List of 1980s American television episodes with LGBT themes

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With the onset of the AIDS epidemic, American television episodes with LGBT themes sometimes featured LGBT characters, especially gay men, as a way for series to address the epidemic. Legal dramas like L.A. Law and Law & Order included euthanasia storylines centered on the deaths of gay men with AIDS. Sitcoms would occasionally broach the subject, but for the most part followed the pattern that had developed during the 1970s, with episodes following one of a handful of plot devices: a character close to a lead character would unexpectedly come out, forcing the characters to confront their own issues with homosexuality; a lead character is mistaken for gay; a lead character pretends to be gay; or, less frequently, a recurring character from the series comes out. In the first instance, it was rare that the gay character would ever make another appearance.[1]

Episodes[edit]

Year Series Network Episode Synopsis
1980 Archie Bunker's Place CBS "Archie Fixes Fred Up" Archie (Carroll O'Connor) sets gay waiter Fred (Dean Scofield) up with a woman to try to "straighten him out".
1980 AssociatesThe Associates ABC "Censors""The Censors" A television producer (Stuart Margolin), the network censor (Lee Wallace) and attorney Tucker Kerwin (Martin Short) consult with a gay activist (Richard Brestoff) to see if the gay community would be offended by the line "queer as a three-dollar bill". The activist initially acts stereotypically effeminate and lisps when he tells them that the phrase is not offensive in context but, dropping the stereotypical mannerisms, chastises them for so readily accepting the stereotypes and challenges them to create non-stereotypical gay characters.
1980 Barney Miller ABC "Child Stealers""The Child Stealers" Gay father Darryl (Ray Stewart) kidnaps his son from a playground. Officer Zatelli comes out to the squad in response to bigoted comments from Darryl's ex-wife.
1980 CBS Reports CBS "Gay Power, Gay Politics" Purportedly about the power of the gay movement in San Francisco, this episode was widely criticized for sensationally focusing on sex and violating journalistic ethics.[2]
1980 Love BoatThe Love Boat ABC "Target Gopher/The Major's Wife/Strange Honeymoon/The Oilman Cometh" A groom and his best man are mistaken for a honeymoon couple in the "Strange Honeymoon" segment.
1980 Sanford NBC "Cal's Diet Part 2" After taking Cal to a bar to meet women, Fred (Redd Foxx) is hit on by a man who mistakes him for being gay.
1980 Speak Up, America! NBC "Lesbians Fighting to Stay in the Military"
1980 Taxi ABC "Elaine's Strange Triangle" Kirk (John David Carson), who Elaine (Marilu Henner) is interested in dating, has a crush on Tony (Tony Danza).
1980 Three's Company ABC "Love Lesson""The Love Lesson" Ralph Furley (Don Knotts) tries to "cure" Jack (John Ritter).
1980 Vega$ ABC "Man Who Was Twice""The Man Who Was Twice" The death threats being made against female impersonator Jeremy Welles (Jim Bailey) are coming from Welles' second personality, "Martin".
1980 WKRP in Cincinnati CBS "Hotel Oceanview" Herb (Frank Bonner) tries to seduce a potential client's assistant, Nikki (Linda Carlson). Nikki eventually tells Herb that she used to be Nick, his childhood friend.
1981 Barney Miller ABC "Movie", part 1 Lieutenant Scanlon investigates a complaint that Wojohowicz (Max Gail) molested a male suspect. Wojohowicz outs Officer Zatelli. Series creator Danny Arnold worked closely with the National Gay Task Force to develop the Zatelli storyline.
1981 Three's Company ABC "Night of the Ropers" Mr. Roper (Norman Fell) returns and Jack pretends to be gay when he is around.
1981 Trapper John, M.D. CBS "Straight and Narrow" A police detective (Frank Martin) shoots and paralyzes San Francisco's first openly gay police officer (Joseph Cali) because he believes the police force is being "contaminated". Craig Russell plays "Judy", a drag queen who cheers up a lonely older patient.
1982 American Playhouse PBS "Fifth of July" Kenneth Talley Jr. (Richard Thomas) is a gay paraplegic Vietnam veteran who lives at his family home with boyfriend Jed Jenkins (Jeff Daniels).
1982 Cagney & Lacey CBS "Conduct Unbecoming" Cagney and Lacey's partner in uncovering an illegal handgun operation is accused of being gay after it is discovered that he has done gay pornography.
