It's not just the number of gay guys on network TV—it's the sheer variety. Today we have characters like Max, the sports-loving, relationship-hating bear on Happy Endings; Cam, the birthday clown turned stay-at-home dad on Modern Family; and Mr. Wolfe, the clueless guidance counselor on Suburgatory.
Yes, you can still find Will & Grace-style clichés: CBS' new sitcom Partners (pictured above, and from the creators of—you guessed it—Will & Grace) features a swishy architect who, viewers learn, has a Clay Aiken tattoo on his ass. But TV is moving away from stereotypes and toward the quotidian. NBC's aptly titled The New Normal, the first sitcom from Ryan Murphy (cocreator of Glee and American Horror Story), focuses on the relationship between an affluent Beverly Hills couple (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells) and their surrogate, a young woman desperate for cash so she can raise her daughter. Murphy has said he was influenced by seventies-era comedies that grappled with social issues, recalling Maude (Maude's abortion) and All in the Family (Edith's near rape). Awash in Murphy's signature sharp banter ("I want us to have baby clothes! And a baby to wear them!"), The New Normal also takes pride in showing there's more to gay life than simply having a gay old time.
CBS Reports: "The Homosexuals" (1967): The speakers' faces are obscured in this controversial Mike Wallace-anchored documentary.
An American Family (1973): Lance Loud becomes a gay icon after coming out on TV's first modern reality show.
The Match Game (1973): Charles Nelson Reilly adds quips, innuendos, and fabulous scarves to the beloved quiz show.
Soap (1977): Religious organizations protest Billy Crystal's openly gay character, one of TV's first.
Three's Company (1977): John Ritter's character pretends to be gay so he can share an apartment with two hot girls.
Barney Miller (1979): In an episode fittingly titled "Inquisition," Officer Zatelli (Dino Natali) comes out to Barney.
Thirtysomething (1989): Advertisers pull out after two male characters are shown sharing a postcoital moment in bed.
Seinfeld (1993): Jerry and George get taken for lovers in "The Outing." ("Not that there's anything wrong with that.")
The Real World: San Francisco (1994): Gay Cuban-American cast member Pedro Zamora's battle with AIDS and confrontations with housemates made for riveting drama. "Pedro shattered myths," President Bill Clinton would reflect. "He jolted our country awake."
The Ambiguously Gay Duo on SNL (1996): Dressed in tight pastel costumes, animated crime fighters Ace and Gary hint at the truth of what we all suspect about superhero combos like Batman and Robin.
Ellen (1997): Forty-two million tune in; Ellen DeGeneres' character comes out.
Will & Grace (1998): Critics accuse it of stereotyping, but it wins 16 Emmys (and is later praised by Joe Biden for "educating the American public").
Dawson's Creek (2000): Jack and Ethan's lip-lock was the first romantic gay-male kiss on prime-time network TV.
The Wire (2002): The HBO series featured a slew of stereotype-shattering gay black characters, including the honor-bound "homo thug" Omar Little, ruthless hitwoman Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, and detective Kima Greggs.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (2003): The Fab Five make over clueless straight men—and Bravo.
The O.C. (2005): Mischa Barton's character finds Sapphic bliss with Olivia Wilde's in a makeout session so hot and heavy Fox had to edit it for network broadcast.
The Sopranos (2006): When Vito Spatafore's fellow mobsters find out that he swings the other way, they take him out—and send an additional message by sticking a pool cue up his ass.
Mad Men (2009): After closeted art director Sal Romano rebuffs the advances of heavyweight client Lee Garner Jr., Garner successfully demands he be fired.
Glee (2010): Jock bully Dave Karofsky affirms his sexuality by kissing glee-club member Kurt. Duh, say Gleeks everywhere.