High school glee-clubbers Kurt and Blaine had their momentous first kiss on Glee last night, and the collective response from fans was a "finally" reminiscent of Ross and Rachel's first romantic moment on Friends. That the sweet scene between two teenage boys aired without a din of controversy surrounding it speaks volumes about how far we've come since network TV's first same-sex kiss twenty years ago on L.A. Law.
During the 1991 episode, a bisexual attorney briefly locked lips with her bi-curious colleague. The girl-on-girl kiss was heavily promoted, leading to protests of its airing from several right-wing organizations, and the storyline was never revisited again. Just prior to that, the drama thirtysomething lost over a million dollars in advertising for simply showing two gay men in bed together. Six years later, the struggling ABC series Relativity showed the first romantic kiss between two gay characters (one of whom was played by House's Lisa Edelstein). The episode received a TV-14 rating, and affiliates were given the option not air it. Relativity was struggling so much in the ratings, however, that the controversy-courting event was dismissed as a ploy to boost viewership numbers (to a similar effect as Roseanne memorable bi-curious smooch with Mariel Hemingway in 1993).
And though the first gay teenager on TV was played by Ryan Phillippe on One Life to Live in 1992, it took until 2001 for the first kiss between gay teens to take place on Dawson's Creek—and the amount of press devoted to the event was remarkable.
In recent years, the teenage characters of Luke and Noah had the first daytime gay kiss on As the World Turns, and primetime series including Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives have aired liplocks between its young gay characters. But what's most impressive about the Glee kiss, however, was that it was not endlessly teased in promos, or publicized as a sweeps ratings stunt. The scene itself was simple and plot-serving, not built up with a sweeping score or episode-long anticipation. The audience reaction was decidedly not "I'm shocked!" but "it's about time." Salon writer Matt Zoller Soleitz's ambivalence sums it up: "Kurt and Blaine finally kiss on Glee—but so what?"