have larger ensembles. So while there might not be too many lead actors on shows who are out, there are castmates who are out. With movies, there tend to be one or two major stars and then a series of much smaller periphery characters who we get to know to lessening degrees.

Though, ultimately, the Boston Globe concludes that TV’s acceptance of LGBT actors and personalities over film is more about the fundamental differences in the mediums than anything else. Whereas film tries to be larger than life, TV is more true to life. As the piece says:

The reason TV has opened its doors to gay actors also transcends these important business aspects. The massive world of TV is dense with real images of life as it is lived; it doesn’t traffic as steadily in iconography as the movies. If movies are dreams, TV is more like a stream of consciousness stretching out over time.

Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome new trend. And as more and more actors come out on the small screen, one has to hope that – even if ever so slowly – more will follow suit onto the big screen. Movies or TV, acting is acting. It’s all about making the make believe seem real. Knowing an actor is gay or not doesn’t change the fact that she or he is just playing a part – all actors are.

So why do you think TV actors and personalities are more prone to come out that movie stars? And do you see that changing anything soon? I sure hope so.

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