Long before HBO’s Looking and ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, some groundbreaking television shows told the stories of people who were affected by HIV.
Here are some of the most heartfelt performances, riveting storylines, and unforgettable TV moments to deal with the AIDS crisis and the people who have been impacted by HIV.
Aidan Quinn, An Early Frost (1985)
In 1985, Aidan Quinn made TV history by portraying a young gay lawyer who was living with AIDS. This NBC movie was the first program to address the AIDS epidemic and helped humanize the disease at a time when many still referred to the disease as “gay cancer.” The controversial film captured the attention of the American viewing public and brought Quinn his first Emmy nomination.
Tony Goldwyn, Designing Women (1987)
In 1987, CBS’s Designing Women pioneered the discussion of AIDS and delivered one of the most epic Julia Sugarbaker moments of all time. In the episode, titled “Killing All the Right People,” a young gay man and friend of the designers named Kendall, played by Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), asks the women to design his funeral because he is dying of AIDS complications. The ladies of Designing embrace the young man and take an opportunity to educate the public on how HIV is and isn’t transmitted. When an acquaintance of the designers learns about Kendall’s diagnosis, she is appalled by the ladies’ willingness to help him.
Imogene: “As far as I’m concerned, this disease has one thing going for it: It’s killing all the right people.”
It is then that Julia Sugarbaker, played by the dynamic Dixie Carter, counters the woman’s hurtful words with what is possibly the best response ever to ignorant and stigmatizing views of HIV.
Julia Sugarbaker: “Imogene, get serious, who do you think you’re talking to? I’ve known you for 27 years and all I can say is if God was giving out sexually transmitted diseases to people as punishment for sin, then you would be at the free clinic all the time!”
Chad Lowe, Life Goes On (1991-1993)
In the early ’90s, Chad Lowe showed the teenage grunge generation what it meant to live with HIV when he played Jesse on the cult TV hit Life Goes On. Jesse was a straight teen who was infected with HIV by an older girlfriend. Young girls across the country fell in love and had their hearts broken as they watched his struggle and learned that HIV could affect anyone, even one of the Lowe brothers.