“Face it, honey. Abnormal is the new normal.”
The line is said by openly gay actor Andrew Rannells on NBC’s upcoming The New Normal, which debuts Sept. 11. Rannells plays Bryan and he and his partner, David (Justin Bartha), are hiring a surrogate in order to become parents.
A plotline like that may have once been a shot across the bow in the culture wars, but nowadays, with the success of ABC’s Modern Family, it’s probably closer to the truth as far as sitcoms are concerned.
NBC is more likely more concerned about ratings than it is protests for The New Normal, although there already is one.
Meanwhile, on Sept. 24, CBS debuts the comedy Partners about a couple of friends — one gay, Louis (Michael Urie), and one straight, Joe (David Krumholtz), who have been pals since boyhood and are partners in an architectural firm. When Joe proposes to his girlfriend, Ali (Sophia Bush), it puts a strain on the friends’ relationship.
Partners was created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, who were behind Will & Grace, the successful sitcom that ran from 1998 to 2006 about a gay male lawyer and his best friend, a female interior designer.
Endorsing gay marriage on NBC’s Meet the Press in May, Vice President Joe Biden even cited Will & Grace as doing “more to educate the American public (on the subject of gays) than almost anybody’s ever done so far. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”
Later that month, University of Minnesota communication studies professor Edward Schiappa and his colleagues said that based on five studies, they found that the presence of gay characters on television programs decreases prejudices among viewers.
“These attitude changes are not huge,” Schiappa told news organizations. “They don’t change bigots into saints. But they can snowball.”
Gay characters on television have been proliferating in the past few years thanks to shows like Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, Smash and Modern Family. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is even supposedly a fan of the ABC sitcom.
“I’m personally just so appreciative to Modern Famil’ and to Will & Grace because they are huge successes,” says Ryan Murphy, co-creator of Glee and The New Normal. “I think so many people watched those shows and are educated, and those shows changed views.”
Murphy says The New Normal is loosely based on his own life.
“The show came about because my partner and I have been having conversations about surrogacy and meeting with people and talking about it,” he says.
Writing what you know was also the aim of Kohan, who is straight, and Mutchnick, who is gay. The two have been friends since high school.
Mutchnick remembers having framed pictures of Bette Midler, a gay icon, in his bedroom as a kid. (There is a Midler joke in the opening episode of Partners.) He says for some reason he decided as a teen to tell Kohan, whom he calls “this iconic straight high school personality,” about being gay.
“David was fantastic,” Mutchnick says. “I think every gay man should have a straight man in his life. And I was lucky enough that I was able to create a life and a great career with him, too.”