Usually known for frothy teen dramas and mouthy reality shows, The CW Network is stepping up their game with a new show—and it’s one that stands to change the face of TV forever.
The show is called ZE—after the gender-neutral pronoun. Working with playwright Kyle Jarrow, who wrote the script, ZE centers around a Texas teen who decides to make the transition from female to male, and reveals those plans to surrounding family.
Should the show gain its sea legs, it will be the first in network television history to feature a transgender character as its central focus. Many shows have offered trans characters over the years, but few have done so in an open and honest way, and none have made them the focal point of anything beyond a storyline that’s part of an ensemble tale.
For example, numerous shows have had one-off characters, including The Jeffersons (Veronica Redd played Edie—formerly Eddie—Stokes for one episode), Just Shoot Me (which saw Jenny McCarthy play Finch’s former college buddy, newly named Brandi), and even The Love Boat saw Mackenzie Phillips portray a trans woman. But it took a while before trans characters wound up as more than a one-shot deal.
Plenty of shows since have played off transgender figures as part of a story arc surrounding secrecy and lies. And while the addition of more trans characters has been well received, it has remained a concern that tying secrecy into those storylines has only served to increase the stigma that being trans is something to be ashamed of. Famke Jansen’s Ava Moore in Nip/Tuck comes to mind, as it’s only when she seduces surgeon Christian Troy that the truth of her transformation is revealed.
And then there are the shows that have approached transgender issues from a more explorative front. The L Word addressed this in a storyline where Moira transitioned to become Max, charting the change in relationship with love interest Jenny during the switch. Glee’s Alex Newall routinely brings a strong emotional explanation of the bravery it takes to embrace one’s transgender self amidst small-minded, small-towners. And Degrassi recently killed off Adam Torres, a trans character in the tenth season who struggled with transitioning from female to male amid pressure from family and friends.
Had creator Ryan Murphy’s drama 4oz gotten the green light back in 2007, we would’ve also seen the four-season transition of a male becoming a female.
With this new show, The CW has the opportunity to put an even braver face on the discussion and create a new sense of awareness surrounding transsexualism—not just for the uninitiated, but for those who are in-the-know but could stand to learn more. Will they tiptoe up to the line and back away from it, or will they go all the way and address the subject with humor, honesty and grace? We’ll find out if—and hopefully, when—the show gets off the ground and on the air.