He was always fine with it, and this was before Ellen DeGeneres.
May 14, 2019 9:07 PM   Subscribe

'NYPD Blue' Star Bill Brochtrup on How Steven Bochco Pioneered Gay Characters on TV "Steven came up with this idea for a character who was openly and unapologetically gay. That was way ahead of its time," Brochtrup says of the prolific showrunner, who died Sunday at age 74. [Hollywood Reporter, April 2018, in remembrance of Bochco after his death]
posted by hippybear (13 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:40 AM on May 15, 2019

Hollywood loves to pat itself on the back for nearly every progressive issue.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:59 AM on May 15, 2019

1995? Barney Miller had a gay character 20 years earlier, and Mary Tyler Moore and the Bob Newhart Show also did in that decade. Bochco's initiative may have been apart from its time, but I'm not sure it was ahead of it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:43 AM on May 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

To me, what was progressive was how John's character was treated on the show. His "gayness", in time, faded to almost nothing. Yes, there was an arc of "teaching moment"-ness in that others came to realize that being gay was just another trait among a cast who all had their own traits. But it happened in such a real way, and in a manner that never rang false. John was a real person who just happened to be gay. He was great at his job, also. He was valid. Being gay on the show no longer simply functioned in a way that set him apart as an object of derision or ridicule.

Other shows of the time, and before that time, never did that (or chose to do it). The gay characters all seemed to remain there as comic relief, a reason for a cheap shot, or worse. John was a real human being, one who I recognized, and I loved seeing him on screen and seeing others interact with him and learn from him and see him as worthy in a culture that did not always. I really appreciated that.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:13 AM on May 15, 2019 [12 favorites]

When did “showrunner” replace “producer?”
posted by spitbull at 2:30 AM on May 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

When they started making writers producers instead of giving them pay raises?
posted by infinitewindow at 3:26 AM on May 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

There were gay characters on TV before John Irwin, but (to my recollection) they all were either very short-lived guest spots that focused on gay issues and/or gay-for-humor's-sake (as noted above, Barney Miller, etc., where there was a gay character who was a guest spot) or on things like Soap or Dynasty, where gayness was something tragic that then wasn't brought up again as the character's revealed bisexuality (if not mentioned as such) allowed for storylines where same-sex relationships didn't have to happen onscreen.

John was a really fantastic character, in that he initially felt a little bit like a punchline for Sipowicz, but then he stayed on, developed his own storylines, and was shown to be a very strong person who brought value to the station in a way that didn't mean he had to change who he was, which was a very gentle, but determined professional.
posted by xingcat at 5:18 AM on May 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

When did “showrunner” replace “producer?”
See this MeTa.
posted by zamboni at 5:23 AM on May 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Showrunner [Slate]
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:42 AM on May 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

[Please drop the showrunner derail.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:58 AM on May 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Admittedly Officer Zatelli wasn't a main character, but he was in more than one episode of Barney Miller (actually I thought he was in more episodes than he was, as the character stands out in my mind, but according to IMDB, it was five). That show also featured regular guest spots by Marty and Mr. Driscol, who certainly seemed to be a couple, even if that wasn't openly and blatantly stated. And this was all in a half-hour comedy, not an hour-long serious drama like NYPD Blue. (And yes, before anybody starts, Marty started out as a bit of a joke character, but evolved into a regular guest star who seemed to be respected, at least to some degree, by everybody in the 12th, including Wojo.)

I'm not trying to take anything away from Bochco. I mean he tried to give the world a Rockford Files spin-off so he's got karma credit points to spare. I just don't think we should be too dismissive of what other people did before him.
posted by sardonyx at 7:26 AM on May 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

hippybear, thanks for posting this -- I didn't know about this, and hadn't known that NYPD Blue portrayed an openly gay character (at least one -- Wikipedia implies maybe one more as well?) explicitly and respectfully.

(There are some US TV shows that were groundbreaking in various ways in the 1990s but that I was too young to watch when they started. NYPD Blue is one and Twin Peaks is another. I watched it recently and holy crap, I'd never known that Twin Peaks actually features a trans woman character in a kind of respectful way! And probably there is other unusual-for-the-era inclusivity I might see if I watch 1990s TV now, but I might not notice, because it's more commonplace now....)
posted by brainwane at 2:20 PM on May 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hollywood loves to pat itself on the back for nearly every progressive issue.

My kids recently watched Queer Eye and loved it and I was trying to explain to them how LGBT people have been discriminated against for a long time and having openly LGBT people on TV is kind of a new thing and of course they were completely oblivious in a "what's water?" kind of way.

Combine that with my pet theory that everyone greatly underestimates the effects of film and TV on our culture, and going from "no LGBT people on TV" to "a reasonable number of LGBT people on TV" is a huge deal, and I'm happy to give kudos to those early pioneers.
posted by nnethercote at 11:02 PM on May 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

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