On Wednesday, November 17, the gays invade Missouri. Well, actually two gay storylines evolve on the WBs critically acclaimed drama Jack & Bobby, which is set in Missouri. The series follows two brothers in high school, Jack (Matt Long) and Bobby (Logan Lerman)one of whom (Bobby) grows up to be president in 2040. So in every episode, the audience sees how a presidents views are shaped by the events around him growing up. For two shows (airing November 17 and December 1), Tom Cavanagh (best-known for playing the good-guy title role on NBCs Ed) comes to town for Thanksgiving playing Jimmy, the brother of Christine Lahti, the brothers pot-smoking, professor mom. At the same time, a former friend of Jacks commits suicide. While the incidents are unrelated, there is a common bond. We sat down with the shows openly gay cocreator and executive producer Greg Berlanti to discuss the storylines.
What made you choose Tom for the role?
We wanted somebody who could keep pace with Christine [Lahti] and someone that could bring a lot of levity but also play the gravitas of the part. Jimmys a troubled guy in his 30s who really hasnt amounted to much. He drinks a lot, parties a lot, doesnt really have a serious job. We wanted someone surprising in the part. Tom is terrifiche shines. The fact that the character is gay is really incidental to it.
Is he like a circuit boy?
Its not that hes a gay party boy. Hes a party boy who happens to be gay. Hes not out there doing the circuit. He drives a motorcycle. Hes the cool uncle you had as a kid who lived in your grandparents basement. For Tom, I think its a real chance for people to see him in another light.
Why bring in a gay character now?
The great thing about the show is we have tried to handle different themes. Be it religion, drugs, sex. We felt it was time to deal with sexuality. I havent dealt with it this directly since Jacks character [on Dawsons Creek, where Berlanti served as executive producer]. We have had gay characters in Everwood [which Berlanti created and executive produces]. Jimmys arrival corresponds with a kid committing suicide who is a friend of Jacks who is a gay, troubled teen. When we deal with those issues on the show, its more the personal side of politics than the political side of politics. How do the issues we see in the paper every day affect our lives? It seemed perfect that Grace would have a gay brother and that the future president would have a gay uncle.
Did it have anything to do with the re-election of George W. Bush?
We had written the episode before the election. Coming up on the heels of the election, it makes the episode feel both eerily timely and all the more important. It seems for every step forward we have taken culturally, there are certain powers that be that seem determined to have us take steps backward politically. Its good we can deal with it if not in a direct way, in at least some way on the show.
Because the show deals with teen suicide, are you providing any information to help kids who may be struggling?
Were going to air a card at the end for The Trevor Project. Matt Long is going to say something for people to call. Its mind-boggling that the numbers are disproportionately high for gay teens in terms of their attempts to commit suicide. We never see television deal with it. Suicide is an issue television tries not to deal with, and gay teen suicide is something TV never deals with. Hopefully, the show will help some kid out there.
Is there a chance Tom will be back?
I would love, love, love to have him back. He will definitely be back. Every time Jimmy is there, even if we deal with it indirectly, we have a real avenue to talk about gay issues in the future. The fact that Bobby is so influenced by someone thats gay will have an affect on his life and his administration.
Have you addressed gay rights in the future on the show?
Not yet. We will with future episodes. Put it this way, theres a good chance that well talk about how there should be a Harvey Milk Day.