Outed in prime time
When teen heartthrob Chad Allen, who plays Jane Seymour’s adopted son on the hit CBS drama Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, showed up kissing another man in the October 1 issue of the Globe, his future as an actor came sharply into focus. Although several prime-time performers have come out of the closet in recent years, no actor on a “family values” show has ever revealed his or her homosexuality. And the prospects for such an actor seem far less secure than for those who appear on programs geared primarily for adults.
“The middle-American audience that Hollywood needs to attract is increasingly repulsed by these actors,” says Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, a New York City–based conservative watchdog organization. “But a family-oriented program like Dr. Quinn would suffer more from publicity that a principal actor is gay than would a program like NYPD Blue. The audience for Dr. Quinn presumably enjoys the show because it reflects the moral and family values they share. If an actor flaunts or publicizes an off-screen lifestyle that is totally contradictory to his on-screen persona, that could detract from the believability of his on-screen character and completely turn off some viewers.”
At the same time, others who monitor the television industry believe that homosexual revelations won’t hamper either an actor’s career or the success of a show such as Dr. Quinn. “General managers at most television stations would rather not let something like [these photos] disrupt their program schedule,” says Garnett Losak, vice president of Blair Television, which represents more than 130 stations to national advertisers. “However, in markets where right-wing organizations have more influence on the way advertisers buy spot time, general managers who start to see a problem may feel that they need to take action.”
That action, according to MediaWeek columnist Betsy Sharkey, might be as simple as writing Allen out of the show. “Characters are written in and written out all the time,” she says. “It would probably be fairly easy to ask writers to re-cast or change someone’s role and the amount of screen time they have.”
Still, an actor’s private life is an issue that even Peters admits isn’t necessarily relevant to a show’s credibility. “The real-life misbehavior of all too many actors is a well-known, sordid side of Hollywood,” he says. “But many of these actors have also played believably in roles that promote what is good.”
What’s more, Sharkey points out, when an actor isn’t gay, we tend to overlook his or her off-screen behavior. “If you took all the heterosexual actors on Dr. Quinn,” she says, “and tracked how many partners they’ve had or how they’ve lived their lives, that seems not to make a difference.”
What might make the biggest difference for Allen is that Dr. Quinn is distributed to television stations by MTM Entertainment, Mary Tyler Moore’s former production company which was purchased in 1992 by Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson’s International Family Entertainment. Given that information, Allen’s departure from the program seems far less improbable. And if that happens, he may have no grounds for recrimination.
"Morals clauses are common in Hollywood,” says entertainment attorney Pierce O’Donnell. “For example, Disney has a standard clause in its movie and television production contracts that says they can cancel a project if their view is that the material is contrary to Disney’s standards or values. It’s very vague and amorphous, so if a studio were going to move against somebody, they might purport to proceed under that morals clause.”
So where does this leave Chad Allen? Will he brush off the Globe’s photos or confirm the tabloid report? As of press time the young TV star is said to be in meetings with CBS to discuss possible solutions. His manager would provide only the following: “No comment.”