1982 Diff'rent Strokes NBC "On Your Toes" Willis (Todd Bridges) is upset that Arnold (Gary Coleman) has taken up ballet, believing that it something for sissies or "sweet" [read: gay] men.
1982 Dynasty ABC "Two Princes""The Two Princes" Steven (Al Corley) comes out as gay to his family.
1982 Gimme a Break! NBC "Chief's Gay Evening""The Chief's Gay Evening" An anti-gay joke leads to one of the Chief's (Dolph Sweet) officers (Eugene Roche) coming out.
1982 Hill Street Blues NBC "Trial By Fury" Belker (Bruce Weitz) befriends a gay prostitute named Eddie Gregg (Charles Levin).
1982 Hill Street Blues NBC "Phantom Of The Hill" Eddie's (Charles Levin) lover is involved in a drug-related murder.
1982 Magnum, P.I. CBS "Jororo Kill" Magnum (Tom Selleck) must prevent a man, discharged from the British armed forces for being a transvestite, from killing a visiting Prime Minister.
1982 Too Close for Comfort ABC "Monroe's Secret Love's Secret" Monroe develops a crush on a cross-dresser, not realizing the woman he's in love is actually a man.
1983 Cheers NBC "Boys in the Bar""The Boys in the Bar" One of Sam's (Ted Danson) best friends (Alan Autry) comes out as gay in a new autobiography and some of the regulars worry that Cheers might turn into a gay bar.
1983 Diff'rent Strokes NBC "Bicycle Man" A police detective arrests the pedophile who was attempting to molest Arnold and one of his friends and clears up the misconception raised by Willis that the suspect was "gay".
1983 Gimme a Break! NBC "Melissa" Nell (Nell Carter) sets the Chief up with a woman (Victoria Carroll), not knowing that the woman is actually an MTF transgender.
1983 Hill Street Blues NBC "Here's Adventure, Here's Romance" Following a deadly shooting at a gay bar, an off-duty cop, who is the only witness, is reluctant to come forward for fear that his homosexuality will become public.
1983 Hotel ABC "Faith, Hope, and Charity" Playwright Zan Elliott (Carol Lynley) invites old friend Eileen Weston (Barbara Parkins) to the premiere of her new play. Eileen is disturbed to learn that Zan is a lesbian but maintains the friendship.
1983 Magnum, P.I. CBS "Limited Engagement" Two elderly sisters are robbing a chain of convenience stores by dressing up as men.
1983 St. Elsewhere NBC "Release" Dr. Craig's (William Daniels) college roommate (Andy Romano) is planning to have a sex change operation.
1983 St. Elsewhere NBC "AIDS and Comfort" A Boston politician (Michael Brandon) checks into St. Eligius and learns that he has AIDS. He admits privately that he has had sexual encounters with men in the recent past. The first American medical drama to deal with the pandemic.[3]
1983 Tony Brown's Journal PBS "Homosexuality Among Blacks"
1983 Trapper John, M.D. CBS "Baby on the Line" The parents of an infant diagnosed with congenital adrenal hyperplasia must decide whether to raise the child as a boy or a girl.
1984 Hotel ABC "Mistaken Identities" A father (Steve Kanaly) fears his son (Lance Kerwin) is gay so he attempts to set him up with a female prostitute.
1984 Hotel ABC "Transitions" Maggie Dawson (Deirdre Hall) catches her sportscaster husband (Robert Reed) in the arms of his director, Biff (Granville van Dusen).
1984 Kate & Allie CBS "Odd Boy Out" Chip's (Frederick Koehler) friends think he's a sissy because he lives in a house with two women.
1984 Kate & Allie CBS "Landlady" Kate (Susan St. James) and Allie (Jane Curtin) pretend to be a gay couple so that their landlady, who is gay and has a lover, will not increase their rent.
1984 Love BoatThe Love Boat ABC "Country Blues/A Matter of Taste/Frat Brothers Forever" Doc's (Bernie Kopell) fraternity brother Buzz (Roy Thinnes) comes out to him in the "Frat Brothers Forever" segment.
1984 Murder, She Wrote CBS "Birds of a Feather" Jessica (Angela Lansbury) travels to San Francisco to attend the wedding of her niece, Victoria, only to learn that her fiancé is cross-dressing at a nightclub to earn a living, and is subsequently charged with the murder of his boss. The fiancé really is straight, as is the other female impersonator.
1984 Night Court NBC "Blizzard""The Blizzard" Dan (John Larroquette) is trapped in an elevator during an electrical outage with a gay man who is attracted to him.
