It seemed like a good idea at the time.
But the plan to put a positive gay character in global TV hit Dynasty soon fell short of its original good intentions.
Al Corley, who originally played the Carrington dynasty’s homosexual son, left the show at the end of the second season. He complained about “the ever-shifting sexual preferences” of his character Steven.
His complaint fell on deaf ears: by the end of the entire series the so-called homosexual son had been to bed with more women than men. He had also married two and fathered a son with one of them. Just for good measure, he had also killed one man and badly beaten another.
The boyfriends he did manage to acquire generally came to a a bad end. Two died – one killed by Steven’s father and another in a terrorist attack on a wedding. A third – a politician – was thrown out of the Senate after being outed.
This was far from series co-creator Esther Shapiro’s 1981 declaration that Steven, “was, is and always will be, gay.”
Apparently the original plan was that Steven would wrestle with his sexuality for the first couple of series but resolve these by season three. From that point onwards, he would be “a well-rounded gay man.
” Given Dynasty’s huge global reach this would have sent out an important message about homosexuals and homosexuality to countries with antiquated views on this.
Sadly, the opposite happened. Steven remained confused and angry throughout Dynasty’s entire run. For example, despite his repeated declarations that we was homosexual (see film clip below, for example) some of his sexual behaviour with women suggested very strongly that he was looking for ‘a cure’.
So, why did Steven’s character actually turn out to be seriously counterproductive?
Conservative Influences on Television
Three main factors have been out forward for this. The first is that in the early 80s broadcasting was still very conservative, particularly in the USA. The notion of portraying a gay man in a positive light was still very controversial, particularly when the vehicle for doing so was the most popular, mainstream soap.
This led to interference from the network, citing its Broadcast Standards and Practices. Underpinning this was the fear that ‘controversial’ material would lead advertisers to withdraw their sponsorship.
And one group that would be more than happy to lobby for this was the New Right; right-wing politicians, media and so-called ‘Christian’ evangelists who were very much on the rise at that time. They opposed LGBT rights initiatives at every turn and would have been outraged at a mainstream soap opera presenting a well-rounded gay character.
Of course, it could be argued that, since everyone in the soap was dysfunctional (after all, that’s what fed the storylines), Steven was no better or worse than the others.
On the other hand, making him the stable character in this context could have sent a particularly positive message about queer people.
There is much more detail on the portrayal of LGBT people on television in the 80s in my book Gay in the 80s available here.