MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Reverend Ted Haggard isn't the only one who's been outed lately. In the world of television, several gay actors have made their sexual orientation public in recent weeks. And as TV critic Andrew Wallenstein explains, it does not seem to be the career killer it once was.
Mr. ANDREW WALLENSTEIN (TV Critic): ABC's Grey's Anatomy is the hottest show on television right now. That's in small part thanks to cast member T.R. Knight. Though he's not the star of the show, he made headlines last month when he released a statement identifying himself as a gay man. Last Friday, actor Neil Patrick Harris of the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, made a similar public declaration. Harris, like Knight, plays a heterosexual character. Though the actors released formal statements, my guess is they were practically forced to do so because of tabloid gossip. It's reached such a fever pitch on the Internet and magazines it's virtually impossible for even a minor celebrity to keep their sexuality a secret. Years ago, I doubt closeted gay actors Rock Hudson or Montgomery Clift could have maintained their legendary careers had they faced such scrutiny. But today, homosexuality is practically old hat thanks to shows like Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Culturally America has reached the point where a gay actor can play straight believably, but only to a limit that these two in particular managed not to push. Take T.R. Knight for instance, yes he plays a heterosexual character, but just barely. His Doctor George O'Malley is practically one of the girls on Grey's Anatomy. He currently has a story line in which he bumbles his way through a budding relationship.
(Soundbite of Grey's Anatomy)
Ms. SARA RAMIREZ (Actress): (as Callie Torres) The other night, when I told you I was done trying to compete, that was me breaking up with you.
Mr. T.R. KNIGHT (Actor): (as George O'Malley) No. No I think I would have noticed that.
Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Neil Patrick Harris' Barney Stinson character may seem to provide a more interesting test case. After all, Barney is a rabid womanizer seen angling for intimacy in nearly every episode.
(Soundbite of How I Met Your Mother)
Unidentified Actor: Listen Barney, I saw you talking to that bridesmaid last night, did you happen to get her phone number?
Mr. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS (Actor): (As Barney Stinson) You know I did.
Unidentified Actor: I'm going to need you to call her for me.
Mr. HARRIS: (As Barney Stinson) You know I won't.
Unidentified Actor: Why not?
Mr. HARRIS: (As Barney Stinson) Because we just hooked up last night. I can't call the girl the next day. I have to wait at least like... forever. Oh snap, never going to call her.
Mr. WALLENSTEIN: On both shows, neither Harris nor Knight engage in the romantic escapades that make women viewers swoon. And that's the important distinction. As progressive as it may seem that these actors can continue their careers, it's because they're not the traditional leading men. I cannot imagine a self-outing would do anything but ruin someone like Grey's Anatomy heartthrob Patrick Dempsey - known to legions of female fans as Doctor McDreamy. The appeal of Dempsey, who is not gay, is in convincing women he's attainable. Still, I do hope, and expect one day to see a gay actor put this assumption to the test too. And to some degree, I think the outing of actors like Knight and Harris paves the way for such a scenario.
BRAND: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor for the Hollywood Reporter and a regular contributor to DAY TO DAY.