The Actors and Creators of ‘Thirtysomething’ Speak to the Show’s Pivotal Gay Moment
It was November 1989, two days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the ABC series Thirtysomething made history for the LGBT community. Never before had a primetime series ever shown a same-sex couple in bed together. That is, until David Marshall Grant and Peter Frechette stripped down and hopped in bed. It was a scene that had serious implications for the network, and it’s one of many televised moments that helped lead the queer community to equality.
It was a controversial scene at the time, and not only because it alluded to gay sex. Many were livid that the episode, titled “Strangers,” featured two gay men who too quickly hopped into bed with each other, and that it reinforced negative stereotypes of gay men.
Grant and Frechette, along with Thirtysomething co-creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, recently spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the scene, which almost didn’t happen. The mag claims it was a scene that cost ABC more than $1 million (due to the controversy), but all involved say it was totally worth it.
Herskovitz recalls the conversation he had with the network after it had spied the script for the episode. “[We] got a call from the head of standards and practices, who said, ‘I just want to make it clear that this is not going to be a conversation. Our policy is as follows: “ABC is in support of the idea of two gay men being in bed together. However, two gay men kissing will never appear on the ABC network.” And we proceeded to get into a screaming argument where, I’m embarrassed to say, I brought up things I shouldn’t have, including Germany in 1936.”
Zwick, who wrote the episode, speaks to the fact that it was the normalcy of the scene — just two guys being “goofy, funny and normal” like anybody else — that gave it such power and made it revolutionary. So much so that Zwick didn’t care if they were able to leave in the kiss.
Grant, who is now an openly gay actor (and who recently wrote for ABC’s Brothers and Sisters), originally didn’t want to even take the part, worried that he couldn’t be a movie star if he was an “out gay movie star.”
“But then I got the script,” he says, “and it was such an honest, modern, hip portrayal of two gay guys, I said yes.”
Frechette tells EW that he “was used to playing gay parts by 1989, so it wasn’t a thing I would have cared about except weirdly, wondering if my boobs were going to be too fat.”
“I never thought this scene would create such a stir,” Frechette says. “We didn’t even kiss! But I maintain that because I lit up a cigarette that it really conferred the carnality of the moment, that it was postcoital. That smoke is what raised the stink!”
How times have changed, huh?
Just this past February on How to Get Away with Murder, Jack Falahee and Matthew Risch starred in what we called the hottest gay sex scene to appear on network TV.
You can click to re-watch it, but we’ll just say there was more than kissing.