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Queering and Qualifying the Wasteland: Network Television, Awards Discourse, and Gay Legitimation in Primetime from 1971-1995


This dissertation argues that celebratory recognition of a select few shows and networks occludes a broader history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) programs across the “Big Three” networks (NBC, CBS, and ABC) between 1971 and 1995. It considers how awards organizations, notably the George Foster Peabody Awards, the Emmys, and the Golden Globes, propagated a public service ethos that meshed with the networks’ strategies for capitalizing on “relevance” amidst heightened competition and diminishing returns. This strategy of commending “social problem” shows isolated LGBTQ characters, depriving them of subjectivity, and privatized the oppression of non-straight people. Here, awarding bodies most commonly honored LGBTQ-themed “special episodes” of dramatic series & episodic sitcoms, removing queer stories from a more broadly conceptualized “mainstream” synonymous with everyday mundanity. LGBTQ storylines developed as pedagogical tools for elite urbane audiences, consequently delegitimizing more affective connections between sexual minorities and television.

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