Here at TheBacklot.com we spend a lot of time celebrating gay and bi men in the spotlight: actors, singers, dancers, sportsmen, and personalities are splashed across our pages like so much red paint at an all-fur fashion show. While we will never tire of the Neil Patrick Harrises and Chris Colfers of the world, we thought it was high time we paid due credit to some of the more unsung gay heroes: the guys behind the cameras of some of television’s best shows. In that light, we are proud to unveil TheBacklot 40, our celebration of 40 of the hardest-working and most influential out men working behind the scenes in TV.
These are the men who create and run some of our favorite shows, have written some of our most beloved gay characters, and have shepherded gay-inclusive stories to screen long before it was fashionable. Some will be familiar, but chances are there are a few surprises in the bunch for just about anyone. Some may not tell explicitly gay stories, but they have long been openly, proudly gay in a straight male-dominated industry where any difference can be used against you. Some are newcomers to the game, while others have been telling stories and developing great shows for decades. And while the group does lack some much-needed diversity, we hope that the upcoming generation of storytellers and deal-makers will change that.
The list is roughly alphabetical, with brief resume highlights and a quick bio of every entry. And we even tracked down a dozen or so of the men to get their thoughts on being gay in Hollywood, what makes them love their job, and how it is working with folks still not ready to come out on the set. We think the fellas’ insights are illuminating and, as most of these guys are writers, very entertaining.
I want to give my huge thanks to my colleagues Jim Halterman and Ed Kennedy for their invaluable contributions to this feature.
So without further ado, in more-or-less alphabetical order…
What They Do: Executive Producers
How You Know Them: The Fabulous Beekman Boys, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Million Dollar Listing, TransGeneration
Not to reduce two unique, luminous beings to a single unit, but Bailey and Barbato have been joined at the hip since they were underground dance duo The Fabulous Pop Tarts. Stars of the NYC “club kid” scene, these two fellas eventually turned the cameras on their friends and colleagues with their “shockumentary” Party Monster (which they later made into a narrative feature starring Macaulay Culkin as murderous nightlife overlord Michael Alig) and moved on to slyly queer docs like Eyes of Tammy Faye and Jesus Camp. But it was the small screen where the gents had their biggest hit with the runaway runway smash Rupaul’s Drag Race. Their World of Wonder Productions is one of the most exciting, queerest, and gleefully irreverent companies around, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
What He Does: Showrunner/Executive Producer/Writer
How You Know Him: Banshee, True Blood, Six Feet Under
After getting his break writing for Grace Under Fire, Alan Ball worked in television as a writer and producer before his award-winning screenplay for American Beauty thrust him into the big time. But it was the work he has done since – especially the groundbreaking drama Six Feet Under (which gave the world one of the first interracial gay television lead couples) and blood-soaked supernatural sex romp True Blood (which has featured a broad variety of LGBT characters) – where he has really made his mark. He continues to rattle the status quo with the off-kilter crime series Banshee, which features a kickass gender-noncomforming central character.
3. Paris Barclay
What He Does: Executive Producer/Director
How You Know Him: Sons of Anarchy, Glee, In Treatment, Cold Case, NYPD Blue, ER
I bet many viewers would be shocked to learn that one of the primary creative forces behind the violent, hypermasculine, and pretty darned Caucasian Sons of Anarchy is a gay man of color. But Hollywood vet Paris Barclay has never played by any rules other than his own, as is reflected in his impressively diverse resume. In addition to his many directing credits, as of June of this year he became the President of the Directors Guild of America, both the first African American and first openly gay man to ever hold the post. We had a chance to speak with the recent Emmy nominee to get this thoughts on being an out and proud man in the industry.
TheBacklot: Attitudes in this country toward gays and lesbians have shifted dramatically in recent years. Does the same hold true for Hollywood, or were they ahead of the curve?
Paris Barclay: Hollywood, and particularly television has always been ahead of the curve. In the stories we tell and in the diversity of people who tell them. Look back at An Early Frost (1985), Serving in Silence (1995), even Dynasty (1981). There were creative people of various orientations behind all of those, and they would be acclaimed as “groundbreaking” if they were produced today. Pedro Zamora’s story on The Real World (which Lance Black and I dramatized for a telefilm) showed the first gay commitment ceremony back in 1994!
I think it’s part of our job to show the world as it was, as it is, or as we hope it will be. And see if, in the drama, there can be something that quietly educates, enlightens, or creates empathy.
Can it be awkward working with people either behind the camera or in front of it who are not open about their sexuality?
Barclay: No. I believe everyone has their own path, and I can’t presume to know what’s happened before to them or what fears they may hold that lead them to the “undisclosed life.” If they ask, I’ll tell: better to be who you are. You have less to remember.
Has telling stories about gays and lesbians been a priority for you? If yes, has it been a challenge to get those stories on the air? If not, why?
Barclay: Telling stories about people I find interesting has been a priority, and, as in the case of Pedro and some episodes I’ve done of Glee, The West Wing, ER, NYPD Blue, and soon Sons of Anarchy. When LGBT people are in the mix, I try to do us all proud — which doesn’t mean “cleaning it up” but showing all the dimensions time will allow. I’ve also tried to get feature projects off the ground that starred gay or lesbian characters (including a dalliance with The Normal Heart back in the day, and Barbara Jordan more recently) but they’ve proven extremely difficult. I’ll keep trying though.
Do you have a dream project?
Barclay: Yes. Lance and I wrote a coming of age movie called A Life Like Mine back in the day. I’d love to get it made — it’s funny, touching, off the beaten path and very imaginative. So, yeah, that makes it a hard sell.
Now that marriage equality has come back to California, will you be taking advantage of it (if you haven’t already)?
Barclay: Celebrated my 5 year anniversary a couple weeks ago, and we’ve been together 14 years. A little ahead of the curve there too, I guess.