Can a gay baseball player keep his secret?
by Aisha Bouderdaben
Drop Dead Diva gracefully recovered from its cancellation in January, and has been getting back into its groove with high ratings—which ballparks anywhere between 1.9 to 2.7 million viewers per episode—this summer.
The first episode of season five, which premiered on June 23, saved curious viewers from the cliffhanger at the end of season four.
Producer Josh Berman said about the cancellation, “Our ratings were strong, so we didn’t see it coming. I will say that being back on the air and getting a second chance at life [is] kind of like Deb did as she came back as Jane.” Deb is the main character who dies in a car crash, but comes back to life in Jane’s body, and must take on Jane’s life as a lawyer.
“It was truly the fans that brought us back to life,” Berman said. “I was pretty devastated when we were canceled. I still had a lot of stories I wanted to tell.”
One of those stories is a coming-out story about an athlete.
Known for tackling at least one LGBT issue per season, Berman said that they had been writing this episode before the famous basketball player Jason Collins came out.
“Gays in sports is certainly a hot topic right now,” said Berman. “I do think that sports is one of the last frontiers where men and women feel they unfortunately need to be closeted. So it was important for me to address that issue.”
In the episode, which airs July 21 on Lifetime, a professional baseball player (Derek Smith) is accused of murder, and feels pressured to keep his sexuality private.
Margaret Cho—who plays Jane’s legal assistant, Teri Lee—said, “Baseball is [probably] the most traditional of all-American, very family-oriented sports. Here’s somebody who really meets the need, sort of needs to feel closeted or needs to uphold this idea of heterosexuality. So that sort of was what made sense to me in the story.”
She also noted the contribution of Martina Navratilova to sports, as she came out when Reagan was in office, twenty-five years ago. “I must note that there is a lot of sexism when it comes to this kind of stuff. I really want to make sure that her contribution to sports, to the LGBT presence in sports, is really noted. And I’m really, really proud of this episode, because it goes into the story about how we look at men in sports and we have to sort of have an idea of who they are and what they’re supposed to be,” said Cho.
Berman said that Smith is a fantastic actor, and that they brought Smith back for his audition three times. “We wanted to make sure he was the right actor, and he absolutely is. He’s sweet and sincere, and he looks like a baseball player,” Berman said. “We spent a lot of time talking about the role because we wanted to make sure that he understood the importance of who he was representing.”
When OutSmart asked Berman if he would consider introducing a permanent LGBT character to the series, he revealed that Stacy, Deb’s best friend and the only one who knows she’s alive in Jane’s body, was originally written as a gay man, but was rewritten as a woman for creative reasons. “Absolutely we would consider bringing on a series regular who is gay,” he said. “It hasn’t come up at this point, but I would love to bring out a gay character at some point.”
Cho, who is openly bisexual—though as far we know, her character is straight—said she would love to play a queer character. “I would be proud to play queer in anything. I would be proud to be able to represent who I really am in my work,” she said. “I do that in my standup comedy and I talk about being out, so I’d be really grateful to do anything like that.”
Berman said that this season is their best ever, from their members’ work ethic to their production values. “We all want to give the viewers a really rewarding experience,” he said. “The only thing is I wish more people knew [the show was still on the air].”
Drop Dead Diva airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on Lifetime. If you’ve missed the first four episodes, you can watch them On Demand, or on iTunes. You can watch the first three episodes here.
Aisha Bouderdaben is a contributing writer to OutSmart magazine.