Is Australian Television Finally Starting To Reflect Diversity?

Earlier this year, Australian actors Jay Laga’aia and Firass Dirani bemoaned the lack of ethnic diversity on Australian screens, accusing casting directors of a pretty obvious ‘white washing‘ on what is an already pretty sparse televisual canvas. The same could be said for most original Australian content that lacks prominent depictions of other groups, like strong, independent women with their shit together, people who can’t cook and sing simultaneously or people in loving, committed same-sex relationships in favour of bikies, criminals and Brynne Edelstein.

That last one’s starting to look like it might change though with news today that Gyton Grantley’s character in Nine’s upcoming drama ‘House Husbands‘ will form one half of a gay couple alongside Tim Campbell, the former Home & Away actor who’s in an IRL relationship with former Idol balladeer, Anthony Callea.

Grantley will play the ‘sensitive’ stay-at-home Kane to Campbell’s fireman Tom, with the couple forming one quarter of the show’s central plot: “four modern families with one thing in common: the men are in charge of raising the kids.” Fellow Underbelly alum Dirani, Gary Sweet and Rhys Muldoon also have a roles on the show, with Dirani taking on the role of a single father of three struggling to make ends meet.

Series creator and producer Drew Proffitt told The Daily Telegraph that “Gyton’s character was treated the same as everyone else. We wanted to treat all the characters the same way (regardless of their sexuality).

There will still be storylines where their sexuality is part of the story. We don’t ignore it. To not address it at all wouldn’t be authentic either.

You’d hope that Grantley’s character – and Dirani’s for that matter – offers some indication that Australian television (in the primetime, local content sense of the word) is finally starting to reflect the diversity of Australian society. Earlier this year, Neighbour’s staged its first gay kiss, which in the act itself wasn’t particularly revelatory but was a pretty big deal for a prime-time soap in a country where this is still an issue.

TV Tonight points out that shows like Modern Family have “gone a long way to educate audiences” and show TV execs that same-sex families are no longer a no-go zone on screens. While that’s undoubtedly true, and Modern Family is overwhelmingly popular with audiences both here and abroad, it still trades in the comedic currency of stereotypes, which – while they’re admittedly funny, truth in jest and all – don’t go far enough to buck trends that go as far back in Hollywood as the Hayes-era sissy or villain (that’s right, I’ve seen The Celluloid Closet).

Neither does Kurt, Santana (or Sue?) from Glee, Elijah in Girls, Thomas Barrow from Downton Abbey, Sal from Mad Men (written off) or any other number of characters on popular television shows who still either land on either side of that sissy/villain spectrum. They’re all great characters, but a) are all American, b) are pretty far from relatable (including Nolan Ross from Revenge for all his money) or c) take place in a time and place far removed from our own.

A quick office survey here failed to unearth any prominent gay characters currently on Australian television (Offspring, maybe? Let us know if we’ve missed any). The top five rating shows of 2012 so far have included The Voice, My Kitchen Rules, The Block, Revenge and Downton Abbey (see above) which not only says a lot more about the current state of local content but just goes a little bit further in proving my point.

Hopefully Grantley’s character and Nine’s drama – which boasts some top billing actors and should draw some strong initial audiences – goes some way to dispelling these notions and further diversifies what we see on television. If that fails, Glee creator Ryan Murphy has just finished producing a new comedy for NBC about a gay L.A. couple who hire a surrogate to conceive, and it also stars the very funny Andrew Rannells from Girls. It’s called The New Normal and I think that’s something you can expect to see a lot more of it on screens to come.

Photo taken entirely out of context for LOLS by Ryan Pierse for Getty Images