Two guys go on a fishing trip and sleep in
the same bed. Are they gay?
Nope, at least not if they're on network TV.
It's a trend: best-friends men. Heterosexual
buddies. Close chums. Sitcom guys don't have to
just sit around drinking beer and watching
football. They can talk. They can share. They
can be intimate — emotionally.
And these prime-time pals are suddenly all over
the fall-season shows in a way not seen since
Bert and Ernie or Batman and Robin:
- On ABC's Boston Legal, James Spader and William
Shatner are pompous lawyers who regularly meet
on the balcony of their law firm to share their
- On FX's Nip/Tuck, Julian McMahon and Dylan
Walsh are two sexy plastic surgeon partners who
are so close one of them has a gay dream about
- On Fox's House, which returns with new episodes
Tuesday after a break for baseball programming,
Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard are two
serious doctors. They don't cut each other any
slack, yet they're closer to each other than
they are to any women in their lives.
- On NBC's Studio 60, Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford are co-producers of a TV show and
friends who are so in sync creatively, they were
Even series not focusing on two guys in
particular are still exploring the subject.
On NBC's The Office this season, Steve Carell,
as the office boss, spent an entire episode
being glum over the fact that he had no guy
friends. And Josh Schwartz, creator of The OC,
has written an upcoming story line featuring
Peter Gallagher's husband/father character
seeking out a guy pal.
"I think there comes a time in a man's life when
he looks around and he realizes, 'You know, I
don't really have any guys to hang out with,' "
Schwartz says. The show's goal: to make
Gallagher's character "more relatable."
But where is this TV trend coming from?
Last year, The New York Times reported a
phenomenon in which heterosexual men were
getting together for something other than
business or sports, and it was dubbed a "man
date." The Washington Post also examined the
idea recently, calling heterosexual closeness a
"male-ationship." Lately, the term "bromance"
has been cited in the urban dictionary of slang
for a friendship between "brothers."
"The whole culture of masculinity is changing,
and changing quite radically from the days when
John Wayne and the Lone Ranger were the top
images of what it meant to be male," says Judith
Sherven, a relationship expert and author of
several books with her husband, Jim Sniechowski,
also a relationship expert. He says it's an
outgrowth of the feminist movement. She says
it's a breaking down of barriers.
"There aren't rigid sex-role stereotypes that
govern everyone's behavior anymore," she says,
adding that women always have comfortably had
friends, and now TV characters are reflecting
men's freedom to express themselves with their
"Now men are open to the fact that this is
certainly within the realm of being masculine.
It doesn't mean they're acting like women.
They're following a human instinct, and there
aren't the prohibitions against it."
The only limits would be the ones that entice
Ryan Murphy, creator of cable's Nip/Tuck, the
edgy surgery show that explores all sorts of
sexual relationships. After all, when two men
become close, the next question is: How close
Murphy said at the start of the Nip/Tuck season
that he would be playing with the relationship
between the two male surgeons by having one
begin to have dreams about whether his love for
the other meant he's bisexual or gay.
"It's pushing those boundaries a little bit. The
show always examines sexuality and troubles of
intimacy and who you are based on what you look
like and how you react to people, so it's a
natural evolution," Murphy says. "I think you
see these two really are the closest they're
going to be to another human being — but can't
go deeper than that."
And on Studio 60, the two characters suddenly
realized they might be getting too close. In a
recent scene, they got into a shouting match
that wound up in a wrestling match on the beach.
Matt: "Are people looking at us right now?"
Danny: "I think they are."
Matt: "Could you punch me in the face or
something, because to a casual observer this
appears a little homoerotic for my comfort."
Danny: "I definitely hear you on that. What
should we do?"
They get up, looking sheepish.
Danny: "All right, just play it cool."
A buddy history
Two male friends is an old comedic device — from
Abbott and Costello to Felix and Oscar. Even
Starsky and Hutch were good for laughs,
intentional or not.
