"Glee", "Modern Family" new face of family-friendly TV

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rachel is raised by two dads. Mitchell and Cameron have adopted a baby girl. Kurt musters up the courage to come out to his father, and gets his blessing.

"Glee" creator Ryan Murphy (C) and the cast celebrate backstage with their award after winning for best television series-comedy or musical the 67th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California January 17, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (GOLDENGLOBES-WINNERS)

Just as the notion of what makes a family in America is changing fast, so are old pictures on U.S. television being turned upside down with hit programs like “Glee” and “Modern Family.”

Audiences, critics, and now the body that bestows the TV industry’s highest honors, the Emmys, seem happy to embrace the changes.

“I think we have entered a new era of what is considered family-friendly television,” said Craig Tomashoff, executive editor of TV Guide.

“We have reached the point where it is not a big deal to have gay characters on TV. There is a level of sophistication and how social issues are dealt with. And getting the stamp from the Emmys validates that,” Tomashoff told Reuters.

“Glee”, a joyful comedy with dark undertones about high school musical misfits, earned 19 Emmy nominations on Thursday, including one for best TV comedy, crowning its status as the most buzz-worthy new TV show this year.

Its colorful cast of characters include a gay teen (Kurt) with a crush on a straight football player, a geeky girl (Rachel) adopted at birth by two men, a pregnant schoolgirl disowned by her parents, and a wheel-chair bound member of the high school’s singing, dancing show choir.

“Glee” actors Chris Colfer and Mike O’Malley both gained Emmy nominations for playing gay teen Kurt and his father Burt.


The mockumentary-style sitcom “Modern Family” features a gay couple and their Vietnamese baby, and a man married to a much younger Colombian woman. It won 14 Emmy nominations including nods for actors Eric Stonestreet (Cameron) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell).

“I think we’re representing so many different facets and colors of what a family is these days -- being a gay couple, an inter-racial couple, a May/December romance,” Ferguson said.

“I think we have taken the (sitcom) genre, twisted it, and made it more relevant and a testament to what the fabric of America is now,” he told Reuters.

The critical and popular success of the two new shows, which reach about 10 million people a week each, also reflect changes in the way gay people are depicted on TV since the end of ground-breaking comedy “Will & Grace” in 2006, which featured a flamboyant gay character portrayed by Sean Hayes.

“Modern Family” differs because it is “a show about struggling to raise kids the best you can, and one of the couples happens to be gay. But they don’t make a big stink about it,” said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.

According to a 2009 report by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters represent 3 percent of all regular characters on the five leading U.S. TV networks.

That’s up from 2.6 percent in 2008, and although the numbers are still small, Thursday’s Emmy nods were seen as another step in the gay community’s bid for acceptance even amid continuing U.S. court battles over gay marriage and adoptions by gays and lesbians.

GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios said “Glee” was “helping America to see who we are as a society. To see a story line like Kurt’s that reflects the anxiety that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth have, and for that character to be welcomed by his father sends the kind of message that is extraordinarily powerful.”

The winners of the primetime Emmy awards will be announced at a ceremony broadcast live from Los Angeles on August 29.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte