‘Happily Divorced’ debuts Wednesday; ‘Love Handles’ gets lesbian couple tonight

Actress Fran Drescher’s real life inadvertently turned into a story like one of the sitcoms she has performed in. A few years ago, her producing partner and husband of nearly 20 years, Marc Jacobson, announced they were divorcing because, it turned out, he’d been gay all this time. Drescher took the news like a champ (publicly at least), supporting Jacobson and her legions of gay fans with a shrug of “What can ya do?”

In true Hollywood fashion, though, she turned her personal tragedy into the stuff of comedy for her new sitcom, Happily Divorced, which premieres Wednesday on TV Land.

In it, Drescher plays Fran (big stretch), a Los Angeles housewife whose husband (John Michael Higgins) reveals after 18 years that he’s gay. How could she not have known? He did all the floral arrangements for their wedding. But the economic downturn has made the breakup far worse: He’s still living in the house they cannot afford to sell, while she ventures out into the dating world.

Happily Divorced is, like Drescher’s signature sitcom The Nanny, a bright and airy confection with some unfortunately familiar jokes sandwiching some of the truly clever ones. But Higgins (familiar for his Chris Guest mockumentaries) is a gifted comedian, as are her parents, played by George Segal and Rita Moreno. And Drescher herself a bizarrely likable woman despite that annoying accent.

There are few great sitcoms around anymore — Modern Family and 30 Rock spring to mind — and even fewer great three-camera shows, such as Big Bang Theory. Happily Divorced doesn’t approach any of them in quality or laughs, but it does have a breezy sense of humor about gay issues that’s neither insulting nor bitter. It’s a start.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Richard Chamberlain advises actors to not come out, claims he came out in 2003. Oh pu-leese!

Richard Chamberlain

In an interview in the Advocate this week, Richard Chamberlain talked about the danger for young leading man-type actors who come out.

He’s right about one thing. Hollywood is still very closeted despite Will & Grace, Modern Family or the show he’s now appearing on, Brothers & Sisters. The article says he came out in 2003.

Chamberlain was one of the biggest teen heartthrobs of the early 1960s when he played the title role on Dr. Kildare, the debonnaire young doctor on one of TV’s first medical shows.

In the 1970s, I was working in a store on 5th Avenue in New York City. By then, black-and-white television shows were long forgotten. TV Land and Nick at Night hadn’t been thought of. Cable was mostly for places that had no other TV reception.

Chamberlain was a regular customer in our store. He always shopped with his boyfriend. No one in the store thought anything about it. Chamberlain was gay. Everyone knew it. He was just a friendly former TV star shopping with his boyfriend. There was no secret and no one really cared.

So when he advises actors not to come out just as he didn’t, he’s really just fooling himself. When he “came out” in 2003, about as many people were surprised by the announcement as when Ricky Martin announced earlier this year that he was gay. Will people be equally shocked by an announcement from Jodie Foster?

Although everyone has a right to privacy, if someone is living his life pretty openly, he shouldn’t be shocked or annoyed that people know he’s gay. In fact, he’s fooling himself if he thinks people didn’t.

He may have only done the big Advocate interview in 2003, but everyone he came in contact with knew he was gay since his Dr. Kildare days. And that includes the people at studios who were hiring him. I knew him in the mid-70s.  His sexual orientation didn’t prevent him from getting the biggest role in his career when he starred in The Thornbirds in the early ’80s.

—  David Taffet