I Want My Gay TV! Radio Documentary

Made-for-TV Breakthrough: That Certain Summer

Sirius XM Radio: Comments from Bruce Vilanch, Joe Keenan, Marc Cherry, Dan Butler, RuPaul

The ABC Movie of the Week: That Certain Summer
ABC, November 1, 1972

The idea for a movie of the week involving a gay couple that was relatively well-adjusted and as “audience friendly” as possible was proposed by the successful writing team of Richard Levinson and William Link, who were intrigued by the fact that a gay friend of theirs had sons from a marriage prior to him coming to terms with his homosexuality. From this premise they fashioned a script about a middle-aged divorcé, living in San Francisco with his younger male lover, who must decide whether or not to be open about his lifestyle when his teenage son comes to visit. Despite Levinson and Link’s solid working relationship with NBC, the network had no intention of okaying a movie in which homosexuality was treated as a fact of life, one explored with sympathy and understanding. Fortunately, the executive in charge of ABC’s TV movie division, Barry Diller, was deeply moved by the script and quickly green-lighted the project.

To placate nervous sponsors, dialogue was written for lead actor Hal Holbrook to explain that some people think of homosexuality as “a sickness, that it’s something that has to be cured.” Amazingly, Standards & Practices tried to get the writers to remove Holbrook’s simple declaration to his son that he and his partner “love each other,” but Levinson and Link fought that battle and the line stayed in. 

That Certain Summer (originally broadcast on November 1, 1972, as part of The ABC Movie of the Week) proved an unforgettable experience for gay viewers relieved to see a presentation about homosexuality that was not filled with condemnation or condescension. Over the years many have spoken of the program as a life-changing one, meaning that television had done its job, educating and enlightening a select few and giving others a little bit of hope.

Bonus Audio: Speakers talk about searching for images that could be considered queer; the breakthrough television movie That Certain Summer and others from this genre that tackled gay subjects.   


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