Catching Up With The Multi-Talented Billy Magnussen

InDepth InterView: Billy Magnussen Talks Reserved For Rondee UK Gigs, INTO THE WOODS Movie, VANYA, 50 SHADES & More.


Billy Magnussen brilliantly played the dim Spike in a Tony-nominated turn on Broadway earlier this year. He played Signourney Weaver’s love interest. Some gals have all the luck! | Image:

Good in-depth interview by Pat Cerasaro on Broadway World with Billy Magnussen. He’s one of my favorite interview subjects of late because he comes across as completely genuine — and more than a little bit quirky.

He’s shooting the new Into The Woods movie right now and he’s hot off his Tony-nominated turn in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s exceptional play and one of the funniest afternoons I’ve ever spent at the theatre.

Magnussen is certainly easy on the eyes — just as he was back in the day when he played Casey Hughes on As The World Turns where I first ran across him — but he’s more than just another pretty face. His band is damn good, too. Here’s a link to the iTunes pages for Reserved For Rondee.

Langford on Soaps: Best Gay TV Characters

Langford on Soaps: Has “My Husband’s Lover” Jumped the Shark? –, Page 6.

Scroll down the linked page about halfway to get to Anthony’s top ten list. Sometimes when I read his opinions of soaps, it’s like we’re watching two entirely different shows. A wide divergence of opinion — it’s what civilized discourse is all about, Congress. This time out, however, it’s something else entirely.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis' Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver's death was central to the plot of the show's finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis’ Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver’s death was central to the plot of the show’s finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

I like his list. I think I would have replaced #s 10, 9, and 5, but other than that, I think he’s onto something.

Like Anthony, I think Reid Oliver and Brendan Brady were, in many ways, some of the most important gay representations we’ve had on television. And, I, too, have a soft spot for John Paul McQueen, Aaron Livesy and Luke Snyder!

The 50 Greatest Gay TV Characters

The 50 Greatest Gay TV Characters.

Courtesy of The Backlot. I did participate in this poll and I’m pleased to see that a few of my recommendations made it in.

I’m particularly pleased about the page linked above, featuring #s 9, 8 and 7 — the delicious fantasy soap opera trio of Sonny Kiriakis, Will Horton and Luke Snyder! Just think about it for a minute!


Freddie Smith as Sonny Kiriakis


Van Hansis as Luke Snyder


Chandler Massey as Will Horton

I also appreciated the inclusion of Justin Bartha’s David Sawyer (The New Normal) at #35, the exceptional Luke McFarlane as the equally exceptional Scotty Wandell (Brothers and Sisters) and two of my favorites from across the pond: #23 Kieron Richardson’s Ste Hay and #12 Emmett J. Scanlan’s Brendan Brady from the UK sudser Hollyoaks.

With few exceptions — #s 1 and 2 while deserving of inclusion, don’t deserve the top spots — I think this is a great list. At least there’s SOME representation out there. We can always use more, but at least it’s not the desert it was in the olden days!

Cady McClain, the Decline of American TV Soaps, and Other Stuff

Here’s a link to a great article by All My Children’s Cady McClain about the decline of soap operas on American television. Alert readers will know that this is a topic that I broach with some frequency because, in all incarnations of my life, I have been and continue to be a storyteller. And one of the best ways to connect with your audience and tell important stories is using the serial format.

I have a lot to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for another day. Read Cady’s piece. She’s bang on; absolutely bang on.

As for the haters that are drawn to comment on her piece (which she tweeted about), I offer up this great piece on the subject courtesy of Mashable. I originally posted it a few months back.

Finally, below I am reposting a piece I did for Salon back in 2010 when As The World Turns was going off the air. It touches on some similar themes and also Cady and I quote from one of the same sources, Robert Allen, who wrote the terrific book, Speaking of Soap Operas, back in the 80s! All great minds…..?

