Dynasty (ABC) 1982-1989
On January 12, 1981, a few months before AIDS was given its name and a few days before Ronald Reagan took office as president, America met Dynasty’s Steven Carrington—son of disapproving patriarch Blake Carrington. Soon after his introduction as TV’s first gay main character on a prime-time drama (played by Al Corley), the religious right took over politics and fear of AIDS swept the nation, leading to Steven switching to women and becoming “bisexual” (and then be played by Jack Coleman). But all was resolved in the 1991 Dynasty miniseries The Reunion, where Blake gave his blessing to Steven (once more played by Corley) and his long-term relationship with Bart Fallmont.
One Life To Live (ABC) 1968-present
In 1992, Billy Douglas The first gay high schooler on network TV debuted on the soap opera One Life to Live. Douglas—played by a teenage dream and future A-list actor Ryan Phillippe—was at the center of a controversial storyline for the daytime series. In the end, Phillippe’s character came out publicly, in a church no less; in order to dispel rumors that the town’s pastor had molested him.
OZ (HBO) 1997-2003
One of the groups in “Emerald City” included the gays, Toby Beecher (Lee Tergesen) and Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni). They’re a sexy couple, who have some sexy scenes, but they’re also so incredibly complex that they became favorite characters among many viewers. By the final season their tumultuous relationship comes to head with Keller potentially killing Beecher but tricking his accomplice instead, Beecher almost getting Keller locked up for good, one of the two almost tragically dying, and a sweet bit of revenge coming at the end. In society’s underbelly, these two gays were on equal ground with every other f-ed up inmate.
Queer As Folk (Showtime) 2000-2005
Based on the UK series of the same name, Queer as Folk was the first television series to explore LGBT culture and issues in great detail. Be it partners with differing HIV status, performing in gay porn, or underage sex, no queer topic was taboo during the 5 seasons this beloved cable network series aired.
Six Feet Under (HBO) 2001-2005
From the brilliant gay mind of Alan Ball, this creepy, life-affirming, award-winning series followed the Fisher family and their funeral home business, run by baby brother David Fisher (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall in his breakout role). After a few seasons of ups and downs in the closet, David finally finds the courage to come out as gay about his relationship with sexy cop, Keith Charles (Matthew St. Patrick). Their relationship was flawed, tender, real, and long lasting at a time when gay men were still often only caricatures on other shows.
Noah's Ark (Logo) 2005-2006
The success of the both the UK and US versions of Queer as Folk made Noah’s Arc possible. But in addition to being the first gay series to feature all black lead characters (played by Darryl Stephens, Rodney Chester, Christian Vincent, Doug Spearman, and Jensen Atwood), Noah was the first series to fearlessly explore gay male masculinity and femininity. The results were thoughtful, enlightening and spot on.
Torchwood (BBC, Starz) 2006-present
Gay series creator, Russell T. Davies, has described Torchwood as "a very bisexual series." The lead character, Captain Jack Harkness, played by real life out dreamboat John Barrowman, was previously established on Doctor Who as bisexual or pansexual. A Torchwood team member notes in an early episode, Harkness will ‘sleep with anything, if it’s gorgeous enough.’ Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), the team assistant, begins the series in a secretive heterosexual relationship, but eventually enters a long romantic relationship with Jack. Jack's ex partner, Captain John Hart (Buffy’s James Marsters) appears in the second series premiere and the second series finale as a foe still desperately in love with Captain Jack.
Teen Wolf (MTV) 2011-present
Danny (Keahu Kahuanui) on MTV’s Teen Wolf is about as far from a gay stereotype as a character can get. He’s not only a confident student among his peers, he’s also a star lacrosse player and the best friend of the team Captain. It is interesting to note that his sexuality is also never an issue with any other character on the show, making Danny an excellent benchmark for the progress of gay characters on television.
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