TV Article

The Big Kiss-Off

Sweeps brings smooches -- ''Frasier,'' ''Will & Grace,'' and ''Dawson's Creek'' all staged controversial kisses this season

A first kiss seals the deal; it serves as confirmation to two people that the attraction, the flirting, the hand holding, the squeezing — it was all leading up to an intimacy that transcends the odd-when-you-think-about-it pushing together of two pairs of lips. No matter how much a person may dream about what it will be like, a first kiss is always something of a surprise, and since it rarely ends with just one, it's a surprise that instantly turns into an urgent familiarity.

On TV, the first kiss carries all these implications and more. Because the broadcast version of the medium is still in most cases confined to chaste depictions of physical attraction, the kiss must bear the weight of implying more sexual import than it has to in real life. So TV kissing is big stuff; it can come through the screen as innocent puppy love or let's-get-it-on (off screen) hunger.

These buss-related thoughts arise from a recently concluded TV season that was positively smooch-centric. Early in the year, Will & Grace managed to combine its usual sexual boogie-oogie-oogie belly laughs with a smidgen of social commentary as Sean Hayes' out-there Jack protested NBC's decision not to air what was being promoted as the first guy-on-guy kiss in prime time for a fictional NBC show. The clever plot had Jack and an initially reluctant Will protesting the network's wimp-out during a Today show broadcast, and when weatherman Al Roker was within camera range, a suddenly inspired Will planted a good wet one on Jack: Point made, and then some.

A scant few months later, The WB was promoting the May 24 season finale of Dawson's Creek on the strength of — whaddaya know — the first guy-on-guy kiss on network TV. (The network's fishy distinction was that this would be the first serious homosexual smooch, as opposed to all those jokey ones, done mostly by women on shows like Roseanne and Ellen, but also W&G. The network was also inadvertently admitting its own shifting standards: It's okay for guys to kiss on The WB, but when Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Willow and Tara want to have a Wicca-wicked make-out, the scene must fade to black?)

Anyway, back at the Creek, the otherwise useless character of Jack (Kerr Smith) went to Boston to profess his love via lip lock to unrequited love Ethan (Adam Kaufman). The scene was, typical of Dawson's this season, a thudding dud. Jack's heavily eyebrowed cutie, taken by surprise, displayed all the pucker willingness of a dead mackerel, and, post-peck, informed Jack that he was involved with someone else (in fact, a hunk o' blond granite named Brad, who was standing right there) and that ''the time wasn't right.'' No time is right — that is, dramatically convincing — on Dawson's these days.

The WB publicity machine once again did a disservice to its superior show Felicity: It could have been promoting a back-to-back gay-kiss pseudo-breakthrough. Not an hour later, Felicity's frisky finale culminated with coffee-shop manager Javier (Ian Gomez) marrying his longtime partner, Samuel — complete with a lusty kiss at the altar, to teary smiles all around. It was a joyous, sweet moment — a real emotional payoff to the Javier romantic subplot all season.

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