Productions on Fire Island are no easy feat. And feeding a gaggle of gay men just adds to the flames. But nothing can keep a good sitcom down. Half-Share cocreator Sean Hanley chats with The Advocate about gay mainstreaming, the challanges of scriptwriting, and reveals what life is like on that mystical island beyond the bay.
The Advocate: Since the end of Will & Grace, it seems that no other specifically gay sitcom has maintained popularity on American mainstream television. Why do you think that is? Sean Hanley: I have no idea why there haven't been more gay shows like Will & Grace because I have lived my life according to the mantra "Once you go gay, you never stray." Who knew Nielsen audiences could be more fickle than Grindr boys? Seriously, though, I look back at Will & Grace and can't believe it was so popular! Much like when I was writing for Fran Drescher on The Nanny, the success of Will & Grace probably had a lot to do with timing. Americans were finally ready to laugh along with the gays in the same way they were ready to laugh along with the blacks in the '70s and '80s with The Jeffersons, Good Times, and The Cosby Show. Perhaps once the newness of a "ghettoized" show wears off, networks prefer to assimilate those marginalized groups into token characters? For example, Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock or Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Modern Family. Eric Stonestreet doesn't count since he's only gay for pay.
More recent TV shows tend to portray gays in a way that embraces a traditional suburban life. Meanwhile, Half-Share has gay men climbing rooftops in drag, abusing cocaine at dinner, and endlessly scoping out ass. Have marriage equality and the post-DADT world doomed gay mainstream entertainment to mediocrity? If the situations in Half-Share seem outrageous, then you've obviously never been to Fire Island! But sweetie darling, are our characters really more absolutely fabulous and hedonistic than Patsy and Edina just because they're gay? Sitcoms are based around situations so writers can wring the most comedy out of their characters. Modern Family is set in suburban hell, while Half-Share is set in gay paradise. If Cameron and Mitchell ever brought their gayby to Fire Island, I guarantee you that the very special episode would center around a rescue effort to find a lost gayby who was accidentally left behind at Low Tea when Mitchell went to get a second round of planter's punches! Personally I think sitcoms must assimilate to their network's demographic. And for that reason I am thrilled that Half-Share is on Here TV -- America's only gay TV network. But most importantly, does cocaine before dinner truly constitute abuse? Or is it merely an appetite suppressant in a post Phen-Fen world?
Half-Share is very funny and yet sincere and realistic. Describe the writing process that went into Half-Share. Oh you are so sweet! I'm so thrilled that you felt that way! And yet genuinely surprised that anything that happens on Fire Island can be portrayed as sincere and realistic... Perhaps we need to rewrite?! Jesse Archer and I had a very simple writing process: we worked tirelessly as long as we could before we broke down and bought a bottle of Vodka, and only then did we start to write. Honestly, we both have this completely idealized vision of The Island of Misfit Boys and wanted to make sure we captured it in full glory. Fire Island is an amazingly special place that is truly "very funny and yet sincere," but not at all realistic.
In terms of money, permission and permits, was it easy or difficult to film in Fire Island? If Half-Share were to become a series, what challenges do you think you would encounter in its creation? There was nothing easy about filming on Fire Island, but that has little to do with money, permission or permits. I've heard that we were very lucky in getting permission from FIPPOA -- the homeowners association -- as they have turned down countless projects. Since we were shooting on a shoestring budget, money wasn't our biggest issue. Production-wise, our biggest hurdles were finding affordable housing for our cast and crew on an extremely exclusive vacation island -- i.e. expensive -- with no roads, transportation or -- affordable -- groceries. All our heavy equipment and food had to be shipped over on a ferry and then schlepped from location to location by red wagons! Our caterer, Becky Kellem, had to feed 35 carb-obsessed gay men on a microscopic budget. I'm not sure she ever recovered. If we go to series, I imagine the show would be shot on a soundstage, hopefully mixed in with some nice outdoor scenes shot on location, much in the vein of 30 Rock -- only without their budget.
What would you say to the criticism that Half-Share portrays gay men as a bunch of slutty, self-absorbed, drug abusers? How about to the claim that Fire Island is trying to hold onto an era of gay hedonism and debauchery that is outdated and ultimately self-destructive? Personally, I think this particular generalization has more to do with "men" than "gay men." What straight man isn't a slutty, self-absorbed drug abuser? OK, maybe they're not all not drug abusers, but honestly, who is a drug abuser in Half-Share? Does one coke joke create an addict? Personally, I like to think of our characters as lowly alcoholics who like to dabble on the weekend. And whoever is claiming that Fire Island is trying to hold onto an era of gay hedonism and debauchery should seriously consider going into marketing! This same campaign works very well for Atlantis and RSVP Cruises. If life gives you lemons, make Absolut Citron!
It seems that some creative types are using crowd-funding as a way to get their series and films made. Have you considered this route? In short, what would need to happen to get Half-Share made as a series? If Half-Share were to go to series, it would definitely need the support of a network. Although we used Kickstarter to help raise finishing funds for the project, soliciting money via crowd-funding is a full-time job in itself. That being said, I am seriously blown away that Half-Share will have its premiere on a cable network this week It is truly "The Little Gay Sitcom That Could," and I am so proud that Here TV feels the same way. Personally I think it's a great fit. In a perfect world the Here TV audience will demand more episodes of these "slutty, self-absorbed, drug abusers" who are "very funny and yet sincere and realistic," because gurrrl, mama needs a job!