1984 Nine to Five Syndicated title unknown Bud (Edward Winter) learns that his college girlfriend is dating another woman.
1984 St. Elsewhere NBC "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" Dr. Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes) invites visiting medical researcher Christine Holtz (Caroline McWilliams) to stay with her, only to become uncomfortable when Holtz comes out to her. Cavanero violates Holtz's confidence by telling several members of the staff and berates her for being "unnatural". She later apologizes.
1984 Too Close for Comfort ABC, then Syndicated "Shipmates" When Ted (Ted Knight) invites Frank (Gerald S. O'Loughlin), an old acquaintance from the Navy, to dinner, Frank agrees to bring "Carol", with whom he's been living for 25 years. "Carol" turns out to be Carroll (William Prince). Carroll dies (off-screen) by the end of the episode.
1985 American Playhouse PBS "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" Tommy Lee Jones plays Brick Pollitt, pining for his dead friend Skipper.
1985 Golden GirlsThe Golden Girls NBC "Pilot" The girls have a gay live-in cook named Coco (Charles Levin), who was not retained in the regular series.
1985 Hill Street Blues NBC "Queen for a Day" Officer Coffey (Ed Marinaro) is propositioned by his former coach during a prostitution sting.
1985 Hotel ABC "Rallying Cry" Guests Cameron (Lloyd Bochner) and Nora Wheeler (Marion Ross) sue for custody of their niece (Missy Francis) after learning that she has been left in the custody of a gay couple, Dr. Michael Vaughn (Douglas Barr) and Alex Halpern (Michael Sabatino).
1985 Miami Vice NBC "Evan" Crockett (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) join forces with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ... including Crockett's old partner and former friend, Evan Freed (William Russ). After Crockett rejects Freed's many attempts at rekindling the friendship, Tubbs tries to understand their troubled relationship. Crockett later confesses that years ago, both he and Freed had been best friends with a man named Mike Orgell. After admitting his homosexuality to his friends, Orgell faced serious harassment from Freed. The harassment from Freed became so bad that Orgell committed suicide. Crockett had not forgiven Freed and blamed him for the suicide. Later in the episode, Freed is revealed to have tremendous guilt over Orgell's suicide. Evan Freed is shot at the end of the episode and dies in the arms of Crockett, who has forgiven him.[4]
1985 New Alfred Hitchcock PresentsThe New Alfred Hitchcock Presents NBC "Unlocked Window""An Unlocked Window" A remake of a 1965 episode with Bruce Davison reprising the role of a transvestite nurse strangler originally played by T. C. Jones.
1985 Night Court NBC "Best of Friends" Dan is upset when an old male friend (Jim Bailey) comes to visit after having become a woman.
1985 Trapper John, M.D. CBS "Friends and Lovers" Nurse Libby (Lorna Luft) is crushed to discover an old boyfriend (Robert Desidero) is both gay and suffering from AIDS. When Trapper (Pernell Roberts) learns that AIDS patients are being routinely transferred to another facility, he persuades the hospital to open an AIDS ward.
1986 Cagney & Lacey CBS "Rites Of Passage" Tony Statinopolis, an openly gay man, moves in next door to Cagney (Sharon Gless) and the two become fast friends. Tony becomes a recurring character for the rest of the series.[5]
1986 Golden GirlsThe Golden Girls NBC "Isn't It Romantic"
Dorothy and Jean in "Isn't It Romantic?"
Dorothy's (Beatrice Arthur) old friend Jean (Lois Nettleton), a lesbian whose partner has recently died, comes to visit and develops a crush on Rose (Betty White).
1986 Hill Street Blues NBC "Look Homeward, Ninja" Officer Kate McBride (Lindsay Crouse) is falsely accused of sexually harassing a female suspect. While she is innocent of the charge, she does come out.
1986 Hill Street Blues NBC "Slum Enchanted Evening" Sgt. Belker (Bruce Weitz) comes to the aid of his friend Eddie (Charles Levin), who is dying of AIDS.
1986 Hotel ABC "Scapegoats" Homophobic bartender Frank (Ken Kercheval) believes he has contracted AIDS from gay waiter Joel (Leigh McCloskey), who is HIV-negative. Frank's wife assumes Frank is sleeping with men and his son (Doug Savant) assumes he is an IV drug user. He in fact was infected by a blood transfusion.
1986 Hotel ABC "Undercurrents" Army officer Nick Hauser (Jan-Michael Vincent) learns that fellow officer Roger Gage (Boyd Gaines) is gay after Roger is bashed. The same gang later attacks Nick and bellhop Dave (Michael Spound) and Nick beats them. Nick is unable to accept Roger, who decides to come out and press charges even though he will lose his military career.
