BY Josh Kilmer-Purcell
September 14 2009 8:00 AM ET
Our collective disappointment at the Brokeback Mountain snub will forever taint the Oscars, and since Disney took over Broadway the Tonys seem to cater to the tourist trade. But we’ll always have the Emmys, right? With Neil Patrick Harris hosting the September 20 award show, this year marks the third time an openly gay actor has emceed the ceremony (after Ellen DeGeneres in 2001 and 2005). In fact, as you’ll see here, the Emmys have always been a little gay-friendlier than anybody usually acknowledges.
The made-for-TV-movie Sidney Shorr: A Girl’s Best Friend was one of prime time’s first depictions of a gay man (and, of course, his fag hag), garnering an Emmy nomination for outstanding writing in 1982. Its sitcom adaptation, Love, Sidney, later earned two Emmy nods. Neither version bagged a trophy, but lead actor Tony Randall deserved an honorary Emmy as the gayest-acting straight man in Hollywood history.
Harvey Fierstein was nominated for an Emmy for his 1992 guest appearance on Cheers. He played a potential love interest for Rebecca Howe, Kirstie Alley’s character, who mistakenly believed he was straight. Nowadays Kirstie Alley is often mistaken for Harvey Fierstein.
The first recurring lesbian character on television was played by Gail Strickland on the short-lived late-’80s medical drama Heartbeat. Her no-nonsense nurse character paved the way for no-nonsense lez cops on Emmy-winning NYPD Blue, no-nonsense lez lawyers on Emmy-winning L.A. Law, and no-nonsense lez doctors on Emmy-winning ER.
While Vanessa Redgrave and Anne Heche both starred in the lesbian movie If These Walls Could Talk 2, only Redgrave went on to win an Emmy. Some people are just better than others at acting like a lesbian.
Prayers for Bobby, a Lifetime original movie based on the true story of the suicide of young gay man Bobby Griffith, is nominated for two Emmy awards this year. One of its costars, Dan Butler, was one of the first openly gay actors on a hit series—playing the rabidly heterosexual Bulldog on the rabidly poofy series Frasier.
The 1973 PBS documentary series An American Family followed the suburban Loud family’s trials and triumphs, including the coming-out of son Lance, who quickly became a national celebrity. Though it attracted 10 million viewers, the show was overlooked for an Emmy because there wasn’t an appropriate category for reality shows yet. Once again, we were way ahead of our time.
While Ellen often gets the credit for “normalizing” homosexuality on television, Roseanne perhaps did the most to warm up America to homo hilarity. The series, which had multiple Emmy nominations and wins, featured no fewer than seven gay characters over the course of its nine-year run.
Nominated for three best comedy series Emmys, Soap is often cited as the first prime-time sitcom to feature an overtly gay character—Jodie Dallas, played by Billy Crystal. In reality, the first recurring gay sitcom character was on the show The Corner Bar (1972). His name was Peter Panama, and he was—any guesses?—a theater set designer.