Marilyn McGrath, Heartbeat
Marilyn McGrath (Gail Strickland)
HeartBeat was the first American television series to include a lesbian as a lead character: nurse practitioner and founding partner Marilyn McGrath (Gail Strickland). HeartBeat was lauded by LGBT television historians for its inclusion of Marilyn and her partner Patty (Gina Hecht) with their sexuality being a non-issue. However, unlike the heterosexual characters, Marilyn and Patty were not permitted to be sexual or physically affectionate with each other, or even touch.
Marilyn’s sexuality was revealed in episode 1×05, when Marilyn’s daughter informed her that Marilyn’s lover was unwelcome at her wedding. Marilyn lived with her partner, Patty.
First regular lesbian character in prime time
In People magazine’s article titled “Is Prime Time Ready for Its First Lesbian? Gail Strickland Hopes So–And She’s About Find Out”, Gail Strickland and show’s writer Sara Davidson talk about Marilyn’s being a lesbian and the absence of lesbians on TV.
Strickland, 41, will lose a good deal of her forgettability quotient this Wednesday night (April 20) when, as nurse practitioner Marilyn McGrath on the new ABC medical drama, Heartbeat, she reveals her love for another woman. In doing so, she’ll become the first regular lesbian character in prime time—a taboo she is surprised TV didn’t break years ago. “I don’t know why [they didn’t],” says Strickland. “God knows, they’ve tried to sensationalize everything else.”
Shock value, she says, was not her motive for taking the role. “It’s not often actors get to play parts that might make a difference. The fact that somewhere, somehow, someone’s perspective might be softened is important to me.” She is proud of the McGrath character and her own association with it. “Marilyn is a loving, warm professional who cares about her daughter and has been in a good relationship for four years,” says Strickland. “If that is how I’m stereotyped, then that’s fine with me. My only worry was that the network wouldn’t fulfill their part of the bargain. I’m sure they’ll get mail, and I’m afraid they’ll pull back when they get negative responses.” On-camera, physical intimacy between McGrath and her romantic partner, played by actress Gina Hecht, will be limited to eye contact and the occasional hug.
“People are scared of this subject,” agrees writer Sara Davidson, who created Heartbeat, which is set at a women’s medical center. “There are lots of misconceptions about gay women. We’re taking a big risk.” To diminish the impact, Marilyn was introduced as a character before her homosexuality was disclosed. “We wanted people to see her as a terrific person first,” says Davidson, “then find out she has a private life that at its core is no different from anyone else’s.”
- 18 episodes.
Female love interests:
- Patty (Gina Hecht, lesbian, recurring, 5 episodes)
Relationship story arc with a woman: Yes
Male love interests:
- Jerry (off-screen, ex-husband)
Relationship story arc with a man: No
Male love interest after being identified as a lesbian? No
Filter Relationship Arc:
Storyline during sweeps? No
 A relationship story arc is defined as explicit, developed on screen, and lasting more than 3 episodes. It is listed as questionable or subtext if romance is only implied, mentioned instead of shown on screen, part of a dream sequence, or otherwise not explicit for the viewer.
 Sweeps episodes air in February, May, July and November, the periods when advertising rates are set. A character is marked as "sweeps" when there is a very limited number of episodes that address their sexuality, all air during sweeps period, and the storyline is otherwise ignore/dropped.