P.S. In re-reading the piece below, it occurs to me that I’ve used the Schemering quote in more recent pieces. I should research more deeply. Still — it’s a great quote!


On Friday, September 17, 2010, the soap opera As The World Turns goes off the air after a run of 54 years. A significant event? Yes, I think it is.

“We are a narrative species,” wrote Roger Rosenblatt in Time a decade ago. “We exist by storytelling — by relating our situations — and the test of our evolution may lie in getting the story right.”

I have always found true profundity in that quote and I have gone back to it hundreds of times because all of us relate to students, to colleagues, to friends, acquaintances and strangers, by telling our stories. And I often wonder if a generation gap is not widening because our outlets for teaching young people how to develop, expand and express their own stories have severely diminished in recent decades.

By way of example, we seem to be reaching the bitter end of serialized storytelling, something which can be dated back more than 500 years to Persian storytellers. Serial fiction became wildly popular in the 19th century with Charles Dickens, most famously, and other authors who published stories in magazines by installment. In the U.S., serialized stories began to be broadcast daily on radio in the 1930s. Derisively called soap operas, as most were sponsored by household products manufacturers and featured overly dramatic plots, they fast became the chief escapist fare for an audience of millions; most of whom were women.

If not the originator of the idea, certainly the most prolific purveyor of soap opera was Irna Phillips, an iron-willed, opinionated genius who acted-out her stories for a secretary to transcribe in lieu of literally putting pen to paper.

Character First
When Phillips created As The World Turns in 1956, it fast became the number one drama in America and stayed at that top spot for more than two decades. In writing about the program, Robert LaGuardia called Phillips “ahead of her time. … Irna saw daytime drama in terms of time and character, rather than story. She understood something that only loyal soap fans truly know: that people want to become involved with the lives of other people. … Story to Irna was simply a vehicle; it was from the moment-to-moment emotions of her characters, expressed to each other in quiet scenes, that viewers derived true vicarious pleasure.”

Soap operas exploded thanks to the advent of television and at the height of their reach some 30 years ago, daytime dramas reached a staggering 50 million viewers a week and raked in more than $700 million in profit annually. The size of the soap audience, argued essayist Robert C. Allen, made the programs “a significant cultural phenomenon.”

In the often laconic pacing of daily serials, audiences get to know characters on a level more intimate than in episodic storytelling and their emotional investment in those characters intensifies. The late Christopher Schemering, a journalist devoted to daytime drama, once noted that “as characterizations grow and the narrative stretches out over months and years and becomes more complex and ambiguous, one’s involvement deepens, forcing one to come to terms with the quirks of human nature, the darker sides of fundamentally good people. And thus there is the possibility of the viewer experiencing something new or complex or feeling some way he has never felt before.”

Theatre practitioners often say that the purpose of the art form is to illuminate the human condition and, arguably, soap opera’s true calling may be exactly the same.

Old-Fashioned Relevance
While many soaps have been derided over the years for outlandish plots, poor writing and occasional injections of science fiction or utter madness, As The World Turns remained relevant, said Schemering, because it told “powerful stories slowly and surely. The show was old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.” LaGuardia called it the “most historically important soap opera in modern times.”

In its early years, the show introduced what is believed to be the first illegitimate child on television and though the show was never considered cutting-edge like the early days of All My Children — where a young Erica Kane had television’s first legal abortion — the show did not shirk from the exploration of social issues. Over the years, alcoholism, cancer, adoption, racism, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other issues have been mined for stories.

Margo’s Rape
In the early 1990s on As The World Turns, the rape of police detective Margo Hughes was allowed to play out in real time. The character, who had to wait six months before she could take a test to determine if she had contracted HIV/AIDS from her rapist, was allowed to explore her own emotions, those of her husband, family and colleagues, and the impact her rape had on everyone in her life in a way that mirrored what happens in the real world. Nearly 20 years after this story first aired, actress Ellen Dolan says that it remains a touchstone for long-time viewers.

