NBC Sends Gay Character Back To The Closet
NBC, the broadcast network that once charged high advertising fees for its hit Thursday night gay sitcom "Will & Grace", has made a gay character on "Heroes", their most popular new drama, straight.
Back in 1986, when "Heroes" star Jack Coleman (who plays the mysterious father of Claire, the cheerleader), starred on ABC's prime-time soap opera "Dynasty", he played one of the most controversial TV characters at the time, Blake Carrington's gay son Steven.
Fearful of conservative backlash, the network kept changing the character's sexuality throughout the drama's 9-season run, with poor Steven going back and forth between men and women, frustrated in his inability to develop a lasting relationship.
The drama jumped the shark in 1985 with the infamous Moldavian massacre season-ending cliff-hanger gunning down its almost entire cast. When the new season premiered, only Steven's gay lover and another marginal character succumbed to their injuries, a storyline that made Steven asexual for the rest of the drama's run.
One would believe that in 2006 the networks have come a step further. Well, maybe ABC has (as evident in recent episodes of "Desperate Housewives" and its new gem "Brothers and Sisters").
But, NBC is the network that in only a couple of years fell from #1 in the ratings to the bottom of the Nielsen rankings (on most nights), and although its new slate of dramas and comedies has earned respect across the industry for its undisputed quality, only the genre drama "Heroes" stands out as the network's sole bona-fide ratings smash, one not to be messed with.
After all, NBC is known for giving in to conservative pressure, as evident in their spineless axing of the controversial mid-season entry "The Book of Daniel" that religious groups objected to prior to ever screening the actual pilot.
Before "Heroes" debuted in September 2006 on NBC, creator Tim Kring and openly gay writer Bryan Fuller explicitly stated that the character "Zach" was intended to be gay (a fact that would be revealed later in the season), but that NBC network executives seemed resistant to the idea.
Since the show's premiere, there had been several hints about the boy's sexuality, including the November 20th episode "Homecoming" in which Claire asks Zach he can't be her date because of what the other cheerleader said (the girl calls him 'gay-boy' earlier in the episode), and Zach says that he doesn't care what she said, that he knows who he is and is proud of it.
He's more worried about Claire, who can't come to terms with her own “otherness”. He says, “You've got to embrace your inner freak … the only thing you'll regret is denying who you really are.”
In their official recap of the episode on NBC.com, the network stated that "Zach stammers with his reply, admitting that he's gay”. Well, that is before NBC edited those words out of the transcript and a network publicist told AfterElton.com in a phone conversation that Zach "is not gay", and that it was something that was "for sure" and "in all certainty."
Although there is a possibility that it was actually the management of actor Thomas Dekker (who plays Zach and has just been cast in a new project) that demanded the change, there are also reasons to believe NBC shied away from the idea of a gay character on their only new drama to regularly deliver 14-16 million viewers.
Given the recent outings of TV stars T.R. Knight and Niel Patrick Harris, one might wonder why the management of a young actor who had played gay roles in the past would be worried about his future career in the current climate.
One would also have to wonder why a network that conceived a gay character and even promoted it as a gay character (including promotion on NBC-sponsored My Space website) would suddenly have a change of heart.
For their part, the creator have said: "Heroes is a big, sprawling drama and there is no reason to believe that a gay character will not be represented on our show in the future. It is my hope than we do, we do it with honesty and dignity. That will certainly be our attempt."