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Heroes Producer Speaks Out on Axing of Gay Character Zach

Last December, after a series of marketing efforts that appeared to hype Zach (played by Thomas Dekker), one of the characters on the hit show Heroes, as gay, NBC suddenly appeared to pull the plug on it.

Zach_2Now, Heroes executive producer Bryan Fuller tells website popgurls the story behind the controversy and reveals that Dekker's manager said she would pull him from the show because he was up for a role on FOX and she was afraid that his playing a gay character would affect the network's decision to hire him.

Says Fuller: "[Making Zach gay was] absolutely was a path that we were going to take. In the first meetings when we were sitting down and talking about the show, one of the things about the show that Tim said that he wanted all these characters to represent different people in the world and we had an Asian guy and an Indian guy and… a whole bunch of white people. He just wanted it to be a united Benetton cast. I said that's fantastic, but if we have this many people, then we need to have a gay character. If you want to represent the world, that's certainly a demographic that we need to hit. [Tim completely agreed and] was thinking Claire's best friend might be a good person – and I couldn't agree more. So we were definitely going down a route of making [Zach] the gay character and having him have a big role in her life and sort of teaching her to come out about her ability and embrace herself and actually using the coming out metaphor and the gay metaphor in that instance as a fun piece of storytelling."

Bryan_fullerHe adds: "There was an unfortunate miscommunication and when the script arrived that had the line in it, 'I would take you to homecoming but you have to know that I don't like girls that way.' The actor [Thomas Dekker]'s, manager threatened to pull him from the show because he was up for the John Carter role in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and she didn't want him playing a gay character because it might affect FOX's interest in hiring him. It got really ugly...

...It's unfortunate and really – we only took one line out of the script. In really, in all of our minds, the character was still gay but we couldn't say it explicitly. I was very upset by it – I was not happy about it at all. There were times I had to avoid talking about it because we didn't want to have a negative reflection on the show. The show's been such a positive experience for so many people, we didn't want to get hung up on the fact that one actor's management felt that it was a career killer for him to play a homosexual which, as a gay man, I found incredibly insulting. We had episodes planned for him to be in, and she pulled him from the show altogether. So that's why he sort of disappeared."


PopGurls Interview: Heroes Bryan Fuller [popgurls]

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  1. Upon reflection, I'm pretty sure all the sadistic power-mad murderers on Heros are white and all the 'people of color' are noble.

    Of course, this won't be good enough either. And I'm sure there are those who would take enraged offense if there WAS a 'villan of color.' Sometimes people are determined to be disgruntled....they aren't worth trying to please.

    Posted by: Zlexar | Apr 23, 2007 2:46:13 PM

  2. I do apologize, I didn't mean to call you Matty, I didn't see the typo until after I had posted.

    Posted by: Daniel | Apr 23, 2007 2:46:54 PM

  3. Gregoire - you crack me up. :)

    Posted by: Mike | Apr 23, 2007 2:47:45 PM

  4. I'm sorry but am I the only one who thinks re-casting is ridiculous? This is a major prime time show, not a cheap ass soap opera.
    (And now the part of Billy Wittman will be played by Marc Le Clerk) Never happens on Prime Time.

    Second, Claire, the cheerleader, is currently on the run, so give them a break about re-introducing the gay character. The support characters are disposable, they have to be to support the nature of the show. Maybe in time they will introduce a gay hero, but there are only so many sub-plots a show can sustain. Look at what's happened to LOST.

    Posted by: Frozen North | Apr 23, 2007 2:48:32 PM

  5. Ok, I have 2 BIG problems with this story:

    1. Bryan Fuller is THE executive producer of the show.

    2. He says he is a gay man.

    Why didn't he cast a gay actor for the role?? Why? What are his reasons?

    He can come complaining about this actor & manager, but he's just part of the problem (as far as I'm concerned) because he should have thought about "diversity" during casting call.

    With this, I'm not sending any mail to that manager or the actor, cause they have the right not to care about recieving a GLAAD award for 'best awkward gay kiss du jour'.

    Posted by: Da | Apr 23, 2007 3:00:47 PM

  6. Matt,

    My gut reaction is to condemn you like some others here, but I'd rather address your ignorance specifically.

    Being gay doesn't have anything to do with the storyline huh?

    If you read the article, then you would have also read the part where the producer explains that as Claire's best friend, Zach would have mentored her on "coming out" about her abilities.

    So yeah, being gay, for this character, would have a profound impact and relevance on the storyline when you consider the parallels of the character's experiences.