Luke’s Coming Out
The show has also, in recent years, been lauded for its long-term treatment of Luke Snyder’s homosexuality and its sensitive portrayal of young gay men. When the teenager came out to friends and family, he was met with both acceptance and derision, often from surprising or unexpected sources, but the character was allowed to hold to his own truth and the story showed the long-term positive effects of that truth-telling on members of the community.

And while soaps can be innovative and forward thinking, they can also be prudish. When the character of Luke fell in love with Noah Mayer, a young man with a completely different, harsher and occasionally frightening coming out story, the two finally shared daytime’s first gay male kiss — nearly a decade into the 21st century.

A gripping story such as Margo’s rape showed millions of women how one woman, married with children, reacted to such an unspeakable act and how it impacted her life. Luke and Noah’s story was written with intense courage and deep feeling and showed how one town accepted and embraced people who may have been different. Both stories allowed viewers, some of whom may not have had other avenues in which to explore them, new and potentially empowering ways to confront difference and prejudice and violence in their own lives.

A Real American Drama
Nearly 50 years ago, playwright William Inge said that while people may sneer at soap operas, they have “a basis for a truer, more meaningful drama. … I feel that in soap opera we have the roots for a native American drama.” Inge may have been right, but he could not have foretold the societal shifts that have occurred over the last three decades that has pushed the soap opera onto a cultural endangered species list.

Soap opera viewership is down a staggering 30 million weekly viewers since the mid-1980s and the number of dramas on the air has shrunk by more than half as well. The news from the Nielsen ratings continue to show a continuing sharp decline across all daytime dramatic programs in women viewers 18-49, the bread and butter demographic for soaps. In an era when working outside of the home is the norm rather than the exception for both genders, when DVR’s have released viewing from time constraints and online video has even freed it from TV sets, the soap audience has dwindled and is increasingly split between older viewers and teenagers; neither is a group that excites daytime’s traditional advertisers.

“There are two universal human needs or motives,” a colleague of mine wrote recently, “the need to know and the need to belong.”

That’s as important, I believe, as Rosenblatt’s assertion that “[w]e exist by storytelling.”

If Rosenblatt is correct, what becomes of a society that loses its stories? What happens to people who forget who they are or where they came from or who their ancestors were or how they deal with fellow citizens in a crisis? How do we write our history if we have no stories to tell? If there is a primal need for knowledge and belonging — and I fervently believe that there is — how can we satisfy that need if no one tells us our own story? How do we move forward if we cannot add to the narrative? How do we entertain each other without a collective act of imagining? How do we continue to educate future generations if we have no stories to bind us together?

You may be thinking this is all well and good, but when you get right down to it, it’s just a soap opera; it’s just a television show. Does it really matter? I think it does. And I think that any story that can be told without a break for more than 50 years, such as As The World Turns, deserves to be celebrated and its passing deserves to be mourned.

There are still people who need experiential outlets and serial drama may be an important and overlooked one to help people deal with their personal issues and to teach them to tell their own stories in a meaningful way.

What happens to those folks when we can no longer “tune in tomorrow?”

Durang’s Best Chekovian ‘Spike’


Shalita Grant, Kristine Nielsen, David Hyde Pierce, Genevieve Angelson (on rug), Sigourney Weaver and Billy Magnussen star on Broadway in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” The play is directed by Nicholas Martin. Photographer: Carol Rosegg/O&M Co. via Bloomberg

Lucky me. I was in New York last week and had a chance to see Christopher Durang’s brilliant Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Golden Theatre.

When we arrived and settled into our seats, the usher turned to us and said, “You’re going to laugh.”

“Good,” I said, “I could use a laugh.”

“Oh, you’re gonna laugh,” she said, “whether you need it or not!”

And I did.

