Hit CBS daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful finally introduced its first gay storyline this past year through the reintroduction of the character Karen Spencer (Joanna Johnson). We learned that not only did she have a grown up daughter, Caroline (Linsey Godfrey), but a wife, too!
Enter LGBT fan favorite Crystal Chappell, who plays the role of Danielle, Karen’s other half. Johnson came out publicly in real life last year, while the very straight Chappell keeps delivering to an insatiable audience of adoring gay fans web-based soaps with same-sex themes, such as Venice. So just who are the brain trusts who paired up these two powerhouse actresses and created the first gay storyline on B&B about the lives of two moms dealing with the issues of their daughter? Well, that would be B&B’s Daytime Emmy Award-winning head writer and executive producer Brad Bell and his writing team. Two of the team members are part of the LGBT community and are two of the most prolific writers in soaps today, Patrick Mulcahey and Tracey Ann Kelly.
Frontiers chatted with this talented threesome about the decision to tell the “My Two Moms” story, the lack of LGBT representation on network soap operas and, most importantly, their latest honor of being nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for the first time in the Outstanding Daily Drama Category. The winner will be announced during the April 20 presentation in Los Angeles. Here now are Brad, Patrick and Tracey, as we take a look at how writers construct an important story of our time and raise awareness for the masses at home.
This is B&B’s first GLAAD nomination, and the first same-sex storyline in the 26-year history of the soap. Why did you decide to go the route of creating the “My Two Moms” story?
BRAD: I think it’s something we have all wanted to do for quite a long time. I think it came about from wanting and getting bored with all the “heteros” on the show [Laughs] and wanting some variety. It was an opportunity to bring on a new couple, and knowing Joanna Johnson as I have over the years, and knowing that she playing Karen, and playing Caroline’s mom, it felt like a perfect opportunity.
So Patrick, did you have a hand in coming up with this storyline?
PATRICK: This all came from Brad, although we talked about, “Is this the time?” I don’t know about anybody else, but we would bring in gay characters on the soaps in the '80s and '90s and they would come in for five days and weep, and then someone would love and accept them, and then they would go away forever. I am sick of that, and I never wanted to do that. Brad seemed to never want to do that, either. So the trick was to find the right core family member, so it’s a familial story, yet a social story. I do remember nagging Brad going, “Why is Caroline’s name 'Spencer'? Where is her father? If her mother’s name is 'Spencer'? Finally Brad said, 'She’s got two mothers!'”
Tracey and Patrick, as members of the LGBT community, and Brad as the head writer, did it bother you that the show hadn’t had a gay character … ever? Especially, since it’s a show whose premise is in the fashion industry?
BRAD: I think it bothered all of us, and it bothers me, and it still does. There are certainly, as you point out in fashion, room for more gay characters. It’s something I really look forward to doing, especially with Joanna, who is so talented in many ways, but she really has been unavailable to us for much of this story, which at times is frustrating, but she is hard at work producing the new primetime series The Fosters!
What I liked about what you did was you made the moms like any other long-time heterosexual soap couple, who now deal with the plights of their kids.
TRACEY: What I liked most about it was the introduction of one’s family, and that is … how these two characters played out in the context of the greater Spencer family storylines. It felt natural, and it wasn’t: “Here, look at what we’re doing.” It was organic.
Crystal and Joanna have shared a few on-screen kisses on B&B. In a previous interview I had conducted, Crystal who is straight but who has played gay in several of her projects, was very comfortable with the kiss. Joanna was the one at first a bit uncomfortable. Back on Guiding Light, they had Crystal’s character of Olivia touching knuckles or foreheads with her love interest, Natalia (Jessica Leccia)! So this was a big step forward for CBS Daytime! [Laughs]
BRAD: Not having them kiss, that would not even cross my mind!
PATRICK: I was always confident in what we were doing. I believed it would work, and that it would be different, and it would be natural, and nobody would be scared of it. This is a little show, in that it’s only 30 minutes long, but around 19 minutes of actual show. We have maintained the same characters over many decades, more than any other show I can think of. For instance, the character of Brooke (Katherine Kelly Lang) would not all of a sudden come out and be a lesbian, and if so, that would be a pretty hard sell. So I knew if we got the right characters, we could so something great. I like we got the chance to do things that I thought was based on reality … that mother’s want to protect their daughter so they ask her to not talk about them being a couple, so that puts her in the closet. I think those things happen in gay life.
Patrick and Tracey, being gay and writing in soap opera where 99.9 percent of the characters are straight, and you see less than a handful of gay characters on the canvas of the various daytime dramas, is it frustrating for you not seeing more gays represented?
