All KSL bosses had to do was wait.
The New Normal is not Will & Grace. NBC’s show about a gay couple, their quirky gestational surrogate and her homophobic grandma, played to batty excess by Ellen Barkin, has none of the charm and breaks none of the ground the 1998 sitcom did. It’s tired and over-the-top—all at the same time. After watching the first few episodes, I’ve tuned out. No point in investing in a bad show that’s probably going to get canceled.
But rather than waiting for Nielsen ratings to take their course, station managers and their behind-the-scenes bosses at 47 South Temple jumped the shark, announcing with righteous indignation in August that Channel 5 would not be airing The New Normal.
“For our brand, this program feels inappropriate on several dimensions, especially during family viewing time,” Jeff Simpson, CEO of Bonneville International, said in a statement.
It’s a familiar red line. In 2011, KSL turned up its nose at The Playboy Club. In 2003, Coupling, a remake of a British sitcom, didn’t meet KSL’s standards. Three years earlier, local station managers rejected God, the Devil & Bob. And, of course, what Utah television viewer hasn’t had to search for Saturday Night Live? Currently, it airs on The CW, Channel 30, the station that also picked up The New Normal—for as long as it lasts. Despite 38 seasons and a firm hold on American pop culture, the venerable comedy show still offends the late-night sensibilities of the octogenarians in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve.
Those 12 angry men apparently have no problem with the body count on Revolution or hook-ups on Love in the Wild—both mature-themed NBC shows airing in that precious family time Bonneville International is so worried about.
Concerned that the LDS Church and its TV station were “disacknowledging” gay couples and their families, Equality Utah leaders requested a meeting to talk about the decision. Equality Utah Director Brandie Balken concluded the station managers made their decision based on the “demeaning dialogue, sexually explicit content and inciting stereotypes” in the show.
She’s sympathetic. “As a parent myself, I understand those concerns,” Balken says. But for Utah’s gay and lesbian parents, she adds, there’s something more at stake: “As a lesbian, I deeply understand the importance of having accurate portrayals of our families in the mainstream media.”
Whether or not The New Normal qualifies is up to viewers to judge. But the morality police didn’t leave the decision up to those holding the remote.
That’s their right, of course. KSL is a business that just happens to be owned by a church.
This also could be censorship based on conviction. With all the scrutiny focused on the LDS Church as a result of favored son Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the White House, it could be that South Temple didn’t want to risk looking like they’d softened for political expediency.
It’s no coincidence that the church-owned Deseret News ran a column by a BYU assistant professor from the School of Family Life on Sept. 23 backing up the disputed science of a University of Texas professor’s study concluding heterosexual parenting is best. Jenet Jacob Erickson insisted children of same-sex parents “experienced much more family instability.”
If KSL’s decision really was based on deeply held beliefs or simply a need to protect Utahns from things they shouldn’t see, the station manager’s efforts seem hapless at best.
Mormons are all about family. And just like their straight Mormon brothers and sisters, Utah gays and lesbians are doing everything they can to create families—through adoption, surrogacy and insemination. Equality Utah figures there were nearly 3,000 children being raised by LGBT families in 2008.
Nationwide, the Census Bureau reported 63,000 gay and lesbian couples raising children. Two years ago, that number jumped to 110,000. And, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, the proportion of gay and lesbian couples adopting children has doubled, from 10 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2009.
Stay-at-home dad Weston Clark is just one of them. Born and raised in a big Mormon family, 33-year-old Clark decided to adopt with his partner, Brandon Mark. Two years ago, they were in the Kansas hospital room when their son Xander was born. He figures KSL’s decision not to air The New Normal is a frantic attempt to cling to “a past that doesn’t really exist,” but also a methodical campaign to wipe images of gay parenthood from Salt Lake City television screens.
“KSL wanted to stop that kind of pop-culture validation for me or others like me that our lives are of value,” Clark says.
Whatever the motivation, time is not on KSL’s side. The odds that Utahns—specifically, the bubble-raised,
heterosexual Mormons whom South Temple is trying to protect—might run into one of those real-life, gay-parented families gets better and better.
Simpson managed to make the producers of a mediocre show into martyrs, victims of morals-based censorship rather than their own hackneyed writing. The Playboy Club was yanked after three episodes, Coupling after four. The New Normal already has them beat. It’s still on the air.
With its histrionics, KSL simply increased the chances that a silly show will get more airings.
And all they had to do was wait.
Rebecca Walsh is a longtime Utah reporter and columnist who currently works in Palm Springs, Calif.