‘In the Life’ Turns 20
May 24, 2012
by Bradley Osborn
It could be the most amazing series that you have never seen. It’s the longest-running national television show documenting the LGBT experience. In the Life newsmagazine airs on many PBS stations across the country, but it is not broadcast everywhere.
History and Mission
In the Life took its name from the identical Harlem Renaissance phrase, which referred to the homosexual component of society.
Creators of the series were keenly aware that gay men and lesbians had historically been portrayed as vile, effeminate, flamboyant, depraved and dissolute. Their task was to counter those images with reality.
ITL premiered on a half-dozen stations on June 9, 1992, formatted as a variety show. Comedian Kate Clinton was its first host. The program soon morphed into a public affairs magazine. Many local public television stations resisted airing the series (a lingering issue in some locations).
New seasons now begin in October, and their numbering scheme has lapped the series anniversary age, hence In the Life is already in its 21st season.
More than just a chronicler of stories, the show aims to effect change through innovative media that exposes social injustice by documenting LGBT life. The goal is to advance equality within and beyond that community.
In addition to being a two-time Emmy Award nominee, ITL has received honors and awards from Lambda Legal, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and GLAAD.
The presenting station for In the Life is WNET, New York Public Media, and the show is distributed by American Public Television.
A Sampling of Content
From covering the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the 1993 March on Washington to profiling Matthew Shepard and remembering the Stonewall Riots, In the Life documents the lives and accomplishments of gay icons, leaders and otherwise uncelebrated Americans.
In its 20th anniversary season premiere, ITL recounted the strategic fight for same-sex marriage in the New York State Legislature. Filed as part of its “In the States” segment, the piece tells the story of grassroots activism that paid off.
“No senator I asked to meet with said no,” said Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council. “Everyone sat down with me. Just to be honest about who you are and what your life is like, and when the senators sit down with you and they talk to you and they hear about my partner and my father and my partner’s dad and our families, it’s hard to stay stuck in the rhetoric.”
In a segment on Iowa, we hear about Varnum v. Brien, the Lambda Legal lawsuit that led to the unanimous 2009 decision to bring marriage equality to the Hawkeye State. We see Zach Wahls, 19, articulate and show by example the normalcy of his formative household, headed by two moms, as he addresses the Iowa House Judiciary Committee.
The show introduces us to Gene Ulrich, 13-term gay mayor of Bunceton, a town of about 350 people in central Missouri. Country music artist Chely Wright shares her coming-out testimony. ITL does art, health, trans teens, relationships, media bias, family, legal issues, HIV/AIDS, hate groups, civil rights, cinema (“Real to Reel”), religion and more.
We hear from commenter Harvey Fierstein and many guests and hosts, including singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge; former NFL player Esera Tuaolo; comedian Lea DeLaria; actor Nathan Lane; former tennis stars Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova; comedian Lily Tomlin; actor Wilson Cruz; and Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, who co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Jonathan Capehart works as a correspondent, Margaret Cho tells viewers about the U.S. Air Force “gay bomb” and Kate Bornstein acts as interviewer.
Viewing Options and Challenges
The local PBS station is Kansas City Public Television (KCPT).
Lindsey Foat, KCPT promotions and outreach coordinator, said, “It (In the Life) is such a wonderful and insightful program that’s been on public television for some time, but so few people know about it.”
Foat said that the show usually airs at 10 p.m. on KCPT on the first or second Monday of each month, unless something like a pledge drive shifts the schedule.
To find out whether and when In the Life will air in your area, go to itlmedia.org and enter your zip code at the top of the page. A list of stations that air the program is also available. Some local broadcasts might open with an unnecessary viewer discretion notice.
Interested viewers might consider thanking their local stations for airing the show or encouraging them to do so if they are not making room for it now on their schedules.
If your local PBS station doesn’t carry In the Life or if you prefer online viewing, episodes and clips on the website can be viewed on demand as YouTube videos or playlists. The website also features tweets, news and a blog.
Next season’s ITL premiere episode in October will honor high-profile gay dads Paris and Christopher Barclay, philanthropist Tim Gill and broadcaster Jane Velez-Mitchell.
On the Web
ITL's June episode, "Orgullo Latino," celebrates LGBT Latin Pride
From the creators:
"'Orgullo Latino' tells the story of LGBT Latinos through the leaders paving the way. It features CNN Headline News anchor Jane Velez-Mitchell, Extreme Makeover designer and television star Eduardo Xol, Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Andres Duque of the GLAAD-nominated blog Blabbeando and Daniel Hernandez, the intern President Obama declared a hero for his bravery during the 2011 shooting of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. We discuss Latino influence on American society, leadership, identity and – of course – Ricky Martin."
Watch a preview HERE.
"Orgullo Latino" will air Monday June 18 at 10:30 p.m. on KCPT.