PATRICK: I identify with the characters we have on our canvas … with Taylor, Brooke with Eric, for example. To me, it’s about what we say all the time. I honestly believe it, “Love is love.” When we are in the middle of writing people’s relationships and their tangled defenses, fears, and desires to belong, I feel right at home in that milieu. Also, there is an awareness of our audience. The pedigree of soap operas is about heterosexual romance, and that is what the audience sort of clamors for. If we had a different dial of audience, we might choose to show the characters differently, but we have the audience we have. We like to keep them happy, and have fun with them.
TRACEY: I was personally thrilled to see my life portrayed on the show that I worked for. I was deeply gratified to see my life, and my daughter’s life, portrayed on daytime television.
Brad, what was your initial reaction to receiving a GLAAD Media Award nomination for The Bold and the Beautiful? What does it mean for the show?
BRAD: It was great and so exciting! I was so happy for everyone involved. I am proud of the story. I felt we built the story to Bill Spencer Jr’s (Don Diamont’s) reaction of his sister’s sexuality. We knew that Bill’s father was ignorant and oppressive. So we wondered if Don Diamont’s next generation Bill would feel the same way? As it turns out, he was mature and evolved enough that if you fight nature it’s no good for anyone. It seems with Bill readily accepting his sister, and her relationship with another woman, we were trying to lead by example for any of the viewers who are not on board, and hopefully change their way of thinking by watching Bill and how he dealt with the situation
Was there ever a thought of having one intolerant character, or homophobe, on the canvas to illustrate that side of bigotry against the LGBT community?
BRAD: We talked about Bill having different reactions to the news his sister is gay¸ but if we did anything else but have him accept her, it would have just dumbed-down the character.
TRACEY: Bill is such a family person, so for him to reject someone from his family would be so out of character.
When you as the writers saw Crystal and Joanna work together, playing long-time partners who raised a daughter together, have you been more than satisfied with what you have seen on-screen between the duo, thus far?
BRAD: I have a great story coming up for them, and one that has a lot of twists and some real surprises, and one that brings them into the Spencer family, and into the show, and into the business. We have all been working on it. I keep rooting for Joanna, but sometimes I hope her pilots sink … [Laughs] because I want her back! [Laughs] I am going to need her and Crystal for some of these story beats, and hopefully they will be available.
PATRICK: It’s great that both of these actresses have chops. We know we can give them just about anything. I am looking forward to the big story!
Brad, for those who don’t know, what is it like in the “writer’s room” when you try to create story? Even though Patrick is in San Francisco, and Tracey resides in New Mexico, and you are here in L.A.?
BRAD: We share our thoughts so freely, which I love about this team, and through emails or conference calls. There is no hierarchy and no barriers. It is free flowing. And anyone who has any input, or direction is always welcome.
PATRICK: I have been writing daytime for 34 years now. And this is the sanest place! There is no backstabbing, politics, or bad feelings about anything.
TRACEY: When Brad says it’s a team, that’s how it has felt for 20 years!
PATRICK: We do share ideas, but Brad has most of them.
For those who have never tuned into B&B, why is your same-sex story different than other daytime gay-themed stories before you?
PATRICK: Generationally, our story is very interesting. When these two came out with their sexuality, it was not safe. That was the thing I liked about what we did with it. There were people who chose not to come out, and were very, very afraid.
TRACEY: And using Caroline in the story really showed the generational difference in the attitudes, because her attitude was very much of the younger generation. She did not understand the need to feel secretive, whereas her mother, having dealt with this in a much different time, felt very different about it. So I felt it was wonderful to see the generational difference in the attitude.
It was an important story point that the character of Caroline was so accepting of her moms, and she would just present them to people as, “Hey, these are my moms!”
BRAD: Yes. I think Linsey plays that very well. She is very excited to be part of the story. We are going to see the moms have their hands full with this daughter of theirs. There is more to unravel with this group, and I think it’s going to be fun to watch.
PATRICK: I wonder if there is another evolution to come? Remember back in the days when the interracial romance was taboo? You could have black characters, and you could have white characters, but the audience wasn’t ready for it and all the BS. I wonder if that is going to happen with gay characters on daytime right now, because they will only be able to interact romantically with each other. Can you imagine three main gay characters on one show on maybe an hour soap? I can’t! So there is going to be this ghetto, until somebody breaks convention and creates the genre of Gay Soap.
OK Brad, this it it! The next show you need to produce … a Gay Soap!
BRAD: I would love too! That would be a fun project!
PATRICK: “The Bold and the Better Dressed”!
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