    Posted by: Mark M | Apr 23, 2007 3:01:26 PM

  7. Frozen North.....

    Never happened on Prime Time? The TV series "The Walton's" recast its star "John Boy". Bewitched recast it's second lead character "Darren". The popular sitcom "Rosanne" recast the oldest daughter once and then recast it again bringing back the original actress. This character on Heroes wasn't even a major character. He could have very easily been recast with Jesse Medcalf and everyone would have been thrilled.

    Posted by: Patrick | Apr 23, 2007 3:11:57 PM

  8. Amen! to Soulbrotha, PeterParker and Mark M.

    As usual.

    Posted by: Zeke | Apr 23, 2007 3:14:10 PM

  9. Very interesting. I've been following Fuller's work since Voyager -- he was the only exciting writer to come out of that show. His Dead Like Me pilot is one of the best ever pilots ever produced, in my opinion (though after he quit the show, I followed him right out the door. I was shocked to learn later on that the new management made the closet-case father into a red blooded hetero).

    I'm not sure I believe Fuller when he says he'd be fine going back to Heroes -- It's a nice thing to say, but of course he wants his own show. And--though he is by far the best Heroes writer--I hope he gets it, and that it's more Dead Like Me, less Wonderfalls (which felt forced quirkiness to me).

    Posted by: scottevill | Apr 23, 2007 3:18:01 PM

  10. thnx zeke and leland ;-)

    Posted by: peterparker | Apr 23, 2007 3:18:48 PM

  11. Thanks for the correction re Black characters on "Heroes." Mea culpa, and a clarification. While, grammatically, "people of color" might refer to anyone "non white," I live in San Francisco where there are so many Asians of various descents, that "people of color" tends only to refer to Blacks and Hispanics and Indians and Native Americans.

    But nowhere did I suggest that "flaming gay characters be somehow banned from television."

    What I did suggest is that the percentage of "flaming gay characters" is disproportionate to reality—unless you live in "La Cage Aux Folles"—which you may, Dan, if you found such a worn out cartoon character "a hoot."

    Perhaps that, too, would explain your exaggerated characterization of teenage gay/bi "Andrew" being "one of the most sane characters on the show." Yes, it's been a while since he mortally injured someone in a hit and run which he treated as nothing more than littering ["She's an old lady! I have my whole life ahead of me!"], though not as long since he seduced his mother's bi boyfriend just to hurt her. Perhaps that's what you meant by the qualifier, "at this point," but that's only relative to the fact that he's hardly in the script at all other than the pizza boy who doesn't deliver.

    Let's review gay Repug Cherry's representation of gays out of a very large cast of regulars and recurring characters:

    1. nonstereotypical but [in Cherry's own word] sociopathic teenager Andrew; turning into a non-nelly version of "Mute John" of "NYPD Blue."
    2. Andrew's former boyfriend; quite nonstereotypical/positive save for the fact that he was tricking with a sociopath whom he agreed to hit in order to help fake a charge of child abuse against Andrew's mother, Bree, whom Andrew wanted to blackmail. Ooops, he's gone.
    3. gay cable TV installer; only around long enough to be beaten up by Carlos who thinks he's straight and having an affair with Gabi
    4. gay "extras" in the resulting court room scene who get into a fight with Carlos, never to be seen again
    5. Art the Wisteria Lane neighbor who at first is a hero both for taking care of his invalid sister and saving Lynette's life. Then he's thought to be a child molestor. Then it appears that we are seeing a courageous dramatization of someone being wrongly accused of being a child molestor. Then, in the most sinister way, it's revealed that he is what Lynette feared and Middle America thinks of us all—"I'm moving to another neighborhood where I'll be able to molest even more boys now that my sister is dead."
    6. Vern, Gabi's pansy partner in coaching little girls who want to be beauty queens. You also probably thought he was a real hoot, Dan, because he was another eternal flame, with stock limp wrists mincing about the screen and the biggest Sssssnowflake in the Snowflake Pageant.

    In short, an out gay man who, because DH is such a huge hit, has used his rare power and privilege to not just reinforce existing negative ideas about us but create new ones, and, therefore, should have his GLAAD awards shoved up his fat ass.

    Posted by: Leland | Apr 23, 2007 3:19:21 PM

  12. DA --

    Maybe the actor who plays Zach is gay. We don't know, and that's not really the issue.

    The issue is that his management supposedly bucked at him playing a gay boy.

