Not a member? Sign up now
4. SOAP (1977-1981)
Even before ABC's comedy hit the airwaves, it was the subject of intense media speculation that its plot involving Jodie (played by a twinkly young Billy Crystal) — an openly gay character and candidate for a sex-change operation — would leave the nation in ruins. Condemned from pulpits, Soap inspired one of the first preemptive-strike letter-writing campaigns organized by the religious right, which scared eight network affiliates into not carrying the show. It was also attacked by gay-rights organizations, including the National Gay Task Force, which had understandable qualms about what it might do to their campaign for greater acceptance to be associated, in people's minds, with Billy Crystal.
In the end, the network had it both ways, collecting their big ratings when everyone tuned in at the start to see what the fuss was about, then ordering that the creators downplay the sexy stuff and reshape the central storyline into a murder mystery. The worst damage was done to Crystal's character, who attempted suicide in the hospital after being dumped by his boyfriend on the eve of his gender-reassignment surgery. He survived, but while the character continued to identify as gay, he never hooked up with another guy in the course of the series; instead, he had a quick fling with a woman, got her pregnant, and spent much of his remaining time on the show fighting for custody of his daughter. In the end, a character whose very existence inspired protests by homophobic religious groups became a symbol of the outdated notion that gay men are tragic figures who can only be redeemed by rejecting their orientation long enough to breed.
5. LOVE, SIDNEY (1981-1983)
As Felix Unger on The Odd Couple, Tony Randall played a supposedly straight character using stereotypically "gay" mannerisms to a degree that anticipated Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce on Frasier. Love, Sidney gave Randall the chance to play an explicitly gay character, the first ever to be the protagonist of a network show. Sidney was a commercial illustrator who befriended a young actress (played by Lorna Patterson in the pilot and by Swoosie Kurtz in the series) whom he talked out of having an abortion. Sidney, the actress, and her adorable moppet wound up crammed together in his sweet Manhattan apartment. But religious groups, rather than being impressed with Sidney's anti-abortion bona fides, made such a stink about the idea of a gay man on TV that NBC delayed airing the pilot for a year, then insisted that Sidney be gelded. Apparently Sidney was so crushed by the death of his one male lover (whose photo on the mantelpiece watched over the action like a baleful ghost) that he could never date again. When, towards the end of the second season, he dipped one toe back into the dating pool, it was with a woman, as if he'd been on the shelf so long that he'd forgotten his orientation. Love, Sidney ended with its pathetic hero still flying solo and, like Jodie on Soap, fighting off thoughts of suicide.
6. CAGNEY & LACEY (1982-1988)
This "quality" cop series about two women who work together as New York City police detectives began with a 1981 TV movie in which the leads were played by Loretta Swit and Tyne Daly. When CBS decided to go ahead with it as a series, Swit, who was tied down playing Major Houlihan on M*A*S*H, was replaced by Meg Foster. Early ratings were shaky, and the CBS brass decided that it must have something to do with viewers being put off by threatening lesbian vibes. Though both characters were supposed to be straight, it was felt that when the two dark-haired, hard-edged actresses were seen in close proximity to each other, they looked like, in the words of an unidentified CBS executive, "a couple of dykes." It was decided that the best way to solve the problem was to fire Foster and replace herwith the blonde Sharon Gless, who, according to some mysterious executive calculation, was judged more Malibu Beach than Isle of Lesbos. The readjusted version of the show would go on to run for fucking ever; a dozen years after it ended, Gless, God love her, would be prominently (albeit heterosexually) featured on the American version of Queer as Folk.