Anti-gay Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of Anaheim and David Gadberry, producer of a gay-oriented soap opera being made in Orange County, faced off Friday on a live, nationally televised call-in talk show and, not surprisingly, sparks flew.
During the show, "Nine Broadcast Plaza," which was transmitted from New Jersey over independent cable channel WWOR, about 1,500 viewers phoned in to answer: "Should a gay soap opera be allowed to air on TV?" Fifty percent said no, 49% said yes and 1% were undecided.
Gadberry was joined on the program by Hal Cobb, a member of the cast of "Secret Passions," the soap opera Gadberry is targeting for public access cable. "Secret Passions" had its cable TV debut in New York City on Tuesday night and was screened at a Costa Mesa nightclub Wednesday.
Gadberry said he plans to submit the pilot Monday to nine Orange County public-access stations and to others in at least 15 U.S. cities. Public-access operators must air any non-commercial program (unless obscene or indecent) for which they have the time, according to a Federal Communications Commission spokesman.
Gadberry, who had not met Sheldon before, asserted on "Nine Broadcast Plaza" that his program, thought to be the first of its kind nationwide, will realistically portray the gay life style and will help promote understanding of the gay community.
"We're not doing pornography," he said. Noting that there will be kissing in the serial, he added: "'What we're doing is not wrong; it's natural. When two men are in love, they kiss."
Sheldon, who has waged a highly publicized campaign against homosexuality, has said he intends to monitor "Secret Passions" to determine whether the Traditional Values Coalition he heads will take action against it. So far, he said, he has seen only excerpts, such as one aired Friday showing two bare-chested men in bed.
Still, Sheldon said, the program is immoral and "disgusting" and has no place on TV.
Asked by the talk show host, Matt Laury, if he doesn't think Gadberry has the First Amendment right to produce anything he wants, Sheldon replied: "Do you want (people) to be able to promote apartheid and (a return) to slavery?"
Children "model" or imitate "same-sex homosexual acts" when exposed to them, Sheldon said, raising his voice and leaning forward in his seat. Gadberry rolled his eyes.
Friday's studio audience, clapping and cheering, seemed to be as evenly divided as those who phoned in their opinon of the soap, which has been written about in TV Guide, USA Today and other media nationwide.
From the Sheldon camp came the observation that the Bible does not tell about Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden. The homosexual life style "should be kept (in the bedroom) where it belongs," one irate woman said.
And from a man in the Gadberry gallery: "I'm not gay myself, but (homosexuality) is a part of life and people are going to have realize it."