Kristine Nielsen, David Hyde Pierce, the divine Shalita Grant and the hilarious Billy Magnussen all received Tony Award nominations for their performances today. They were all richly deserved — hell, I thought someone should have delivered a Tony to Ms. Grant after the performance I saw, she was so good — but I am puzzled by the Tonys snub (and it’s completely a snub) of Sigourney Weaver who, as Masha, delivers what may be my all time favorite line in the history of theatre in this play.

I just posted a bit about Jake Silbermann who is in a Tony nominated show on Broadway right now as well. Billy Magnussen — Spike — was one of Silbermann’s co-stars on As The World Turns. Let no one tell you great actors don’t come from soaps.

If you have a chance, see VSMS!

By the way: Here’s Billy Magnussen’s reaction courtesy of Theatre Mania. Priceless.

Billy Magnussen, Best Featured Actor in a Play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike:

“Ahhhh, my dog is eating this thing. I have two dogs. I have a French bulldog named Kiki Something Awesome Ninja Meatball. The other one is a long-haired miniature dachshund named Tank. I was in bed when I found out I was nominated for a Tony. I don’t have a publicist. I found out when my mom called this morning. I was sleeping. You know when your phone rings and you just keep yelling at your phone because you just want to sleep? That’s what I was doing. I didn’t know they were calling about that. After the fifth time, I was like, ‘fiiiiine…she has something to talk to me about.’ Crazy, right? I’m going to go to the gym right now. I have to run every day, because I gain weight fast.”

Jake Silbermann: Just My Type

This is a terrific essay by Jake Silbermann. The interesting thing about it is that it gives you some insight from an actor’s point of view. Silbermann is pointing out something that is patently obvious to many of us but that seems completely revelatory to so many others; and that’s simply that “gay” and “straight” aren’t character traits.

When powerhouse performer Van Hansis (l) as Luke Snyder was matched with newcomer Jake Silbermann's Noah Mayer, the two became American daytime television's first gay supercouple and were central to the storyline of As The World Turns for the shows last several years on the air.

Jake Silbermann as Noah Mayer (r) opposite Van Hansis as Luke Snyder on As The World Turns. The two became American daytime television’s first gay supercouple and were central to the storyline of the soap for the last several years that the show was on the air.

The sad part is that so many casting agents haven’t figured this out yet. And far too many agents are still of the old, old school where they counsel their gay clients not to take “gay roles” and they counsel their straight clients not to take them either because of the “fear,” as Silbermann points out of being typecast.

Hard to believe this question is still asked because “gay” isn’t a character trait anymore than straight is.  Can you be type cast as straight?  It may be that when we meet a new character on screen or stage, we assume they are heterosexual, but we don’t know who they are to the story.  Is this the hero, best friend, love interest, antagonist, etc.? “Gay” is not a negative or a positive.  It’s not descriptive.  It’s really more of a circumstance, albeit a vital one.  The point is being gay is not character defining.

Silbermann is a fine actor. He was terrific on the soap and he’s fast becoming a go-to actor in the theatre. He’s currently in Richard Greenberg’s Assembled Parties on Broadway. I haven’t seen this piece yet, but Greenberg is a playwright who relies on smart actors. You don’t get good notices in a Greenberg piece if you’re not a smart, savvy actor.

In addition to the Kickstarter that Silbermann talks about in this essay, he also wrote and co-starred in a fine short film called Stuffer a few years back. If you only knew him from his TV work, this piece instantly showed off his broad range.

Anyhow, take a read:

Jake Silbermann: Just My Type.

Soap Resurrections Online Excite AMC’s Cady McClain


Michael E. Knight and Cady McClain as Tad and Dixie on ABC’s “All My Children.” The show returns online next month as one of two former network serials getting another life online. McClain returns to her Emmy Award-winning role as Dixie in the reboot. No word yet on Knight’s participation. Image: originally SoapNet, via Wikimedia Commons. No copyright claimed.