1986 L.A. Law NBC "Pilot" The firm discovers that their late senior partner was gay.[6]
1986 L.A. Law NBC "Venus Butterfly""The Venus Butterfly" In "The Venus Butterfly" and "Fry Me to the Moon", Christopher Appleton (Peter Frechette) is a person with AIDS prosecuted by Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) for the mercy-killing of his lover, who also had the disease. Stanley Kamel plays Appleton's gay attorney, Mark Gilliam, who would make several additional appearances.
1986 L.A. Law NBC "Fry Me to the Moon" In "The Venus Butterfly" and "Fry Me to the Moon", Christopher Appleton (Peter Frechette) is a person with AIDS prosecuted by Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) for the mercy-killing of his lover, who also had the disease. Stanley Kamel plays Appleton's gay attorney, Mark Gilliam, who would make several additional appearances.
1986 Matlock NBC, then ABC "Stripper""The Stripper" In the final moments of the episode Matlock (Andy Griffith) tells the court that the mysterious and elusive murderer Helen Shelly is really a cross-dressing male strip club worker suffering from "identity confusion."
1987 21 Jump Street Fox "Honor Bound" The team investigates a military school where cadets are killing gays.
1987 American Playhouse PBS "Waiting for the Moon" Alice B. Toklas (Linda Hunt) takes care of her lover, Gertrude Stein (Linda Bassett), when she falls terribly ill during the 1930s.
1987 CBS Schoolbreak Special CBS "What If I'm Gay?" Todd (Richard Joseph Paul) comes out after his friends find a gay magazine in his desk. Todd confronts Kirk (Manfred Melcher) about Kirk's homophobia, which may be rooted in his own anxiety about his sexual orientation and the sexual experimentation he and Todd engaged in when younger.
1987 Designing Women CBS "Killing All the Right People" Tony Goldwyn plays Kendall Dobbs, a gay man with AIDS who asks the Sugarbaker firm to design his funeral. Series creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason wrote the script after her mother died of AIDS contracted via a blood transfusion.[7] The episode's title is derived from a comment she overheard in the hospital: "The good thing about AIDS is that it's killing all the right people."[8] She incorporated a version of the remark into the script. "Killing All the Right People" was nominated for two Emmy Awards, for writing and editing.[9]
1987 Fame NBC, then Syndicated "Best Buddies" Danny's (Carlo Imperato) best friend comes out.
1987 Frank's Place CBS "Season's Greetings" "Bubba" Weisburger (Robert Harper), longtime friend of Frank (Tim Reid), tells his mother that Frank is his lover in an effort to stop her nagging questions about when he is going to marry and settle down.
1987 Golden GirlsThe Golden Girls NBC "Strange Bedfellows" Blanche (Rue McClanahan) is caught up in a scandal with a politician (John Schuck), who used to be a woman.
1987 Leg Work CBS "Life Itself" Claire McCarron (Margaret Colin) helps a friend of hers, who has contracted AIDS, find his former lover as a dying wish.[10]
1987 Miami Vice NBC "God's Work" A drug kingpin's son (Esai Morales) returns to Miami to be a part of his father's business and also holds a personal secret that he is gay.
1988 21 Jump Street Fox "Big Disease with a Little Name""A Big Disease with a Little Name" The team protects a high school student living with AIDS. He initially claims he is a hemophiliac who contracted the disease through contaminated blood products but eventually acknowledges that he is gay and the hemophilia story is a lie.
1988 Bronx ZooThe Bronx Zoo NBC "Crossroads" Teacher Harry Barnes (David Wilson) learns that a student who is engaged to be married is secretly gay; Harry plans to out him to his fiancée.
1988 Cheers NBC "Norm, Is That You?" On the recommendation of Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), part-time house painter Norm (George Wendt) is hired as an interior decorator by a shallow yuppie couple (Jane Sibbett and George DelHoyo).Since the couple is convinced that all the best decorators are gay, Norm decides to put on a flamboyant act to prepare for the new job.
1988 Friday the 13th: The Series Syndicated "Night Prey" An implied allegory of vampires to homosexuality. The episode also featured a female prostitute being paid to kiss a female vampire.
1988 Golden GirlsThe Golden Girls NBC "Scared Straight" Blanche's younger brother Clayton (Monte Markham) comes out as gay on a visit to Miami.
