Last September, Will Truman of the debuting NBC comedy "Will & Grace" became the first explicitly homosexual male lead character on a prime time television series. On April 8, a lesser but still important milestone was reached when Will became the first gay lead character on a series airing in the first hour of prime time.
Welcome to the family hour, 1999.
In terms of eroding what's left of the family hour, NBC's move of "Will & Grace" to 8:30 Thursdays packed the punch of a hurricane, given that the show depicts the gay lifestyle as innocent joke fodder, not as the immoral or dangerous behavior it is. And with "Will & Grace" broadcast not only earlier but also in a more favorable time slot, directly following the megahit "Friends," it has a larger - and younger - audience than it did before.
Welcome to Hollywood's concern for children, 1999.
Will is one of the series' two regular gay characters. The other is Will's flamboyant, effeminate friend Jack. If you've never seen the show and want an idea of what Jack's like, think Paul Lynde on the old "Hollywood Squares," only a couple of decades younger and deliberately much, much more explicit in his smutty wisecracking.
Parents who find sexually oriented TV fare offensive when it features heterosexual characters now have an even larger problem. Children may not grasp what Chandler and Monica (this season's frisky couple on "Friends") or Dharma and Greg are doing or saying in a sexual scene, but as kids grow up, they develop a sense - a model, if you will - of a heterosexual relationship simply by being around their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They'll need to be told that it's wrong for unmarried people to have sex, of course, but the basic concept of a man and a woman sharing a bed isn't unfamiliar, or disturbing, to them.
But homosexuality is a different matter. Although "Will & Grace" doesn't depict any physical expression of Will or Jack's sexual preference, episodes typically contain plenty of racy gay references to get the point across. A few examples from when the series aired at 9:30:
-Jack, while performing his cabaret act, sings, "Took the hand of a preacher man/And we made love in the sun." He then adds, "That actually happened to me."
-Jack says that until a boyfriend canceled on him, the two intended to attend the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. "We had a whole Biblical thing planned," Jack explains to Will. "We were gonna go as Adam and Steve." Later, when Jack leaves for the parade, Will says, "Have a good time...Don't put anything in your mouth that isn't wrapped."
-Jack remarks, "I get a little funny in the tummy around the Washington Monument."
-Jack says he needs "a new pair of shoes, preferably with a six-foot, gorgeous hunk of man in them." Later, he takes Will and Grace's dog for a walk in the park, where "he checked out butts and I checked out butts."
-Grace says adultery "break[s] the commandment about...um, not coveting thy husband's brother's ass." Will quips, "I break that one all the time."
"Will & Grace" has done nothing to rein in its smuttiness since the move to 8:30. On April 8, Jack, serving a sentence for a minor offense, is wearing an orange jumpsuit. Will sees it and comments, "And they said Tinky Winky was the only gay Teletubby." Jack whines, "I have to pick up trash for the next two weeks," to which Will responds, "At least this trash won't call you the next morning."
You can just hear the screams coming from the Tinseltown community at my audacity to express these views. Homophobia! Censorship! McCarthyism!
Frankly, I couldn't care less. This is a community hell-bent on tearing down the moral fabric of our Judeo-Christian culture. They are perverts whose agenda should be as offensive to adults as it is destructive for children.
And if you believe that "Will & Grace" is as objectionable as gay TV gets, you need to hear about "Queer as Folk." An April 15 New York Times piece dealt with this British broadcast series, which centers on "a group of nightclub-loving young men who are affluent, unattached and generally revel in their promiscuity...The series seemed determined to shock. Its first episode...daringly included a 15-year-old boy having sex with a 29-year-old man."
A series like this, airing in prime time on an American broadcast network, may seem unthinkable today. But so was "Will & Grace" not so long ago.