Suddenly, broadcast TV discovers transgender actors


"Doubt" -- which debuts Wednesday (Feb. 15) -- is an ambitious series that tries to do everything and botches some of it. One thing it does right, however, is having an interesting cast, led by Katherine Heigl, Elliott Gould and Laverne Cox ... who happens to be one of two transgender actresses with key roles in shows this Wednesday. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

TV trends seem to
know only two speeds – stagnant and fast-forward.

Now that's true of
transgender actresses. Once invisible on broadcast TV, they suddenly
show up back-to-back Wednesday (Feb. 15) on two networks; they are:

-- Amiyah Scott. On
“Star” (9 p.m., Fox), she's Cotton Brown, whose mother (Queen
Latifah) disapproves of her ongoing transition to female. Tonight,
their pastor may step in.

-- Laverne Cox. On
“Doubt” (debuting at 10 p.m., CBS), she's Cameron Wirth, a
lawyer for a top-tier defense firm in New York. Tonight, she pushes
for a defendant to get an insanity verdict.

Last summer, CBS
programming chief Glenn Geller said Cox would be “the first
transgender actress ever to play a transgender series-regular
character” on a broadcast network. “I mean, that is huge.”

Except she's sort of
the second one. “Star” reached the air two months before “Doubt”;
Scott's role was tiny at first, but becomes more important this week.

Both actresses grew
up in the South – Scott in New Orleans, Cox in Mobile, Ala. --
about 15 years apart. Both had early moments in (or almost in)
reality shows.

Cox, 44, was a
contestant in the 2008 “I Want to Work for Diddy,” then was asked
about doing her own show. The result was “TRANSform Me,” with
three trans women providing makeovers. It had an eight-episode season
on VH1, hardly enough to provide financial comfort.

“In February of
2012, I was standing in a housing court in New York City, with an
eviction notice in my hand, trying to avoid eviction from my
apartment,” Cox said. The next year, she would be co-starring in
“Orange is the New Black” and receiving an Emmy nomination.

Then came “Doubt,”
from the husband-wife team of Tony Phelan and Joan Rater. “They
worked with Shonda Rhimes,” Cox said, “so they understand
diversity.”

They wrote for
Rhimes' “Grey's Anatomy” for a decade. They also have a
transgender son and, Phelan said, are passionate about Cox's
character. “She's a lawyer, brilliant, who happens to be trans.”

Adds Rater: “She
has the most sweeping love story of the season.”

And Scott? She's
been a model and is in her first TV job ... after a previous one
crumbled. She was hired for “The Real Housewifes of Atlanta,” but
(versions differ) quit or was fired. Instead, her TV debut is in a
small (usually) role in “Star,” a show that reflects its
producer.

“I'm a 57-year-old
black man who came to Hollywood with $7 in his pocket,” Lee Butler
said. Lately, he's created the hit “Empire” and now “Star,”
with its thorough diversity -- “putting a white girl (with her)
sister who is half black, with ... a very rich black girl, with a
transgender who is beautiful.”

That's Scott, who
began the change about a dozen years ago, at 17, facing some
resistance.

“I was (my
mother's) only child,” she said. “My father has daughters, (but)
I was his only son .... It was something difficult (for him) to deal
with.”

But he did. “Now
he calls me Princess .... Things can change.”

-- “Star,” 9
p.m., Fox. Cotton meets with the pastor, hoping to mend the rift with
her mother

-- “Doubt”
debut, 10 p.m., CBS. Laverne Cox co-stars as a defense lawyer

-- Both this
Wednesday (Feb. 15)