On NBC's Twenty Good Years, Jeffrey Tambor and
John Lithgow play two 60-year-olds, a widower
and a divorcé, who move in together to share
their last "20 good years" of life. (The sitcom,
new this season, was pulled from the network's
schedule Tuesday, with its last airdate
scheduled for Nov. 8.)
Tambor plays Jeffrey, a judge. Lithgow plays
John, a doctor. Just like The Odd Couple, they
are mismatched roommates, one uptight, the other
The two actors say their pairing is less a
reflection of any national zeitgeist regarding
menship and more about a harking back to the
roots of comedy.
"The cliché of a comic pairing is straight man
and a zany," Lithgow says. "In our case, we
throw the ball back and forth." Says Tambor, "We
take turns being Laurel and Hardy — or Lucy and
But both say their relationship is not about
being gay or hinting at homoerotic undertones.
"We're not gay men, we're foolish men," Lithgow
Similarly, Denny Crane (Shatner) and Alan Shore
(Spader) have brought a comic touch to an
intimate relationship between two guys on Boston
Legal. Both are as old-school hetero-manly as
men can be: bedding women, smoking cigars and
winning big cases.
But listen to how they talked in the episode
when they took a fishing trip to Canada and
ended up sleeping in the same bed:
Denny: "Shirley was looking at us funny. Think
she knows we slept together?"
Alan: "She might. We still have that glow." (A
beat.) "Quite a trip."
Denny: "I shot my first steelhead."
Alan (softly): "Thank you, Denny. You took my
mind off Tara. You took me to a new land. But
most of all ... you took me to a new place."
Denny: "What do you mean?"
Alan: "You've occasioned a cynical, material,
urban man to feel passion. For a fish."
Denny: "I think Canada liked us."
Alan: "How could they not?"
Denny: "We make quite the team, I'll tell you
Alan: "Yes, we do."
Denny: "We're good on the road."
Kind of suggestive?
Spader says no way. "If you're searching for a
certain subliminal homoeroticism, I think it's
looking a little deep. It's just a TV show
that's trying to be funny."
In the first season, writer David E. Kelley went
to the balcony only two or three times. But
their musings became such a favorite of the
viewers, actors and writers that the scene is
now a signature feature ending nearly every
Spader says the appeal isn't so much two men
being friends as it is the nature of the
"I don't think we're intrigued by this
relationship because it's a male friendship,"
Spader says. "I'm intrigued because you've got
two people who are so dichotomous and have very
little in common but their friendship. Their
view of the world is so very different."
Like a married couple
And he doesn't think his and Shatner's
characters are like an old married couple.
"The only married couple they might be like is
Mary Matalin and James Carville," Spader says of
the Democrat/Republican pundit pair. "A married
couple has to be able to share a helluva a lot
more than (our characters) do."
But because the guys do more than just talk
shop, there's a special connection between them.
"The thing about Boston Legal that's really
interesting is you have simultaneously a
throwback and a leap forward," says relationship
expert Sniechowski. "These two men are
combatants, intellectual legal gladiators, and
they win everything, so they're champions. They
also connect emotionally and with insight."
Our culture has spawned a need for connections,
says Joe Kort, a therapist with a private
practice in Royal Oak, Mich., who specializes in
relationships. "There's a hunger. Men are hungry
for affection toward each other but can't admit
it. It's not about their sexuality, it's about
That why these male television relationships are
appealing, he says. "Gay men love it, too. I'm
gay. We desire straight guys who are tough but
have their feelings.
"The best thing (male relationships on TV)
could do is model to straight men — you can
still be manly men or tough guys and have your
To Bill D'Elia, executive producer of Boston
Legal, putting the Crane/Shore relationship
under a microscope is amusing.
"The funniest part of it to me is that I decided
to build a balcony so that Denny Crane could
have a bigger office with a better view than
everyone. That was it. It was a design element
of the show that I thought would be visually
interesting. (But) we've tapped into something
that's out there."