The mood was unrepentantly positive at the Television Academy’s panel “Writing LGBTQIA Love and Romance on TV,” held April 30 at Saban Media Center in North Hollywood, as creatives gathered to discuss what it means to craft meaningful and nuanced LGBTQ+ love stories in the modern TV landscape.
Moderated by former “Army Wives” writer Rob Forman, the producers and writers on the panel seemed content to focus primarily on the positive, praising Peak TV and the surplus of content providers for allowing for more and more diverse lives – and romances – to be depicted.
“I get so excited creating stuff in 2019,” executive producer and writer of Netflix’s upcoming “Tales of the City” revival Lauren Morelli said. “There’s such a community and we’re all so desperate for representation. I think the more people that are getting to tell our stories, the more space there is to tell really specific stories.”
And specificity is precisely what the TV Academy should encourage when it comes to reaching a generation of viewers more liberal and more inclusive than ever before. For writers, that means interrogating those “cultural truths” often blindly applied to entire communities.
“There’s a narrative that the Black community is further behind on their acceptance of queer people than the rest of the world,” co-creator and showrunner of BET’s “Boomerang” Ben Cory Jones pointed out. “That’s always heavy on my mind because part of me does see that, but also part of me is like, ‘Who said that?'”
It is Jones’ mission, then, to tell stories that refute the stereotypes that are all too easy to adhere to narratively.
“Let’s allow this [‘Boomerang’ character] to be what a lot of Black men are not allowed to be on television, which is varied and diverse. We’re not all athletes, we’re not all rappers. There’s this spectrum of diversity that we can be in also.”
For Freeform’s “Good Trouble” creator and executive producer Joanna Johnson, part of messaging depends on where your show lands. At Freeform, whose target audience is largely comprised of that post-Millennial generation referenced above, Johnson gets not just support, but pushed to go further.
“They’re like, ‘Can you make it gayer?’ Can they kiss more? You’re cutting away too soon,'” she emphasized. “They’re so encouraging. They just say, ‘More. What else?'”
Morelli and actor, writer and producer of Netflix’s “Special” Ryan O’Connell reported similar support from Netflix.
In the case of O’Connell, whose series is loosely based on his own experiences as a gay man with cerebral palsy, he was surprised that others were taken aback by the universality of his story.
“On its face, it seems like, ‘Oh, the life of a queer, disabled person, that must be so strange.’ To me, in my head, I was always writing an Ariana Grande pop song,” O’Connell explained. “To me, when you boil down the things that people want, my character just wants the basics: a boyfriend, a healthy relationship with his mom, a job where he’s valued.”
“That’s not unique,” he added. “That’s just the human condition.”
That sentiment was similarly echoed by “Pose” writer and producer Our Lady J, who reflected on the work she’d done that had proven the most satisfying story to tell.
“I’m really proud of the HIV storylines. How we’ve been able to take two lead characters of our show and have them be HIV positive and have it not be an HIV positive show,” she detailed. [“Pose”] is about fabulousness, it’s about fashion, it’s about music, it’s about love, it’s about drama, it’s a little soapy, and it’s really fun.”
“Normally, that wouldn’t happen with HIV. But my life is fabulous and flashy and a little soapy. And fun. And I’m an HIV positive person. So I’m really proud of that,” she concluded.
In general, things appear to be moving in the right direction within the Academy and the industry at large, but when it comes to matters of diversity, intersectionality, and opportunities to give a voice to those who are underrepresented, more is always better.
“It gets to be joyful,” Morelli remarked. “It gets to be like, ‘What if we just throw a bunch of queer characters on television and see what happens?’ and it’ll be like rainbows and glitter and drag. So fun!”