    Posted by: Tiger | Apr 23, 2007 3:19:38 PM

  13. PS: Another prime time recasting, and one ironically related, was that Jack Coleman, who plays the cheerleader's evil/good stepfather, replaced Al Corley as the gay/straight/bi son on the huge hit "Dynasty," the total difference in appearance explained by plastic surgery after an explosion. Corley allegedly left the show after it became clear the producers were not willing to allow his character to be authentically gay. Are you listening "Andrew"?

    Posted by: Leland | Apr 23, 2007 3:28:19 PM

  14. There have been quite a few mistaken statements on this comments thread.

    Heroes is on NBC, not Fox.

    Why would Dekker--the actor who played Zack--and his management want to go to Fox instead of NBC?

    Because he had a one season recurring gig as a supporting character at NBC, and on Fox, he would not only be a regular, he'd be *the lead*.

    (Yes, *spoiler alert* -- Hayden Pantaliere, who plays Claire, will apparently NOT be a regular on Heroes next season... so it stands to reason that the part of her best friend would become vanishingly insignificant in Season 2, if he was in it at all.)

    Third, Fuller is not "THE executive producer" of Heroes -- He isn't even the showrunner. He is one of several senior writers (with the title co-exec producer). He did NOT cast the show.

    So, DA--Retract your claws, honey. You might hurt someone.

    Posted by: scottevill | Apr 23, 2007 3:31:35 PM

  15. I have to admit I have only seen the show once or twice, but based upon this story, I think that someone needs to remind the actor(Thomas Dekker's) manager that this is 2007, not 1957. For his manager to say playing gay might hurt his career has absolutely no credence of any kind. Like I stated before, it might have credence if this were 1957. His manager stated that playing gay would potentially hurt his career, well getting this poor young man involved in this controversy might prove to hurt his career even more than simply playing the gay character. His manager either needs to address their homophobic views or she needs to go. My apologies for making it such a two-dimensional issue, but the argument of playing gay hurting your career just does not stand with me. Hopefully this will somehow get resolved.

    Posted by: matthew | Apr 23, 2007 3:43:37 PM

  16. Peterparker,

    Thanks but no thanks. I'm not homophobic and I don't need to be cured of anything.

    I'm a gay man and yes I am young at 26. What's homophobic about what I posted. The kid has fears that he will be type casted as being gay. Maybe he doesn't want to play a gay actor in every role. There is nothing homophobic in my viewpoint about that.
    The gentleman who plays Lynettes husband on Housewives use to play a gay charater on Melrose place and gave advice to Sean Pyfrom on being careful not to get typecasted as an actor.
    Chevy Chase in a recent article talked about how he hates being typecasted as a comedian in every role and was relieved recently to play a murderer on Law and Order. No one called him anti comedian. He just wanted to broaden his horizons.
    I have no problem with a person playing a gay character and welcome it but I understand if someone doesn't want to be pigeon-holed into playing the same type of roles over and over.

    Peter, I also agree with you that it has not hurt those main stream celebrities you mentioned. But going back to my point, they have played numerous other type roles before playing gay and playing gay was a new artistic avenue for them. Why can't this actor try a new avenue?

    For a show to be good it doesn't necessarily have to have a gay character. If it does and it works for the plot great, if it doesn't and the show is still awesome, I'm still going to watch.

    Basically, the show is a hit with or without this character who most people had forgotten about until this post.

    I really resent being called homophobic and saying I need therapy for expressing my view point without name calling.

    Posted by: Matt | Apr 23, 2007 3:45:58 PM

  17. Leland--

    You got me. I live in La Cage Aux Folles. No, actually, I live in New York City. I thought the real estate agent was funny because I know people just like him, and because it was an amusing character to have discovering them in bed. I'm sorry you disagree, but please, casting aspersions on me because I'm amused by something you're not is rather juvenile at best.

    As for Andrew: this season he's been arguably the most sane character on the show. Yes, in previous seasons, he was a screwed up teenager; he's turned it around and has been quite positive *this season*.

    And finally, who on Desperate Housewives is a positive rolemodel? They're *all* cartoonish. They're *all* chock full of negativity. Why should the gay characters be any different? It would be one thing if DH was full of wonderful, admirable people and all the gay characters were problematic, but it's NOT. Which is what makes it all the more remarkable that, this season, Andrew has actually gone from being the bad seed to being a good responsible kid. Now I'm sure he'll go back to being bad-- it's an exageratted soap opera, so everyone is bad some of the time-- but I think getting worked up over cartoonish portrayals of gay characters in a show that is, for all intents and purposes, a cartoon is rather ridiculous.

