A semi-historic night on TV

Posted on 11 Jan 2009 at 12:18am

There have been nearly 650 episodes of “Saturday Night Live” over the variety series’ 30+ year run, with nearly as many hosts over that time. And yet, as I watched Neil Patrick Harris walk onstage tonight, I began to wonder: Could it be possible that Harris is the first openly gay person ever to host the show? It seemed almost impossible that it could be true. While the 1970s might not have been the most open, we’re in 2009 — surely someone who was known to be gay before he or she was tapped to lead the series (which has manifested an open acceptance of gay issues for decades) had hosted before.

Well, yes. But just barely.

Sure, in the premiere episode back in 1975, the musical guest (NOT host) was Janis Ian, but she was not out at the time.  And in the first several seasons, Lily Tomlin, Anthony Perkins and Jodie Foster all took on the duties… though none was out then, either. Since then, Sara Gilbert, David Hyde Pierce, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane and Lindsey Lohan have all hosted — before they came out.

In 2000, bisexual actor Alan Cumming hosted the show, although at the time he was hardly a household name, mostly known to Broadway audiences. In 2001, openly gay performers Ellen DeGeneres and Ian McKellen both hosted.

But it was not until a few hours ago that an American gay man actually hosted the show. Remarkable.

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