Interview: Robert Greenblatt Says His Being First Gay Broadcast TV President is No Big Deal. We Beg to Differ!


Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC

Robert Greenblatt, NBC’ s new chairman and president of programming, might not think there is anything remarkable about his ascendancy to the top of the Peacock network, but then again he’s pretty modest about all of his achievements. However, given that Greenblatt is the first out gay man to head a broadcast network, AfterElton.com is inclined to disagree with him rather emphatically. In fact, we’re more than happy to say we think his new position is an important step for GLBT visibility.

Greenblatt’s latest promotion is just another in a long list of achievements including, after this Saturday, the Stephen F. Kolzak Award, which GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) will bestow on Greenblatt for his contributions toward eliminating homophobia. (The award is named after the successful Los Angeles casting director who worked to fight AIDS-phobia and homophobia in Hollywood.)

While few outside of the Hollywood community are likely familiar with Greenblatt, his influence on GLBT visibility in popular culture is profound. Among his many producing television credits, the most recognizable to gay viewers would likely be his work as an executive producer on HBO’s Six Feet Under.

In 2003, Greenblatt became president of Showtime, which not only saw the network grow dramatically in almost every metric during his seven year tenure, but also saw the network build on its already queer-friendly reputation with shows such as Weeds, United States of Tara, Nurse Jackie and most recently, Shameless.

AfterElton.com recently had the chance to talk with Greenblatt about his being out in Hollywood, straight actors playing gay, gay actors playing straight and how he’d feel if his network received a failing grade from GLAAD.

AfterElton: Congratulations on winning the Stephen F. Kolzak award from GLAAD. What does that mean to you?

Bob Greenblatt: I think that the GLAAD organization represents such a great thing for the community. To give me this award in Stephen’s name is a real honor.

AE: Were you surprised when they called up and said you’re this year’s winner?

BG: I’m always surprised about that sort of thing. I was surprised and flattered and really happy to accept it because I do think that I’ve always tried to bring a whole diverse world to many of the shows that I’ve done. And I’m really happy that it’s being recognized here.

AE: Does being the first out broadcast network president mean something particular to you?

BG: I don’t know if there is any bigger meaning to ascribe to that. All I know is it was the right moment for me to do a job like this. I think it gives me a really unique platform, but I don’t know if there is any other meaning except that I happen to be the right guy for the job and I happen to be gay.

AE: Personally, I think it’s a mark of progress because we now have openly gay people like yourself in such high-powered positions. Granted, Hollywood has always had powerful gay people, but many of them weren’t out. I also think it says something about where we are today that your being president isn’t a particularly big deal.

BG: I would say yes to that. I have never ever been held back or questioned in any of my career steps that I’ve gone through because of my orientation. Nor have I seen it with anyone else. I mean, I think Hollywood is very open. In all the executive positions, executive producers, writers, directors, I don’t think there is any sort of negativity on that front at all behind the camera. I think that it’s more about what’s in front of the camera and that’s where it gets tricky, you know?

AE: [laughs] It gets very tricky. Under your tenure at Showtime the network was incredibly successful in pretty much ever metric there is and it was also incredibly gay friendly. Can you speak to your time there and how progressive that network was?

BG: I won’t take credit for putting Showtime in that position because it was really there before I got there. When I walked in the door, Queer as Folk was already on the air and I think it was three seasons in and they broke some great ground by putting that on the air. I mean incredibly so. Also The L Word was already a pilot that had been made and went to series before I got there. I actually put it on the air because I had taken over by the time it launched, but I was not the architect of either of those shows. I was the beneficiary of them. Showtime was way ahead of the game. Showtime had that show Brothers on in the 80s.

AE: I remember.
BG: They had been doing movies with LGBT characters and scenes, and Soldier’s Girl had aired before I arrived, so Showtime was way ahead of the game. I give Showtime a lot of credit in this area. It was great because I was simultaneously doing Six Feet Under with Alan Ball and the network was very much open and in tune with alternate lifestyles and all kinds of diversity.

It was a real joy to go in there without any restrictions whatsoever. Showtime had cultivated a very great gay and lesbian audience which I felt we should just keep lining because you know, they are there and because that spoke to me personally. I think they really covered the notion of shows that were filled with gay and lesbian characters. I don’t think you’ll see another full ensemble of gay and lesbian characters again.

What I tried to do instead of continuing that, I tried to populate the shows, very organically, with gay and lesbian characters along side of straight characters. It just became very organic and the audience was very open to all of that and it was really kind of liberating and a joy to do.

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