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Queen Lear: A Tragedy in One Act


LAIRD BROWN, a programming bigwig

V. RIESEN, a perpetual junior exec; his sense of ethics is a constant hindrance to his career

A. YESMAN, a yes-man

The action takes place in a television network boardroom.  The players are seated around a huge mahogany table that occupies most of the room.  The back wall is dominated by a circular black logo, a gigantic prime time schedule and an equally gigantic print of an eagle in flight, labeled with the caption, “Dare to Soar!”  To one side is a calendar, opened to November 2002; the picture for November is of an orange and white cat.

BROWN. All right, then, it’s settled.  We secretly prep our own British show as a mid-season replacement in case this Coupling thing takes off.  If Seth Tucker thinks he can corner the market on Limey imports, he’s going to have to get past Mr. Bean first.  Next up on the agenda is the homo situation.

RIESEN. The “homo situation”?

BROWN. You know what I’m talking about.  Almost every other network has some show about gays on their schedule, and their ratings are going through the roof.  Homos are hot, my friend.  Will and Grace!  Queer Eye for the Straight Guy! Those collect call commercials with Mike Piazza and Alf! I’m telling you, this country is cuckoo for cream puffs, and what I want to know is, where’s our piece of the pie?

YESMAN. You’re absolutely right, LB!

BROWN. That’s why I’m in charge, kid.  So the question before us is, how do we put together our own gay show in the quickest amount of time, while expending the least amount of effort possible?

RIESEN. Well, that depends.  Are we talking about a Norman Lear style examination of the cultural issues surrounding homosexuality, or the same kind of crap we usually trot out every season?

BROWN. The second one.  I think.  Who’s Norman Lear?

RIESEN. Producer who had a string of successful sitcoms in the seventies based on a realistic examination of minorities, bigotry, and class struggle.  He’s the guy that did Good Times, Sanford and Son, All in the Family…

BROWN. Yes!  That’s exactly the approach I’m looking for.

RIESEN. Really?

BROWN. Absolutely.  We’ll take the premise of All in the Family and slap in some gays!


BROWN. Only without that “realistic examination” business to weight it down.

RIESEN. Right.

BROWN. All in the Family was huge by itself; with gays, people will go absolutely horseshit over it.  And just so nobody misses the connection, we’ll call the show All in the Gay Family.

RIESEN. I suspect the lawyers might have something to say about that.

BROWN. Well, let’s get as close as we can.  Something with the words “all” and “family” in it, anyway.  All About the Family.  It’s All Family. Something like that.

RIESEN. We’ll work on it.

BROWN. Of course, you know why All in the Family was such a massive hit, don’t you?

RIESEN. Because of its honest, even-handed, and humorous portrayal of prejudice and of the clash between conservative and liberal values?

BROWN. Close.  It’s because the star was a big, gruff Irish Catholic.

RIESEN. Oh, God, not the Irish thing again.  Did you learn nothing from Madigan Men?

BROWN. The only lesson to be learned from _Madigan Men _was that Gabriel Byrne wasn’t big and gruff enough.  Irish Catholics are funniest when they’re big and gruff.  And drunk.  So we get the biggest, gruffest, drunkest Mick we can find to play our new Archie Bunker.

YESMAN. Didn’t Archie Bunker own a bar, LB?

BROWN. I like the way you think, kid.  That’s perfect!  The Irish guy owns a bar.  That way we get a whole roomful of big, gruff, drunk Micks.

RIESEN. So where do the gays fit in?

BROWN. Hmmm.  How about if, instead of a flaming liberal, the Irish guy’s daughter marries a flaming gay man?

RIESEN. If he’s marrying a daughter, he probably isn’t very gay.

BROWN. Okay, what if Archie has a son instead of a daughter, and his son marries a lesbian.

RIESEN. Same problem.

BROWN. All right.  What if his son marries a straight woman… with a gay mother and father?

RIESEN. Gay father and father.

BROWN. Jesus Christ, you’re nitpicky!  Fine, Archie’s son marries a straight woman with two gay fathers.  They’re Protestants, so the Irish Catholics have another reason to hate them.  One of them is an interior decorator, or a hairstylist, or an art dealer or something, and the other one will be a teacher, so it looks like we think it’s OK for gays to be teachers.

YESMAN. That’s so progressive, LB!

BROWN. And, of course, whenever there are two or more sitcom dads, one of them has to be laid-back and mellow, and the other one has to be uptight and anal… [He begins chuckling quietly to himself.]  Anal!  [He continues to chuckle for several seconds.  RIESEN shifts uncomfortably in his seat.]  Make sure that gets into the show somewhere.

