TV: The courage of its convictions

  • by David Nahmod
  • Sunday September 11, 2005
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Jossara Jinaro (Rae) and Cathy Doe (Simone) in <i>Passions.</i><br><br><br>
Jossara Jinaro (Rae) and Cathy Doe (Simone) in Passions.

Two weeks ago, BAR reported that the NBC daytime soap Passions would be outing a major character on August 31. The big day has come and gone, and daytime television will never be the same.

On that date, viewers of Passions not only found out that Simone Russell (Cathy Doe) was a lesbian, they saw her in bed with another woman. They saw Simone and Rae (Jossara Jinaro) engage in a passionate lip-lock. As I cheered, I couldn't help wondering if viewers in places like Kentucky or Nebraska were reaching for their heart medication!

It was a courageous move on the part of NBC and James Reilly, Passions' creator and writer. But then, Reilly has been bucking soap conventions for years. In the early 90s, when the long-running, traditional soap Days of Our Lives began to flounder in the ratings, Reilly stepped in and wrote a demonic possession story straight out of The Exorcist! The seemingly bizarre move attracted enough attention to pull up the ratings and save the show. Reilly appears to be looking at what other shows do, then sets out to do exactly the opposite.

Gay characters are not new to daytime. In 1992, One Life to Live introduced its audience to Billy Douglas (future movie star Ryan Phillipe), a gay teen who came out in a very homophobic town. The show's original story arc called for Billy to fall in love with Joey Riley, son of the show's longtime matriarch. But the network got cold feet. Billy came out, "educated" people, and left town.

A few years later, All My Children told the tale of a gay teacher who came out to his class. In what was a bold move at the time, one of his students reacted to this by coming out as well. It was a step forward, and AMC writers even allowed teacher Mike Delaney (Chris Bruno) to date, though he and his boyfriend always sat three feet apart, and never touched (at least not on the air).

When she retired in 2000, AMC creator Agnes Nixon made one final, bold move: she outed the lesbian daughter of the show's longtime heroine, Erica Kane (Susan Lucci). Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel) was daytime's first long-running gay character. It was a contract role, and Bianca was a major part of the show's storylines for five years. She even had a girlfriend! Yet the show's audience had to wait four years to see Bianca get her first kiss, and it was a quick, dry-mouth kiss at that. A step forward, but not enough.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005, 2 p.m. Passions is airing on NBC. Simone Russell is in turmoil. Her sister has just checked into a convent after giving birth to their half-brother's baby. Simone's mother is trying to choose between her father and her lover. Just an average American family!

So what's a girl to do? Simone turns to a friend for solace. Who is this woman, Rae, that she goes to visit? For weeks, we've been getting hints that Simone has been seeing someone, but this is our first glimpse of the new friend.

At first, it seems like Rae is just a gal pal for Simone to confide in. Then Rae invites Simone to spend the night. Then they get in bed. Then, as they fondle each other's hair, they say, "I love you." Then they lean over. Slowly, gently, lovingly, and in close-up, they kiss. In front of Middle America.

It's no surprise to longtime Passions fans that the show would cut to the chase so quickly, as the show has been bucking soap conventions for years. Passions' incest storyline raised more than a few eyebrows in the press. Incest was long considered a taboo subject on daytime, so Reilly wrote an incest story. You couldn't show same-sex couples in bed together on daytime TV. Did Reilly care?

Time will tell what the future holds for Simone and Rae. Rae is, after all, Simone's first love. But one thing is for certain. Simone Russell, who's been on the show since its first episode six years ago, will be around for years to come. Hooray!

Passions airs Mon.-Fri. at 2 p.m. on most NBC stations, including the Bay Area's NBC 11.