Recent statistics reveal that 75 percent of Americans say religious practice has strengthened their family relationships.1 Thirty-six percent of women believe wives should submit to their husbands,2 and 64 percent of teenagers are members of an organized religious group.3 So it should be encouraging to hear Mark Zakarin, executive vice president at Showtime, speak of "the responsibility of our industry to depict the world as it is." On the contrary, of the 102 shows on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and the Warner Brothers network, only fifteen have fathers as regular, central characters while there are twenty-five homosexual characters in prime time shows alone.
Zakarin, who recently added two new homosexual characters to his network's lineup, says the increased presence of homosexuals on prime time is part of that "responsibility of our industry to depict the world as it is." However, Warren Littlefield, former head of NBC entertainment programming, says there is a different reason why these homosexual characters are all appearing at once. In the past, advertisers routinely punished the networks for homosexual content by withdrawing ads. Littlefield goes on to say that although networks have flirted with homosexuality in the past, they can now openly display homosexuality without fear of losing advertisers. In the spring sweeps, Jack of Dawson's Creek, a guest character on Felicity, and Party of Five's Julia explored homosexuality.
Aside from economic reasons, some producers openly acknowledge they have an agenda with their gay characters – to make viewers more tolerant of the homosexual lifestyle. Ray Murphy, creator of the new WB series Popular, recently spoke of using gay story lines to "save one person any amount of pain."
Yet a new study from the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) suggests the lack of family programming on television may be causing pain rather than preventing it. An estimated 25 million children are growing up without their biological father in the home, says Wade F. Horn, president of the NFI. Television networks should make more room for daddy since TV shows may be the only place millions of children will ever see a father in action, says Horn. In sharp contrast to the increasing number of homosexual characters, less than fifteen percent of prime time shows depict fathers as regular characters. According to NFI, of these shows, only four depict fathers with "positive" characteristics, i.e., the TV fathers are involved with their children, offer moral guidance, are competent as fathers, and make the family a priority.
Prime time on any given Saturday night is when families are most likely to watch TV together, yet there is no show during that time depicting a father. Fifteen prime-time networks, however, include one or more gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender characters.
While baby boomers grew up with the Cleavers, the Mitchells, and the Ricardos, notably less admirable TV families influence today's children.
1 Baptist Message, January 21, 1999.
2 Washington Times, January 28, 1999.
3 Baptist Message, January 29, 1999.