1988 Hotel ABC "Contest of Wills" Joanne Lambert is killed in a car accident. When her father (Dick O'Neill) arrives to claim her body he learns that she had been living with hotel catering manager Carol Bowman (Christopher Norris). Although he is initially hostile to her, the two bond and Carol accompanies him home for Joanne's funeral.
1988 Midnight Caller NBC "After It Happened" Bisexual Mike Barnes (Richard Cox) deliberately infects Tina (Kay Lenz) (the ex-girlfriend of radio host Jack Killian (Gary Cole)) with HIV. Russ (J. D. Lewis) is Mike's ex-boyfriend who Mike abandoned when Russ got sick. Gay and AIDS activists protested during and after filming. Then-NBC affiliate KRON-TV in San Francisco ran a disclaimer before the show with an AIDS hotline number and aired a half-hour live special, Midnight Caller: The Response during which activists and public health officials aired their grievances.[11]
1989 Alien Nation Fox "Chains of Love" Sikes (Gary Graham) has to deal with a male Newcomer who has developed a crush on him as a result of a love potion called "sardonac".
1989 American Masters PBS "James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket" This episode explored the life of James Baldwin, the openly gay writer.
1989 China Beach ABC "China Men" Boonie (Brian Wimmer) develops feelings for a woman who used to be a man.
1989 Dear John NBC "Stand By Your Man" Tony (Cleavon Little) develops a crush on John (Judd Hirsch) and when John tries to let him down easy Tony makes a scene at a restaurant.
1989 Dear John NBC "Margo" The group tells John that the knockout who's knocking him out is really a new member's transvestite husband.
1989 Doctor, Doctor CBS "Torch Song Cardiology" Mike's (Matt Frewer) gay brother Richard (Tony Carreiro) helps Grant (Beau Gravitte) write a speech and the two become close friends, prompting some homophobia from Mike, Deirdre (Maureen Mueller) and Abe (Julius Carry III).
1989 Doogie Howser, M.D. ABC "Vinnie, Video, Vici" A gay artist, dying of AIDS, paints a mural in the hospital.
1989 Friday the 13th: The Series Syndicated "Secret Agenda of Mesmer's Bauble""The Secret Agenda of Mesmer's Bauble" A man is so obsessed with a female singer, that he wants to become her.
1989 Hunter NBC "Fifth Victim""The Fifth Victim" The search for a serial killer of gay men leads to the knowledge that the supposed fifth victim was actually a copycat. Detective Frank Buchanan (Rick Giolito) comes out during the investigation.
1989 L.A. Law NBC "Accidental Jurist""The Accidental Jurist" Kuzack (Harry Hamlin) chooses a retired judge (Donald Moffat) whom he knows is secretly gay to hear the case of an athlete (Brian McNamara) who loses an endorsement deal after coming out.
1989 Night Court NBC "Passion Plundered" Harry (Harry Anderson) and Dan pursue a reporter sent to interview Harry, only to find out she is a lesbian.
1989 thirtysomething ABC "Strangers" Melissa's (Melanie Mayron) gay friends Russell (David Marshall Grant) and Peter (Peter Frechette) are seen in bed together after having had sex. The actors were not allowed to touch during the scene and the episode generated controversy and alienated advertisers.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Tropiano, p. 191, 212, 224
  2. ^ Alwood, p. 189
  3. ^ Tropiano, p. 33
  4. ^ "Evan". Miami Vice Chronicles. 
  5. ^ Tropiano, Stephen (2002). The Prime Time Closet, a History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York: Applause Thatre and Cinema Books. p. 267. ISBN 1-55783-557-8. 
  6. ^ Tropiano, Stephen (2002). The Prime Time Closet, a History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York: Applause Thatre and Cinema Books. p. 284. ISBN 1-55783-557-8. 
  7. ^ Bianco, Robert (1988-08-05). "The Lady Behind 'Designing Women'". Deseret News (Scripps Howard News Service). Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  8. ^ Capsuto, p. 221
  9. ^ Vancheri, Barbara; Weiskind, Ron (1988-12-13). "Networks play it 'safe' with AIDS". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 17. Retrieved 2009-01-29. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Episode Detail: Life Itself - Leg Work". TV Guide. 
  11. ^ Tropiano, p. 103

References[edit]

  • Capsuto, Steven (2000). Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-41243-5.
  • Tropiano, Stephen (2002). The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York, Applause Theatre and Cinema Books. ISBN 1-55783-557-8.

See also[edit]