On This Gay Day: TV show ‘LA Law’ included a controversial gay kiss

It was a big deal when CJ kissed Abby on top rating legal drama LA Law

In 1991 LA Law was one of the most popular television programs in the world, in the US alone it drew in over 60 million viewers each week.

Producers decided to push the boundaries and include the first same-sex kiss on prime time television. The scene saw lawyers CJ Lamb and Abby Perkins briefly embrace after a dinner celebrating a legal victory. In a scene set the next day Abby clarified with CJ that she was strictly heterosexual, while CJ shared she was “flexible”.

GLAAD praised the same-sex attraction storyline highlighting that the “historic smooch makes attorney C.J. Lamb … the only recurring gay or bisexual female character currently on television.”

Thirty years later the organisation’s latest Where We Are On TV report, which was released in mid-January, reported that in 2020 there were 733 series regular character on broadcast scripted television, 188 characters on cable television shows and 141 characters on show appearing on streaming services.

When the controversial episode aired in 1991, broadcaster NBC confirmed that several advertisers pulled their commercials from the episode ahead of it’s airing, but the network only received around 80 telephone calls from viewers, of which half were positive about the lesbian moment.

Five years after the episode screened Michelle Greene who played lawyer Abby Perkins said she was proud of the scene but the networks main motivation for including it was to generate publicity.

Director Elodie Keene later recounted shooting the scene recalling that actor Amanda Donohoe was not perplexed by the scene, but Michelle Greene was nervous about filming the exchange, and her cameraman boyfriend had to be banished from the shoot.

When Amanda Donohoe appeared on British talk show Parkinson in 1998 she said she was “terribly terribly proud” of the work on the series and the famous scene, and while she received death threats after the scene aired, she also got heaps of praise from the LGBT communities – and lots of lesbian fans.

The episode kicked off a chain of shows including episodes where lesbian kisses occurred, often during the important ratings periods. Picket Fences included a lesbian kiss in 1993, while Roseanne kissed Mariel Hemmingway on an episode of her show in 1994, while Party of Five featured a similar scene in 1999

It’s hard to believe this short scene was groundbreaking, but it shows how much things have changed since the 1980s.

In 1987 Pedro Almodóvar’s Law of Desire was released

Law of Desire was the sixth feature film made by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and the first under his own production company. 

While he had been gaining international attention with previous films including Matador, What Have I Done to Deserve This, Dark Habits and Labyrinth of Passion, the success of Law of Desire surpassed all of these.

The story focuses on a love triangle between three men. Pablo, a successful gay film director, disappointed in his relationship with his young lover, Juan, concentrates in a new project, a monologue starring his transgender sister, Tina.

Antonio, an uptight young man, falls possessively in love with the director, and in his passion would stop at nothing to obtain the object of his desire. The film was praised for its positive depiction of people who are transgender and for showing gay men who were not wrought with guilt over their sexuality.

The films stars included Antonio Banderas who had already appeared in several films for the director, and Carmen Maura who would go on to appear in his next film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. 

The film won the Teddy Award for Best Film with LGBT content at the Berlin Film Festival and was named Best Film at the San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Antonio Banderas appeared in many films for Almodóvar, after small parts in 1982’s Labyrinth of Passion and 1986’s Matador, he continued as a regular collaborator with the director appearing in Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. 

When Banderas appeared in Madonna’s 1991 documentary In Bed With Madonna he spoke very little English. When he made his first English film The Mambo Kings in 1992 he learned all his lines phonetically. His big break through came the following year playing Tom Hank’s partner in the AIDS drama Philadelphia.

While Banderas has gone to have a huge Hollywood career, he’s returned to working with the director who gave him so many roles early in his career. In 2011 the reunited for The Skin I Live In, while in 2013 he made a cameo in I’m So Excited. In 2019 they worked together again in Pain and Glory.      

OIP Staff

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