If you know the actress Cady McClain, you are likely a viewer of serial drama. She rocketed to the top of the daytime drama Hot Character Hall of Fame for her portrayal of Dixie Cooney Martin on All My Children on and off from 1988 to the end of the ABC series in 2011. She is also known as the second Rosanna Cabot on As The World Turns in multiple stints for the last eight years that soap was on the air.

McClain returns to Pine Valley as, in classic soap fashion, it rises from the dead for an Internet reboot from the production company Prospect Park and their Online Network. The show will also be available on Hulu and iTunes in 30-minute episodes.

It’s a brave new world for what we used to call “daytime drama,” but dramatic programming on the networks during the day is flagging as the core audience — stay-at-home moms and other women who do not work outside the home — continues to dwindle.

I’ve written any number of times about my feelings about serial drama and how important it can be as a catalyst for societal change. I hope that by making the once venerable and still much-loved serials All My Children and One Life to Live available online, we are seeing the beginnings of a more mainstream acceptance of Web-based entertainment.

Read Cady’s cut below and feel free to click around to stories that I’ve written (or reblogged) about soaps and Web series over the last year or so.
A New Dawn for Daytime | Cady McClain.

Do you remember when your aunt or grandma or mom called you into the living room to look at her soap opera on the TV, screaming, “OH MY GOD YOU’VE GOT TO SEE THIS” and that moment when you frantically queried, “What’s happening? Who is that? TELL ME EVERYTHING!” Well the same thing is going to happen, only now it might be in reverse. Your niece or daughter, or grand daughter might now be the one hollering, “OMG! You’ve got to see this!” while pulling out  her laptop, tablet, or smart phone. It’s not so different: it’s still a generational connection that is going to occur, it’s just coming to you via a different mechanism.



PS — There’s likely some overlap in these two categories.

‘EastSiders,’ Web Series Debuts Second Episode

‘EastSiders,’ Comic Web Series About Gay Life, Debuts Second Episode.

I’m not sure why it’s “comic” in the headline. I wouldn’t call it a comedy. Maybe a deep, dark, black comedy. What it is, really, is just plain good.

I’ve blogged about this before, but here’s episode #2 of a series you should be watching. (The link jumps to a story and video embed on HuffPo.)

Kit Williamson and Van Hansis star as Cal and Thom in the new web series "Eastsiders."

Kit Williamson and Van Hansis star as Cal and Thom in the new web series “Eastsiders.”

Like Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Ticked-Off at American Dramas. Again.

I watch soap operas. I’ve always watched soap operas. If done right, continuing drama is a terrific medium to examine social problems, to tell important stories, to educate. The genre’s progenitor, Irna Phillips, knew this. Agnes Nixon, creator of All My Children and One Life to Live knew this. So did Ted Corday. Ted Corday created Days of Our Lives in 1965.

When powerhouse performer Van Hansis (l) as Luke Snyder was matched with newcomer Jake Silbermann’s Noah Mayer, the two became American daytime television’s first gay supercouple and were central to the storyline of As The World Turns for the shows last several years on the air.

In the often laconic pacing of daily serials, audiences get to know characters on a level more intimate than in episodic storytelling and their emotional investment in those characters intensifies.

The late Christopher Schemering, a journalist devoted to daytime drama, once noted that “as characterizations grow and the narrative stretches out over months and years and becomes more complex and ambiguous, one’s involvement deepens, forcing one to come to terms with the quirks of human nature, the darker sides of fundamentally good people. And thus there is the possibility of the viewer experiencing something new or complex or feeling some way he has never felt before.”

In some areas American continuing dramas have been at the vanguard and in others they have lagged woefully, often laughably, behind the times. Take gay issues, for example. On As The World Turns, when Luke Snyder fell in love with Noah Mayer, the two shared daytime’s first male same sex kiss — in 2007!

Today, with only four continuing dramas left on the networks in America, the important stories being told are few and far between. Serial drama, scared of being axed , is playing it safe, rehashing old school stories, pandering to the most conservative elements possible.