    Posted by: Dan E | Apr 23, 2007 3:49:00 PM

  18. Okay granted I don't agree with Matt's viewpoint 100%, he at least does not name call. PeterParker, you are not doing the gay community any justice or helping us by calling fellow men "trolls" or "heterosexual". And before you go off on me, I am a 52 year old gay man, educated, and very active in the community. Shame on you. You are not being a roll model for these young people. Name calling and throwing mud has never changed anyones opinion. Again sir, shame on you.

    Posted by: Josh | Apr 23, 2007 3:58:27 PM

  19. His manager was thinking: let's help his career by pulling him from a show so he's out of work! Yeah, that's why they get paid the big bucks I suppose. If he got the other gig he'd have left Heroes anyway, gay or not.

    Are people watching TV shows they don't like? If you don't like a show, do you still have to watch it? I've not seen either DH or Heroes (or Lost too). I watch Brothers and Sisters, but it's mediocre at best--sort of an updated Eight is Enough.

    Posted by: anon | Apr 23, 2007 4:00:24 PM

  20. The most interesting thing about this story to me is the actor himself. Thomas Dekker used to play Nick Szalinski on the television series version of "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids". Quite honestly it was like watching Danny Pintauro playing Jonathan on "Who's the Boss". I just figured, this kid is definitely gonna grow up to be gay. I loved to see him on the show. Granted he was just ten years old, and I have no real idea about his orientation, but still my gaydar went off the charts back then. It is a shame he did not stand up to his management. The part as originally envisioned would have probably given him much more respect, then looking like he wimped out from gay fear.

    Posted by: Critifur | Apr 23, 2007 4:01:08 PM

  21. Matt, as someone pointed out, the issue of the importance of having a gay character in the series was brought up by the subject of the original item posted by Andy, Bryan Fuller. Reading more carefully before you post about a topic might help.

    No one said EVERY show has to have a gay character, but to not immediately get, as a gay man, that a show as otherwise demographically diverse as this one is, yet again, rendering us invisible justifies Peter's suspicions about your core attitudes about us. You are defending the status quo and the status quo is very much homophobic just as it once was, and still is too much, racist. It is why I and many other Californians, and gays elsewhere, are outraged at Gov. Terminator's veto of an effort to mandate the inclusion of real life gays in state textbooks.

    And it isn't just a matter of reflecting reality but has a positive social change function. Research repeatedly shows that the more people are exposed to even fictional not-hostile portrayals of gays the more they support gay equality.

    As for your youth, at your age, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was leading the Montgomery bus boycott. Few of us even have an opportunity to do things like that, but in the Internet age there is no excuse for homo-ignorance among our own.

    Posted by: Leland | Apr 23, 2007 4:06:21 PM

  22. Leland,

    I'm not homo-ignorant. I generally disagree with you but never name call you. You constantly name call GLAAD, HRC, and the whole lot of them. Are you happy with anyone? How can you be taken seriously when you call your governor, Governor Terminator?

    I think it's crazy that if I disagree even a little bit with the main stream I'm labeled the homophobe. I'm not defending a status quo. I'm defending anyone gay, straight, trans, white, or black. I'm just saying what is on my mind at the time. Have I ever been wrong? Yes. Have I changed my opinion on things? Yes. Am I willing to listen after being named called? Probably not.

    Posted by: Matt | Apr 23, 2007 4:16:36 PM

  23. I remember shortly after the whole "incident" happened back in December someone posted a link to a YouTube of Mr. Dekker dancing at a friends house.

    It was taken down within a few hours of it hitting the blogosphere.

    There's a reason his management wants to keep him de-gayed.


    Posted by: Mike | Apr 23, 2007 4:19:55 PM

  24. Da very good point

    As executive producer and as a gay man he should have simply cast the role with an out and proud gay actor. I for one am sick and tired of all these straight actors playing (NOT in this case) gay roles.

    This whole issue could have been non existent if he had simply seen to it that 1 of the many many many struggeling out gay actors got the role in the first place.

    Posted by: pacificoceanboy | Apr 23, 2007 4:23:14 PM

  25. He did not want to be seen as o nly that role like that gilmore girl will always be that gilmore girl. Jessica Biel will always be that 7th heaven girl more cases

    how is heterosexual a curseword or insult its like the same midset of people who think being called shallow and spoiled is an insult

    Posted by: sasha | Apr 23, 2007 4:25:45 PM

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