Controversy arose earlier this week when the producers and cast of “Rise” were questioned about why a gay character from the book upon which the upcoming NBC drama is based was recast in the series as straight.
The series follows a dedicated teacher who takes over a high school’s struggling drama department, and is inspired by Michael Sokolove’s book Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater.
The book, reports Entertainment Weekly, “explores the true story of then-closeted high school teacher Lou Volpe.” In “Rise”, however, the teacher — played by former “How I Met Your Mother” star Josh Radnor — is a heterosexual man named Lou Mazzuchelli.
During the “Rise” session at the TV Critics Association press tour on Tuesday, showrunner Jason Katims addressed the question of why he decided to change the character from gay to straight. “But in terms of the adaptation itself and why we made that decision… it’s very much we took that as an inspiration, and then I really felt like I needed to make it, you know, kind of my own story,” he said.
Reporting of Katims’ response led to the show being criticized on social media, ultimately resulting in a petition calling for the show to portray the character as a gay man, as in the book.
To clarify, Katims and “Rise” executive producers Jeffrey Seller and Flody Suarez released a statement to EW, explaining that reporting of the Katim’s initial response led to “misinterpretation” of his intent.
“The misinterpretation by some of what we’ve done with this show goes against what we fundamentally believe and who we are as individuals,” reads the statement. “We are firmly committed to LGBTQ inclusion, and most of all, are excited for the community to see ‘Rise’, which we believe portrays positive depictions of LGBTQ characters and stories on broadcast television with honesty and sensitivity. To that end, we worked with GLAAD on the show’s LGBTQ storylines to ensure they are told with respect and authenticity.”