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7. L.A. LAW (1986-1994) AND THE LESBIAN KISS
This ensemble legal drama was midway through its fifth season (and running out of possible combinations for its bed-hopping characters) when it brought saucy British actress Amanda Donohoe on board to plant one on the lips of Michele Greene's resident sexy-mouse character. Coming at the end of an episode, the kiss was tantamount to a cliffhanger; it all but guaranteed that slack-jawed viewers would tune in next week. Those who did got to see Donohoe deliver a back-pedaling speech about how she liked both men and women equally and would be happy just to be friends if that's what her new friend preferred, while Greene "considered" exploring a new side of herself before deciding that, nope, she wouldn't be going there. Many years later, Greene would tell an interviewer that she regarded the move as "a positive step, especially at that time," but also claimed that the show's producers "never intended to explore the issue of a relationship between two women; it was about ratings during sweeps so I always found it a bit cynical." Said cynicism has led to so many similar moments on so many different shows that critics coined the phrase "lesbian kiss moment" to sum them all up.
8. MELROSE PLACE (1992-1999) AND THE CASE OF THE KISSLESS GROOM
As the campy neon circus of '90s prime-time soaps, Melrose Place was meant to be scandalous, but it hit a wall when it tried to slip the merest suggestion of gay male love past the network. The show had a resident good-looking gay guy — Matt Fielding, played by Doug Savant — who, in contrast to the juicy goings-on by the hormonally deranged straight people all around him, seemed almost pathologically stable. When Matt was permitted to enjoy an on-screen kiss with a man, the network edited it out of the program before allowing the episode to be broadcast, though they had no problem with having him gay-bashed on camera, twice. (Matt was eventually killed in an off-screen car crash after Savant quit the show, claiming terminal boredom.) In contrast to lesbian kisses, even the '90s outbreak of gay-marriage ceremonies still couldn’t bring two men together; witness the kiss-less same-sex weddings of Roseanne and Northern Exposure.
9. INSIDE THE ACTOR'S PANTS
Sometimes plans to stretch the sexual boundaries of a character are thwarted not by network interference, but by queasiness on the part of the actor. Kyle MacLachlan, who hid in a closet watching depraved mommy-and-daddy figures going at it in Blue Velvet, and who would later don a kilt for his wedding scene on Sex and the City, drew the line at having his upright FBI-agent character on Twin Peaks jump into bed with a high-school-age girl (Sherilyn Fenn's Audrey Horne), even though the age difference between the two performers was actually only six years. MacLachlan's reticence derailed carefully laid plans for a serious romantic subplot, and in retrospect may have contributed mightily to the series losing its way during its second season. Agent Cooper's last big scene with Audrey faintly smells of the writers lamenting what might have been.
Then there's the matter of David Jacob Connor., played by Michael Fishman on Roseanne. As the show neared its seventh season, there was a persistent and widespread rumor that the youngest Connor child, D.J., was going to announce he was gay. It never happened — the big surprise of the season premiere turned out to be that Roseanne herself was pregnant again — and some say the reason is that Fishman refused to play along. If Roseanne really had her heart set on Deej coming out of the closet, maybe the thwarting of her plans helps explain the spiraling, out-of-control last few seasons of Roseanne, during which gayness broke out all over Lanford, Illinois, culminating in the fantasy outing of Roseanne's mother. As for Fishman, if he has any regrets about not having ever kissed a guy onscreen, maybe he can take it up with the writers of the new Melrose Place, where he has a recurring role.
10. GREY'S ANATOMY (2005-)
Nowadays you don't often see a big show flailing in terror and confusion over its characters' sexual behavior. Luckily, ABC and the makers of Grey's Anatomy have stepped up to reach for the brass ring. Last year, Grey's brought aboard Brooke Smith — arguably the best actor ever to join the Grey's Anatomy cast — as a love match for Sara Ramirez's Callie Torres. Smith (and the world) thought she was signing on as a series regular. Mid-season, she was surprised to be informed that the next episode she shot would be her last. After E! Online reported that this was the result of an order from upstairs to "de-gay" the show, Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes put out a bizarre statement insisting that it was ridiculous to suggest that the show had a problem with lesbian characters, since Callie Torres (who’s slept only with men up to this point) would be sticking around.
Part of what makes the behind-the-scenes activity at Grey's Anatomy so fascinating is that it seems to have been triggered by the show's own appearances in the gossip columns. In 2006, original cast member Isaiah Washington reportedly called co-star T. R. Knight a "faggot" during a backstage argument. The incident took on deeper significance when Knight felt compelled to come out because of it. The whole thing might still have blown over, but Washington, who seems to have more issues than Publishers Clearing House, wouldn't let it die, alternately apologizing or whining about how he was being treated. (In doing so, he chose to ignore the counsel of his co-star, Katherine Heigl, who told reporters that Washington "needs to just not speak in public, period," the best piece of unsolicited advice I've overheard in many a moon.) Washington was fired at the end of the 2006-2007 season; a year later, Knight would announce that he was quitting, partly because he felt that, since publicly identifying himself as gay, he’d been all but written out of the show. Where earlier shows such as Soap and Love, Sidney were subjected to a "de-gaying" process despite their creators' efforts to bring positive portrayals of gays to TV, Grey's Anatomy defiantly asserted its straightness to keep potential viewers from getting the wrong idea after open warfare broke out between the gays and the homophobes on its creative team. I'm not sure I'd call that progress, but it is a change.