Gay row hits Shortland Street

By Michelle Coursey

TVNZ has been accused of trying to censor Shortland Street by asking producers to pull a gay male couple storyline.

South Pacific Pictures producer Jason Daniel says the state broadcaster is concerned about scenes of two men in bed together.

He claims they wanted the storyline dropped but eventually accepted re-edits of the controversial scenes.

TVNZ has denied asking for the storyline to be withdrawn, but wanted one scene re-edited, at its expense, because it could cause "parents some unnecessary difficulties in explaining it to their children".

The storyline, which starts this week, shows receptionist Gerald Tippett, played by Harry McNaughton, kissing a male friend. He is also seen in bed with him, partially naked.

Daniel said the re-edited scene involved one of the men ducking beneath the covers twice.

There was a suggestion he was performing a sexual act on the other, but the scene was "sped up" after TVNZ raised concerns.

Shortland Street, which screens at 7pm, has shown two men in bed before, most notably in 1997, when receptionist Moira Crombie discovered her son, Jordan, in bed with a chemist called Ewan.

Daniel accused TVNZ of double standards because there had been no objections to the lesbian relationship between characters Maia Jeffries and Jay Copeland.

Over the past four years, the on-screen couple have been seen kissing, in bed together, getting married, and planning to have a baby.

Daniel said: "When we do the lesbian stories, everyone is very happy to point out that Shortland Street is a PGR [parental guidance recom-mended] programme, and it deals in adult themes, and it always has. When it's two men, we have fraught dis-cussions about corrupting the morals of a nation."

A spokeswoman for TVNZ said that the broadcaster had no problem with gay storylines, and actively encour-aged the show's writers and producers to explore topics that had previously been considered taboo. The PGR rating means content is "more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult", according to TVNZ standards. A child is deemed any person aged under 14.

Neil Denney, the general manager of Outline, a national phone service for gay, lesbian and transgender issues, asked why TVNZ should distinguish gay men and gay women being in bed.

"If parents are going to be worried about the types of things they see on Shortland Street, and their kids asking questions about it, they are the type of parents who won't let their children watch at that time of night anyway."

Daniel, who has worked on television dramas around the world, said that he understood male homosexuality could make some viewers uncomfortable, but other male couples had never resulted in "plummeting ratings, or masses of complaints, or moral outrage".

"[Our] default position on relationships is to treat all relationships equally, and we're very clear about what's appropriate for our timeslot and the PGR rating. So the only time we get into trouble is when, in treating characters equally, other people seek to impose inequalities."

McNaughton, who has been with the show for nine months, told the Herald on Sunday he would be "fascinated" to see the audience reaction.

But he emphasised the sensitive approach the show's makers had taken to ensure that the story was appropriate.

SAME-SEX LIAISONS ON THE STREET

1993: Jaime Forrest (Karl Urban) and Isaac (Frank Tautali).
After the show started in 1992, ambo officer Jaime was one of the first fully-fledged gay characters. He went out with Isaac and was the catalyst for Jonathan McKenna's (son of the chief executive) coming out.

1997: Jordan Crombie and chemist Ewan are discovered in bed together, to the surprise of Jordan's mother, Moira. The scenes were re-edited due to producer concerns about the content, and this still photograph taken on set was never approved for release to the public.

2006: The turbulent courtship and relationship between nurse Maia Jeffries (Anna Jullienne) and barmaid Jay Copeland (Jaime Passier-Armstrong) culminated in their civil union on Valentine's Day 2006. The pair went on to plan a family, and Maia gave birth to baby Jay late last year.

2008: Gerald Tippett (Harry McNaughton) is in search of his sexual identity, but has he really found what he wants in his old school friend, Lindsay Reynolds (Dwayne Cameron)?

- Herald on Sunday

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