The Old Days
The one show that has shown some cojones is Days of Our Lives which, 45 years into its run, introduced its first gay character,  Sonny Kiriakis, and began an exploration of the sexuality of Will Horton. Will’s coming-to-terms-and-subsequently-coming-out story was positively glacial in its pacing, but featured Emmy-winning performances by Chandler Massey as Will, who was often matched note-for-note by Freddie Smith as Sonny and soap veteran Deidre Hall as Will’s maternal grandmother Marlena.

The story of Will Horton (Emmy winner Chandler Massey, left) discovering himself and his love story with Sonny Kiriakis (Freddie Smith) has been achingly slow, but powerful performances by the duo have overshadowed the tepid and hackneyed plotting by the Days of Our Lives writers.

In Nov. 2012, Will and Sonny — now a couple — finally consummated their relationship. Unlike a few years earlier on As The World Turns where Luke and Noah barely kissed and were never seen in bed, it was refreshing to see Will and Sonny actually acting like a couple, tearing their clothes off and showing them in bed — albeit chastely covered — for extended scenes.

But, of course, there’s now a stupid twist. Before Will got together with Sonny, he had a one-off with his ex-girlfriend, Gabi, and —imagine this — she’s pregnant.

Oh. My. God. I just want to kick someone in the teeth.

Now, I will admit that when I was Will’s age, when I was coming to terms with my sexuality, I did sleep with a few (a very few) women, but 30 years ago, there’s not a single woman that I knew in college that would not hesitate to have an abortion. In fact, at my relatively conservative university, there were plenty who did. Plenty. I can’t even count how many times we chipped in to fund a friend’s termination. I don’t think we understood condoms at all!

Today, odds are that Gabi is going to keep this baby and it’s going to throw a monkey wrench into the Will and Sonny pairing. And that just pisses me off.

Why? Well, because while I recognize that it’s a soap and that there have to be twists and turns in the drama, I want those turns be something relevant. Something not so stupid. Something that tells the audience that we understand that this is not a plotline from the 1970s. Something that shows the gay community  — shows young gay men — that the writers want to tell a story that matters.

I looked forward to Will and Sonny scenes because I had hope. Now, I’m kinda disgusted by the whole stupid business. And that’s really sad, because these are terrific young actors.

American soaps should take a lesson from European soaps, where gay characters have been the norm for years. If you haven’t been watching, like I have, through bit torrents and VPN’s, here’s a few favorite pairings over the last few years, and a few American contemporaries.

AARSON in Emmerdale

The working-class pairing of builder Jackson Walsh (Marc Silcock, left) and mechanic Aaron Livesy (Danny Miller) ended tragically after a train accident left Jackson paralyzed from the neck down on ITV’s rural powerhouse Emmerdale. Aaron later helped Jackson die in a controversial assisted suicide plot.

I loved this story. Village bad boy mechanic Aaron Livesy had a torturous, often brutal coming-out story. He lashed out physically at step-father Paddy and even at Jackson, the young man who he was attracted to. When he finally came to terms with his sexuality, his happiness was short-lived when Jackson’s van was hit by a train at a level crossing and he was paralyzed. Marc Silcock spent the next six months acting using only his head before Jackson begged his mother, magnificently played by Pauline Quirke, and boyfriend Aaron to help him commit suicide.

After his death, Aaron was charged with murder and after he got off, he began a period of self-harm, where he continually cut himself. After therapy, he found happiness with gay rugby player Ed Roberts and followed him to France.

It was a storyline that didn’t hold back and it was anchored by the astonishing Danny Miller as Aaron. Today, Ali and Ruby, lesbians with children, have taken up residence in the most interesting village in Yorkshire.

