They control the vertical: two out series creators and a lesbian TV writer take us behind the scenes of their new shows. (fall TV preview).
LIZ FRIEDMAN Hack, CBS Writer Self-appointed position in Gay Mafia: "Rising"
Sometimes a gay writer is just a writer who is gay. Friedman is the only out lesbian on the writing staff of Hack, and she insists that she was hired for her way with words and not to lend any sort of gay sensibility to what she refers to as the "least gay" show on television. The show--about a policeman (played by David Morse) discharged for his rather fluid approach to personal ethics who then takes up freelance law enforcement as a sideline to cab driving--has no gay characters currently in the works, but Friedman notes that there's "always a possibility."
Still, she doesn't find the atmosphere around the writers' table substantially different from that on Xena: Warrior Princess, where as a producer Friedman approached the title character as essentially a Clint Eastwood with underwires. It's an arena in which you need a thick skin, as communication is conducted largely through teasing and poking fun at each other, "kind of a locker-room mentality," Friedman says.
Diversity is important on any writing staff, she has discovered, since the characters are richer if they have the contribution of multiple points of view. Friedman is treated in some ways much more as one of the boys than is the other woman on the team of eight screenwriters. "Liking breasts--it's a hell of a bond," she says, laughing.
And as for the urgent question of whether she gets sick of the "Hack writer" joke? "I can't stop making it," she says. "They answer the phone `Hack writers' office'--it makes me laugh every time."
GREG BERLANTI Everwood, The WB Writer-producer-creator Self-appointed position in Gay Mafia: "Big Pussy"
The man who has made a name for himself working on projects with strong appeal for teens (executive producer, Dawson's Creek) and gay men (writer-director, The Broken Hearts Club) is now out to make "the family show for everyone" with the hour-long drama Everwood, which explores what happens when a big-city doctor (played by Treat Williams) moves his life and his two children to a small mountain town in Colorado after the sudden death of his wife. Greg Berlanti says it's important to be involved with "planting a voice in the television community," this time by playing to as wide an audience as possible. He's especially interested in studying the dynamic between the father and the adolescent son, as it's an area he feels gets short shrift in most television shows.
Small towns being what they are, there will be myriad substories that belie the scrubbed image of the locale, and Berlanti promises at least one overtly gay character before the end of the season, along with a bit of what he refers to as "edgy medicine." At first, however, the central characters will be engaged in the process Berlanti thinks many gays and lesbians can identify with--the cobbling together of a self-created family in an unfamiliar environment. "The town," he says, "will become the extended family."
If viewers draw parallels between his show and the gay-friendly Northern Exposure (or, for that matter, the geographically similar South Park), Berlanti would consider it an honor. Sadly, the suspiciously adept way in which Williams refurbishes a Victorian train station into an office is representative, Berlanti admits, "of nothing more latent than an eye for color."
MAX MUTCHNICK Good Morning, Miami, NBC Cocreator and co-executive producer Self-appointed position in Gay Mafia: "Capo di Frutti Capi"
Though it's hard to believe now, Will & Grace creator Max Mutchnick was once a somewhat closeted personality in Hollywood. His sexual identity was "always a personal issue, not a professional one," he says, and it was only when a particularly vindictive receptionist threatened to out him that he went to his Hearts Afire boss, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, in order to head off the disclosure. Bloodworth-Thomason made it clear to him that the set was a completely supportive environment, and since that day Mutchnick has never felt his sexuality to be a career issue.
His latest project, Good Morning, Miami, promises the same sort of splash and sparkle as Will & Grace but in a morning talk-show setting. While the show currently has no out gay or lesbian characters, Mutchnick hints that the broadening of sexual boundaries is on the horizon for at least one of them--and a rather surprising one at that.
Right now he's more concerned with helping the show "appeal to the largest audience and not [solely] to entertain the gay community." One can't think of Miami without conjuring up the Latin tropicality of the so-very-gay South Beach neighborhood--when asked whether this might work itself into any future production, Mutchnick admits that at present it's "not on the slate" but elaborates that he "can't imagine it not happening."
Jones reviews theater for Backstage West and KPCC radio.