Backstage Shake-Up at “Brothers & Sisters”


Jon Robin Baitz (l) and Executive Producer Greg Berlanti with Baitz (r)


Way back on December 12th,
TV Guide’s Michael
Ausiello reported a blinditem concerning the “firing of a major creative force” from a popular
television series. According to Ausiello, the departure came after months of
“backstage tensions and infighting…that threatened to tear the production
apart.”

What now seems very likely is that Ausiello was speaking of
Jon Robin Baitz, the openly gay creator of the ABC series Brothers & Sisters. How his potential departure will impact the
creative direction of the series, gay brother Kevin Walker’s storyline, and Brothers & Sisters’ future treatment
of gay subject matter is well worth considering. Further, the affair offers a
rare glimpse into the arcane backstage workings of network television
production.

It should be noted that an ABC spokesperson told
AfterElton.com that Baitz’s status has not changed and that he is still an executive
producer on the show (which is not currently in production due to the writers’
strike). However, a December 25th post by Baitz on his blog on The Huffington
Post titled “Leaving Los Angeles (Part One: Work)” makes it appear that Baitz’s
departure is either imminent or his role is so greatly reduced as to be
relatively insignificant. In fact, his post concludes with the observation
that “…the endgame of my life in
television was upon me.” (Part two of Baitz’s post can be found here.)



Baitz and the cast of Brothers & Sisters accepting their GLAAD Media Award

Whether this truly is Baitz’s “endgame” in television and the end of his work on Brothers & Sisters
is not entirely clear. Earlier in the same post he seems to contradict himself
by indicating some level of future involvement with the show he created: “Now I
look forward to writing the odd episode or three, and being useful as
close-reader of the cosmology of the show when asked.” AfterElton.com contacted
Baitz’s representation for a comment, but no reply was received (possibly due
to the holidays).


Despite the confusion over Baitz’s future
, two things are clear if his latest blog post is to
be believed: 1) he is now relocated to New York
after giving up his Venice,
CA residence and 2) he has been
sidelined from the show since August.

How exactly might this affect Brothers & Sisters’ gay content? That question is of great
concern to gay viewers as the Sunday night drama, regularly ranking in the
Nielsen’s Top Twenty Network Primetime Series, has been one of the most
gay-friendly and gay-inclusive ever on network television.

Even though Baitz’s departure from Brothers & Sisters is only just now being reported, if, as he
says, he was asked to “step back” from the show as far back as August, it’s
fair to assume he has had little influence on any recent B&S storylines. It bodes well then that Kevin Walker’s (Matthew
Rhys) storyline has not suffered visibly as a result. In fact, when at last the
writers’ strike is over, the character seems well positioned with a love
triangle storyline involving Jason McAllister (Eric Winter) and Scotty Wandell
(Luke MacFarlane).

But one storyline that might indeed be getting short shrift
is that of Uncle Saul (Ron Rifkin). Baitz has always had a close relationship
with Rifkin. In our recent interview with the actor, he spoke
highly of Baitz and noted that he has been many of Baitz’s plays. Baitz’s
Dec. 25th blog post says that he tried to write more for the older
characters on the show, but implies that he was rebuffed by ABC and the other
producers. “[M]en and women over forty-five years of age are in fact VERY
BLOODY interesting, and not, contrary to the vagaries of demographic and market
testing, invisible deliverers of lessons and straight-talk, and far from
geriatric totems.”

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