As I reviewed year-end data on my personal blog, www.pghlesbian.com, I noticed that my coverage of LGBTQ storylines on network daytime television has generated some of my all-time most popular posts. I am not surprised because I think soaps have not received their due as tools to build those "Will & Grace" relationships we all believe are crucial to equality.
So let me take a glimpse back at 2013 as well as a quick peek into 2014. I'm only going to focus on the four remaining network shows: The Bold and The Beautiful and The Young and The Restless on CBS, Days of Our Lives on NBC, and General Hospital on ABC.
Soap fans probably know that One Life to Live and All My Children made brief reappearances via the Interwebs and there are infinite cable shows that qualify as soaps. But I don't have cable so we'll stick with network television.
CBS has two shows on the air -- The Bold and The Beautiful (B&B) and Young and the Restless (Y&R) -- but only one lesbian couple: B&B's Karen Spencer and her partner, Danielle (the much-underutilized Crystal Chapelle, who broke ground as Olivia on Guiding Light). They have no story. Karen has made an occasional appearance, but the actress is currently helming The Fosters on ABC Family and unavailable for B&B.
Apparently, it's hard to recast a lesbian who appears every three months or so. Over in Genoa City, Y&R has no LGBTQ characters onscreen. They didn't even find a way to trot out their secondary gay characters, lawyer Rafe and millionaire wanderer Phillip Chancellor. Not a peep.
In Salem, Days of Our Lives had the year's best storyline with the ongoing love story of Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis. If supercouples still existed, WilSon would be all set to hit supercouple status in a year or two. This year, they faced Will impregnating his ex-girlfriend Gabi and the birth of their daughter, Arianna Grace, as well as the unhinged homophobic conduct of Gabi's husband (and Will's cousin) Nick.
It culminated on a nearly abandoned island with Nick's former cellmate menacing everyone. Will killed the cellmate to save Nick and Sonny delivered the baby. Then Gabi and baby moved in with WilSon while Nick started a decent storyline exploring the ramifications of being sexually assaulted in prison by the cellmate. Days almost had it -- a redemption story -- then they turned Nick back into his stalker self.
Meanwhile, WilSon also dealt with mother-in-law drama as Will's mother went to prison for murder (she was defending her ex-husband and Gabi's brother) while Sonny's mother turned in evidence against her. The year ended with WilSon contemplating leaving Salem if Gabi took a job in NYC. Fortunately, Gabi instead killed Nick with the assistance of Sami and Will's grandmother Kate. Then Sonny overheard them discussing it all and... TBD. Pure, soapy goodness. This is how to do it and make it believable (in the soap world, of course).
Finally, there is General Hospital, which has developed two secondary characters, both of whom are gay men of color. Felix DuBois, a nurse, continued to support his BFF Sabrina and also had to deal with the appearance of his younger sister Taylor, who holds some sort of emotional leverage over him. Brad Cooper is an Asian-American lab supervisor who is shallow, unabashedly sexual and involved in some shady shenanigans switching sperm samples. Brad has a big crush on Felix who found him distasteful, but they've slowly grown a bit closer.
It has definitely been a secondary storyline, but it has set the scene for what I consider the most highly anticipated LGBTQ moment in daytime history: the return of Lucas Jones. Lucas has been cast, but no first air-date announced. He has WilSon potential as a significant legacy character and the recent return of his biological father from the dead. I have a somewhat brief synopsis on the history of Lucas on my blog.
So it has been a banner year for gay men on daytime television, with four onscreen characters and one waiting in the wings. Two are men of color and most of them are firmly out. 2013 was not such a great year for lesbians, who saw Crystal Chappell languishing on a backburner. No known bisexual men or women were on air, with the possible exception of Adam Newman who had a physical affair with his gay male lawyer, but whose storyline was dropped. And no current trans- or queer-identified characters were included either.
Days invested a huge amount of resources into a front-burner gay supercouple while GH introduced two openly gay secondary characters who also happen to be men of color. And, yes, of course there have been all sorts of missteps and "uh-oh" moments because this is, after all, a soap-opera world. Both shows are head and shoulders over CBS, which is disappointing. But CBS has multiple challenges on this front (including their sitcom Mike and Molly).
The final development worth noting is the attitude of the fans. I have spent time on the various fan forums and whenever the topic of LGBTQ characters arises, it is absolutely clear that the fans want these stories and they want "their" favorite characters to be treated well. We owe this to the team at All My Children, who brilliantly wrote the coming-out story of Erica Kane's daughter, Bianca -- a woman who grew to become a soap legend on her own.
I might also go so far as to say that the HIV storyline of heterosexual Robin Scorpio Drake on General Hospital has played a role as well. Robin has been kidnapped for two years and I commented to colleague of mine how amazing it is to read fans' concern about Robin having access to her HIV medications while in captivity. Clearly, GH has driven home the importance of treatment and while Robin is not an LGBTQ character, she has launched millions of conversations about HIV that might otherwise not have taken place.
For the record, Robin is back and in relatively good health -- she was held prisoner in a Swiss clinic where she was forced to design a medical protocol for poisoning by ... never mind, you get the point that keeping her healthy was part of the plot.
What lies ahead in 2014? My wishes:
- CBS introduces a strong lesbian, bisexual or trans character with a romance and a storyline.
- NBC keeps WilSon on the front burner and salvages Nick (please!) so we can put the "prison rape leads to homophobia" meme to rest.
- GH just propels Lucas Jones into all the great storylines awaiting him and creates a viable love triangle with Brad and Felix. I'd actually prefer Brad and Felix to get together and GH introduce a 4th character for Lucas' love interest.
What are your thoughts on LGBTQ storylines on daytime television?