Metro Weekly

NBC musical drama “Rise” has rewritten its gay lead to be straight

The show's producer said he wanted to "make it my own story"

Pictured: (l-r) Josh Radnor as Lou Mazzuchelli, Auli’i Cravalho as Lilette Suarez, Damon J. Gillespie as Robbie Thorne, Rosie Perez as Tracey Wolfe — Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

NBC’s new musical drama series Rise has changed the sexuality of its lead character from gay to straight.

Rise is based on the true-life story of Lou Volpe, a closeted teacher who controversially stages a production of Spring Awakening in his blue collar high school. His story was chronicled in Michael Sokolove’s book Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater.

In Rise, Lou Volpe is now Lou Mazzuchelli, portrayed by How I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor, and he’s heterosexual, complete with wife and children.

Jason Katims, who co-developed the show, attempted to justify the change at a Television Critics Association panel, IndieWire reports, saying he wanted to “make it my own story” (read: straight).

“We took [Sokolove’s book] as an inspiration, and then I really felt like I needed to make it my own story,” Katims said, adding later, “With Lou’s family life and Lou’s family itself, there’s a lot of reimagination. Not just in terms of gay or straight, but in terms of the family structure.”

However, Katims said he wasn’t going to “shy away from issues of sexuality,” despite changing the lead character.

He pointed out that he hadn’t completely straightwashed the narrative, as the show will still focus on a production of Spring Awakenings, which deals with all aspects of sexuality. There will also be a transgender student and a student who grapples with his sexuality.

And because Katims, who created high school football drama Friday Night Lights, couldn’t help himself, the show will also focus on the school’s football team.

“As much as it’s about high school theater, it’s also about the football team,” he said. “That storyline also becomes a big part of the show. And I love the idea of striking a balance between the two of them.”

Musical theater. Football. Anyone else getting hints of Glee, here?

Read Katims’ full response at the TCA panel, where he was asked to talk about the decision to make Lou straight, below:

“I think that the source material that you’re talking about, Drama High and that teacher, Lou Volpe, was such an inspiration to me and to everybody doing the show. To see somebody who, as you said, spent 44 years dedicated to this program was amazing. And I really hope that…we carry a lot of his spirit into the show.

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. And I definitely didn’t want to shy away from issues of sexuality and gender, but was inspired to tell the story of Michael, this transgender character, and Simon, who’s dealing with his emerging sexuality and growing up in a very sort of conservative religious family. And those stories felt like they…resonated with me kind of as a storyteller, and I wanted to kind of lean into that.

And then really with Lou’s family life and Lou’s family itself, there’s a lot of reimagination, not only in terms of whether he was gay or straight, but in terms of that family structure. Like, for example, you see in the pilot there’s a storyline with his son, Gordy, who we suggest has a drinking problem.

As you go on and you watch the next several episodes, even in Episode 2, that turns into a…major storyline and becomes, I think, a very powerful part of our storytelling….. I felt like it was important to me to honor what the source material was, but then to also kind of make it my own so that we would all be able to sort of lean in and do the work that we need to do as actors and writers.”

Rise premieres March 13 on NBC.

(This article has been updated to better reflect Katims’ comments at the TCA panel, including an excerpt of his response.)

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Posted by Rise on Tuesday, January 9, 2018

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.