Multicultural Clash in the Square

Sparks flew on the BBC’s venerable EastEnders when Christian Clarke (John Partridge, right) met Syed Masood (Marc Elliott, left). The volatile pair got a happy ending and left Albert Square together in Nov. 2012

When Christian Clarke introduced himself to Syed Masood for the first time on EastEnders, he stuck out his hand and said, “Christian.” Syed took it, shook, and replied, “Muslim.” It was the perfect launch of their story which saw Christian chase Syed and Syed continue to be unable to reconcile his strong Muslim faith with his homosexuality and his intense attraction to Christian.

The pair broke up, got back together, broke up again, fought, loved, made up, and ultimately involved everyone in both of their families in their personal dramas. The Masood family initially disowned Syed as a traitor to the faith, then they reconciled, but refused to recognize Christian, then finally accepted the pair and even hosted a civil partnership ceremony for the duo.

Syed, ever fighting against his instincts, lied, stole, made terrible choices, but you always found yourself rooting for this particular underdog. The BBC did do the same thing that I’m pissed off at NBC for; they made Syed father a child, and while it made me roll my eyes, there was a cultural divide  that they were mining and  it wasn’t quite as ham-fisted as what they are doing with Will.

After a final break-up, Christian and Syed made up yet again at the eleventh hour and the dynamic couple left Walford together, bringing a close to a story that one could not even imagine seeing on American television.

The Chester Suburbs: The Gayest Part of England
Hollyoaks is the Channel 4 soap that is geared toward younger audiences but is a guilty pleasure for many in the U.K., who watch it in an omnibus edition on the weekends. Hollyoaks is often fearless in its storytelling and tackles issues that would never pass muster in the States.

James Sutton (l) and Guy Burnet played the tortured pairing of John Paul and Craig on Channel 4’s Hollyoaks. After a sunset ending, Sutton returns to the Chester suburb — alone, we surmise — to reprise his role in Dec. 2012.

Take John Paul McQueen and Craig Dean. John Paul was introduced as a student questioning his sexuality when he meets Craig Dean, a long-term and previously heterosexual character. The two strike up a close friendship which, for John Paul, turns quickly into something else. While John Paul was on a linear track, Craig was tortured by his feelings for John Paul and continually swore off of him.

Both straight in real life, Sutton and Burnet took very different tacks when approaching their characters. Sutton felt completely comfortable playing John Paul as gay while Burnet said he was initially against having Craig be attracted to a man. As the characterization progressed, Burnet felt that he wanted to provoke a reaction — it didn’t matter to him whether you loved or hated Craig, but he wanted to push your buttons.

And he did. Burnet’s angst as Craig was palpable and as an audience member, you could feel him fighting and not understanding these feelings he was having for someone he considered a close mate. When he finally accepted that he loved John Paul — but adamantly refused to be labeled as gay or bisexual — the two agreed to go to Ireland together so Craig could continue his studies at Trinity College. When Craig couldn’t bring himself to hold John Paul’s hand in public, in the airport, John Paul had a change of heart and left Craig to return to Hollyoaks village.

John-Paul McQueen (James Sutton, right) began an affair with young priest Kieron (Jake Hendriks) after his ill-fated romance with Craig Dean on the UK sudser Hollyoaks.

With Craig out of the picture, John Paul began a relationship with Father Kieron Hobbs, an even more scandalous pairing. John Paul supported Kieron as he left the Church and embarked on a life among the “out and proud.” Of course, this was short-lived, too, as Kieron was killed by John Paul’s pyscho half-brother — no one yet knew he was related to the McQueens — except Kieron! — yes, another twist.

Complicating things for John Paul was the return of Craig Dean, intent on finally claiming John Paul. Guy Burnet returned to the show for a month to reprise his role so that the beloved (albeit conflicted) supercouple could ride off into the sunset — on a train — together, after Craig was finally able to kiss John Paul in public.


Hollyoaks’ newest pairing of American Doug Carter (P.J. Brennan) and former bad boy Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson) is actually part of a love triangle that includes Ste’s former lover, Brendan, devilishly played by Emmett J. Scanlan.

