Hard to please
Has the ABC shunted a new show because of its gay content? Colin Vickery and Darren Devlyn report
IS Please Like Me too gay? That is what Josh Thomas is asking as he prepares for the debut of his new TV comedy. Please Like Me was originally set to screen on ABC1 last year but has been shunted into digital channel ABC2.
Thomas plays twentysomething Josh who lives with best mate Thomas (Thomas Ward) and, at first, is in a steady relationship with girlfriend Claire (Caitlin Stasey).
Claire splits with Josh, telling him that he is obviously gay. His despair is short-lived when young hunk Geoffrey (Wade Briggs) enters the scene.
Geoffrey wants to get physical with Josh. Cue lots of manon-man kissing, bed scenes, and jokes about sex.
Later, Josh is forced to move back into the family home after his divorced mum Rose (Debra Lawrence) overdoses.
Please Like Me has a sweetness that sets it apart from other boundary-pushing comedies such as Chris Lilley’s Angry Boys and Summer Heights High – which happily found a home on ABC1.
The ABC insists the gay content isn’t the reason Please Like Me was shunted to ABC2, where it is sure to attract a smaller audience.
‘‘ The tone of Please Like Me and the issues discussed are principally aimed at an audience in their early 20s,’’ an ABC spokesperson says.
‘‘ Since ABC1 is largely a channel of mass appeal that tends to attract an audience with an average age the other side of 35, we decided the best home for Please Like Me was ABC2.’’ Thomas isn’t convinced. ‘‘ They told me it (the switch to ABC2) was a compliment. I don’t believe them,’’ Thomas says. ‘‘ I don’t know if what they were really saying was, ‘ Josh the show is a bit s---’ or, ‘ Josh the show has too much suicide and gay sex in it’.
‘‘ People have suggested to me that (too gay) is why they did it (put it on ABC2). I would be shocked if that’s why – but I also wouldn’t be.’’
If Thomas is right, this wouldn’t be the first time networks have become squeamish about gay content.
In 2009, Aussie Melissa George played bisexual intern Dr Sadie Harris on Grey’s Anatomy.
There was speculation her character would have a fullblown screen romance with Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez). The show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, changed tack after George started filming. George initially signed for between eight and 11 episodes, but finished early.
Her exit followed that of Brooke Smith, who played lesbian Dr Erica Hahn in the medical drama. Smith was dropped after her character consummated her relationship with Callie.
Gay lobby group, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, expressed its concern about the short-lived nature of the Callie-Erica storyline, which initially had been hailed as a breakthrough for mainstream American television.
That same year, Channel 7 censored a lesbian kiss between policewoman Charlie Buckton (Esther Anderson) and deckhand Joey Collins (Katie Bell) in Home and Away.
Seven’s decision came after complaints about the lesbian storyline from conservative lobby groups. ‘‘ The plot lines that young kids and teen
agers should be presented with should be about really authentic relationships that are not just sexualised,’’ Pro-Family Perspectives director Angela Conway said.
Anderson had said she had no problem with the scene.
‘‘ I don’t think it’s like I’m lifting the lid on something they don’t already know about,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘ To me, there’s no difference – love’s love.’’
US producers have used the controversy surrounding lesbian kissing scenes to boost ratings in TV shows. First there was Amanda Donohoe and Michele Green in LA Law, then Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel kissing Winona Ryder’s Melissa on Friends and Mischa Barton going girlon-girl in The O.C.
In the late ’ 70s, Billy Crystal played gay son Jodie Dallas on Soap, but he later admitted to early misgivings about taking the role.
In 1997, comedian Ellen DeGeneres went public with her homosexuality on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
There was an early backlash but DeGeneres is now one of the most successful and admired women on American television.
Number 96’s gay lawyer Don Finlayson (Joe Hasham) was a groundbreaking character on Australian TV. Water Rats featured another notable gay character, Sgt Helen Blakemore (Toni Scanlan).
Neighbours introduced gay character Chris Pappas (James Mason) in 2011. To its credit, the Ten soapie didn’t use Chris’s sexuality to shock.
This was no cynical ratings grab. Instead, the soapie dug deeper to show that Chris’s sexuality was only one aspect of his personality.
‘‘ The good thing about Chris is that he is an ordinary person who is a mechanic and happens to be gay,’’ Mason has said. Please Like Me, ABC2, Thursday, 9.30pm
Controversy: Josh Thomas (right); Melissa George; and the Home And Away lesbian scene (above).