Putting lesbian parents on the radar

Dottie (Jen Plante) of 'Dottie's Magic Pockets.'

KAI RYSSDAL: In case you somehow missed the full-page newspaper ads and the promo spots that've been running the past few weeks, the fall television season is upon us. New series, with new casts -- returning hits as well.

One group you won't be seeing more of -- on network shows, anyway -- is gay and lesbian characters. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance said this week just 1.1 percent of all characters on the big five broadcast networks are gay.

As low as that is, it's actually down from a year ago. As for gay couples with children, they've never been able to find a home in TV land. But Alex Schmidt reports one entrepreneur is betting market economics can change that.


ALEX SCHMIDT: Dottie's Magic Pockets is a kids' TV program like any other. It's got a fun story, silly characters and lots of songs. There's just one difference: The little boy on the show has two mommies.

AUDIO: DOTTIE'S MAGIC POCKETS: My friends Celia and Sasha are coming by with their new baby, Seth.

Tammy Stoner is CEO of Pink Pea, the company that created Dottie's Magic Pockets. Her own son was the inspiration for the show -- Stoner raises him with the help of her ex-partner, Beth.

TAMMY STONER: By about 2-and-a-half, we'd say "Well, Mom and Momma and Oliver are going out" or whatever, and he would actually replace one of our names with Dad. He had started asking for videos of two mommies -- and after I did hours and hours of research on the Internet, I realized there literally was no programming available for him at that time.

There are roughly two million American households with same-sex parents. That number grows every year as gay families choose to raise children. You'd think that companies would be salivating at the thought of a clearly defined, growing market, but they're not.

JERRY MCHUGH: It's a market that has hardly been touched.

Jerry McHugh is senior research director for Community Marketing, a consulting group for gays and lesbians. He says gay men have been on marketers' radars for years. But lesbians haven't, and most gay parents are women.

MCHUGH: The median income of those families who have children is about $80,000. They have some money to spend, it's a well educated group of people, they're looking for products that speak to them in identifying their own unique characteristics.

If business hasn't paid much attention to same-sex-headed families, the media seems to have actively avoided them. Sure, there's plenty of gay-friendly programming out there, like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will and Grace.

But in 2005, when PBS tried to air a show that included a family with two moms, activists forced PBS to pull the episode. Pink Pea's Tammy Stoner recognizes that gay parenting is still a sensitive issue. She's only selling DVDs of Dottie's Magic Pockets over the Web, and she's not pitching to the networks -- yet.

STONER: As we become more successful on our own, there is going to be a sort of mainstream eyebrow raising where they're gonna look over and see the success that Pink Pea and Dottie's Magic Pockets is having, and want to embrace some of that themselves.

Media companies will be first in line to give Stoner a hug -- if the money's good enough. Jackie Joyce is editor-in-chief of entertainment research firm Baseline Studio Systems.

JACKIE JOYCE: The motivation for showing gays and lesbians and transgenders in the mainstream media is definitely motivated by economics. I don't know that you'd have to talk executives into the fact that there's a lot of money to be made there.

The trick for those execs is getting their hands on the money without offending mainstream audiences. In Dottie's Magic Pockets, Tammy Stoner wants to show the audience that a family parented by two people of the same sex is like any other.

If she can convince viewers to accept gay parents -- even just as the background to a story -- she'll be helping out millions of families. And, boosting Pink Pea's bottom line. In Los Angeles, I'm Alex Schmidt for Marketplace.

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