RIESEN. Isn’t that a little crude for family hour?

BROWN. Nothing’s too crude as long as gays are involved.  Will and Grace does off-color stuff all the time.  And have you watched those Queer Eye guys?  The Fag Five?

RIESEN. Fab Five.

BROWN. Whatever.  Every third sentence that comes out of their mouths is either a penis reference or a crack about butt-sex… Hey, “crack!”  Make sure that gets in, too.

RIESEN. Well, can we at least get some legitimately gay actors to play the fathers?

BROWN. We’ve been through this before with the blacks and the Latins, Riesen.  There just aren’t enough minority actors out there looking to be cast.

RIESEN. I’m pretty sure we may be able to dig up a couple of gay ones.

BROWN. Well, even if you could, you know that gay actors can’t act gay.  They’re no good at it.  They refuse to prance about limp-wristed, emit high-pitched squeals, and openly slobber over other men’s buns, and it always completely ruins the realism.  On the other hand, look at the straight guy they got to play Jack on Will and Grace.  Now that is what it means to be gay.

RIESEN. Well, who, then?

BROWN. Just pull somebody from the pool of regulars.  I’m sure Jonathan Silverman wouldn’t mind an Emmy on his shelf.

RIESEN. Already working on a pilot.

BROWN. How about Breckin Meyer?

RIESEN. Already signed up for Married to the Kellys.

BROWN. Steven Weber?

RIESEN. You just earmarked him to play Mr. Bean.

BROWN. God damn it!  Fine.  Hire your gay guys.  But they damned well better mince.

RIESEN. I’ll talk to them about it.  So, uh, what happens during an episode of this show, exactly?

BROWN. Happens?

RIESEN. You know… Plot.  Storyline.  That sort of thing.

BROWN. Oh, well, uh… The Irish parents will do some heterosexual, Irish thing, like going to a Red Sox game.  And the gay parents will come along and make fun of them for swilling beer and being uncultured boobs.  And they’ll always be saying hilarious, over-the-top, gay-oriented things like, “Oh my gay God!”

RIESEN. A phrase that no gay man since the dawn of time has ever uttered.

BROWN. And then the Irish guy will say something like, “You’ve always got to gay everything up, don’t you?”  Then he’ll call them fruits.  There will be a big fight, and then at the end of the episode they’ll all agree to disagree, for the sake of the kids.

YESMAN. It’s brilliant, LB!  I love it!

BROWN. What’s not to love?

RIESEN. Oh, I don’t know.  How about the fact that the show’s sole premise is to trot out the most overplayed, insulting stereotypes about gays and Irish-Americans?  How about that the so-called humor content relies entirely on either riding those stereotypes into the ground, or on dispensing dick jokes that are too juvenile for most third-graders?  Or how about that the show is only “about gays” because you think you can use them as justification to get away with this unoriginal, unfunny, offensive bullshit?

BROWN. Why do you even open your mouth during these meetings?  Nobody in this boardroom wants to listen to your voice, Riesen.

RIESEN. I just think that if we’re going to go out of our way to be offensive, we should do it in the furtherance of at least some tiny modicum of entertainment.

BROWN. Now listen here, Riesen, and listen good.  This network is a business first.  And it’s a business second.  And third, and possibly fourth, this network is a business.  It’s only an… an entertainment fifth or lower.

YESMAN. And it’s a political organ, LB!

BROWN. Right, a political organ, yes.  The network’s a business first through fourth, then it’s a political organ fifth, but only insofar as politics help business.  And only then is it an entertainment, if we have time left over.

YESMAN. Fuck entertainment, LB!

BROWN. And I’ll tell you something else.  I don’t know shit about entertainment, but I know one thing for damn sure: stereotypes, dick jokes, and covering our ass behind a thin veneer of political correctness is good for business.

YESMAN. [standing and applauding] Well said, LB!

BROWN. Thank you. [He stands.]  And now I believe our business here is done.  You two call around to the studios and see what they can throw together by January. [He leaves, but returns a few seconds later.] And make sure “organ” gets in, too!

    BROWN leaves again.  There is a moment of strained silence.

YESMAN. [sadly] This show is going to be miserably bad, isn’t it?

RIESEN. Yes, Yesman.  Yes it is.

YESMAN. Shall I bury it in the schedule?

RIESEN. That’s a good idea.  In fact, slot it opposite the American Idol awards show.  At least, then, no gays will ever have to see it.



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