Macho, Macho Men: On HBO's 'Arli$,' an Athlete's Sexuality Helps Undermine Gay Male Stereotypes

Article excerpt

So what if they play positions like "tight end" and "wide receiver," grunt a lot, and love to pile on top of each other?. Pro football players are burly men, not girly men.

At least, that's what most TV producers think. Of course, Mike Tollin is not like most TV producers. And his show, Arli$$ (Sundays, 9:30 p.m., HBO), is unlike anything else on the tube.

Arli$$, in its third season, stars actor-comic Robert Wuhl (seen in the 1994 film Cobb) as ethically challenged Los Angeles sports agent Arliss Michaels. On the June 7 season opener, one of Arliss's clients, backup quarterback Theo Holt (Alan F. Smith), becomes untouchable because of rumors that he's gay.

"What interested us was how the sports community would respond to homosexuality," says Tollin, 42, a (straight) Philadelphia native and Stanford University graduate who executive-produces Arli$$ with his business partner, Brian Robbins, and Wuhl.

"There's a sense that the sports world is the last bastion of machismo, and it would probably be more difficult for an athlete in a team environment to come out than someone in almost any other profession," adds Tollin. "If a macho athlete came out, the collective epiphany would be the greatest."

Tollin is quick to point out, however, that Arli$$ is not from the same gene pool as Ellen. Its purpose is to satirize, says the producer, not educate. "We're not about a crusade," he says. Besides, he adds, "you can't delve that deeply into any issue in 24 minutes on a show that has to make people laugh."

That's why Theo Holt's sexuality is kept ambiguous. Like the U.S. military, Arliss doesn't ask, and Theo doesn't tell. "Arliss just wants to get this guy a job," says Tollin. "On our show we always try to straddle the line. We want things to be as gray as possible, then spoof the resulting hypocrisy."

It's only after Arliss sets Theo up to be arrested in a hot tub with two underage girls that the gorgeous, brainy jock--he's a wine connoisseur--becomes a hot commodity again. …

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