John Paul McQueen and Craig Dean — known to fans by the portmanteau McDean — may have been the best-loved gay pairing in Hollyoaks, but they certainly haven’t been the last.

When young rogue Ste Hay came out, he was drawn to Brendan Brady, a nefarious older club owner. The two embarked on what may be television’s first same-sex domestic violence storyline with Brendan  beating up Ste to keep him compliant.

When Ste finally left Brendan, he started a business with American expat Doug Carter and subsequently fell in love with him. Doug offered Ste stability — or as much stability as you can expect from an adorable ex-drug dealer — and the two married in 2012 in a ceremony marred by, you guessed it, over-the-top tragedy!

Through it all, a palpable attraction between Ste and Brendan remains and their storylines have continued to intersect because of it. Fan bases for both couples have developed, using the portmanteaus Stug and Stendan, which may signal continued screen time for all three popular actors who, by the way, are not the only gay characters on the show.

The KISH of Death in Llanview

Brett Claywell and Scott Evans as Kyle Lewis and Oliver Fish on One Life to Live. Claywell’s intense Kyle balanced the “Aw, Shucks” genuineness of Evans’ Fish, creating an example of actors’ better attention to detail than their writers.

Of course, popularity of characters or excellent storytelling doesn’t mean you’ll be around for long. Especially if you’re on an American soap.

One Life to Live, known for years for relatively insane plot twists, sought to capitalize on the ground already broken by As The World Turns by introducing a gay storyline, this time with hospital resident Kyle Lewis and cop Oliver Fish.

Oliver’s backstory, including a college relationship with Kyle, is revealed as he comes out publicly. When the two finally sleep together, OLTL took it a step farther than the prudish ATWT and actually showed the two in bed together.

Featuring decent if not great writing and played with layered nuance by Evans and Claywell, Kish, as the couple was known, quickly became a fan favorite. Of course, that didn’t stop OLTL from introducing the now ubiquitous “gay man has sex with a woman and woman gets pregnant” sub-plot. At the end of the day, the writers wrapped up the ridiculousness of the plot and as a shock to both actors and their fans, abruptly let them go and the duo went off to that part of Llanview where there were no TV cameras.

Executive Producer Frank Valentini said Kish caused the show’s low ratings, but everyone knew different. All daytime ratings were tanking and they no longer were looking for chances to take. When Claywell and Evans’ departed, OLTL hit new ratings lows. A year and a half later, the show ended.

The Nuke Option?

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis’ Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver’s death was central to the plot of the show’s finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

When the powers that be brought in acerbic, pompous and handsome super neurosurgeon Dr. Reid Oliver ten months before the end of As The World Turns, everyone was shocked by Eric Sheffer Stevens’ immediate chemistry with Van Hansis and the character brought in to cure Luke’s longtime love Noah of his blindness — it’s a soap, remember — ended up electrifying and dividing viewers to become the central plot capstone of the show’s 54 year run.

Like Guy Burnet’s intense portrayal of Craig Dean in Hollyoaks, you couldn’t turn away from Stevens when he was on screen. He might not have been pushing the buttons that you wanted pushed, but, by God, he was pushing buttons.

Reid died — another train accident! — and his heart was donated to save Chris Hughes leaving Luke heart-broken and Noah to head to California alone, which did little to satisfy the Nuke (Noah and Luke) or the Lure (Luke and Reid) fanbases, but it served, I think, the show’s long and complex history well. Head writer Jean Passanante remarked that if the show hadn’t already been cancelled, Reid, Luke and Noah may well have become American television’s first front-burner gay love triangle.

Looking back, I have to say I loved the last year of As The World Turns, as it was my soap for many years. And while there were utterly and completely ridiculous derailments along the way — Ameera, anyone? — none of the gay guys ever knocked up anyone. And that’s a helluva lot better than what we’ve got now.

[Update: A year and a half later, Days of our Lives surprised the hell out of me. Good on them. See I Do…]