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Friday, February 25, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dan Savage's book about becoming a parent is optioned for TV

Seattle Times television critic

When we meet, Dan Savage is wearing a face mask and busily vacuuming rat poop from the attic of his house. It's not a glamorous moment. It doesn't have to be, since he's cleaning up in so many other ways.

His sex advice column in The Stranger is syndicated in 40-odd alternative papers throughout the United States and Canada. He writes for magazines online (Salon.com, Onhealth.com) and off (The New York Times, