Gay TV Scribes Prove Life Really Is Golden 

Since sharpening their comedic teeth on shows like The Golden Girls and Roseanne, Stan Zimmerman and Jim Berg have gone on to long, successful careers in Hollywood. But this season their dream of finally creating their own sitcom came true thanks to Mad TV's Nicole Sullivan, Tisha Campbell-Martin, and a little show called Rita Rocks.



Lauren Hutton aside, it’s hard to deny that some
of the most riveting and entertaining portrayals of
women on television have come from gay male
writers. Do you find it more comfortable to write
for female voices? Do you ever run into problems trying
to portray women’s issues on TV?

Berg: We never run into problems. We think
it’s a natural fit because, in some ways, both of us
have been oppressed, so we know what it’s like
to be marginalized by the white male power structure.
As young gay boys, the people that we related to more were
the women in our lives: our sisters, our mothers, our
grandmothers, our teachers. It’s who we
listened to, it’s who we appreciated. We were a
little scared of our dads.

Zimmerman: Women feel more comfortable talking
to us because we weren’t threatening in a sexual way.
I think a lot of women are more open to us with their
feelings than they’d be with a straight guy. So
we would always, as writers, want to listen to what
people say, and address their problems in our stories. We
have so many female friends who are moms now, who say
to us, “Were you in my house? How did you know
this is what I was thinking and feeling?”

Berg: And as gay men, you know, we’re not
afraid to deal with the emotions that women are usually
relegated to dealing with but men aren’t. We
have the best of both worlds. Growing up, you just
always saw men on the screen, and women weren’t
portrayed as much as [being] fully rounded
figures. So that was a niche for us to fill. And it
worked. On Golden Girls it was a dream come
true, especially with the quality of those actresses. To see
their professionalism, and hear them say a line that you
wrote -- and then to hear the audience respond?

Zimmerman: One line out of Bea Arthur’s mouth
and we were addicted. It was all we ever wanted to do.

There are a number of successful writers who came
out of Golden Girls, and more specifically,
it seems to have fostered the careers of more than a few
queer television writers. What was it like working
in that environment?

Berg: At the end of the day, it was a job. It
wasn’t, like, this huge queerfest. In fact, we were
the only gay people on the show during our time there.

Zimmerman: And Marc Cherry’s been really
great about acknowledging that we were the first writers on
Golden Girls that were gay. People thought that
there were a lot of gay writers on it, but there
weren’t that many.

Berg: This was the '80s, and in the television
industry it wasn’t truly encouraged to be open with
your sexuality. So it all got channeled through our
writing, onto the show. But day to day in the
writer’s room -- it wasn’t all that much fun.
It’s a lot of pressure to get the show out week
after week and be funny. It makes sense that gay
people could excel by writing for those women -- but
by the same token, it wasn’t the White Party.

Zimmerman: Like you even know what the White
Party’s like!

Berg: I was at enough parties! Do you know what
I’m saying, though? When you look at it, it was just
a job. You go to work every day, sit in your office
with other people who are straight and married, and
they talked about their lives, but they really
weren’t -- at that time -- interested in
hearing about your life. We focused it all on the
script, and we had to. At that point we were told by
agencies that we had to bring a woman as our date, as
our beard to any functions that were dealing with the
show. It was just a different time. When we were on
Roseanne, though -- one of the reasons they
liked us is because we were gay. Tom Arnold used to say
“Where’s my gay guys?” and we would go
into his office. We really ran the whole gamut from
“Keep it quiet” to “Don’t shut
up about it!”

Zimmerman: And now, on Rita Rocks, the other
writers can’t stop talking about gay stuff.
We’re like, Can we just write the script,
They’re so curious. On one show we were
off writing the script and we heard that the whole
staff of male, straight writers had a discussion about
who would they sleep with if they were gay, me or Jim?

Tags: television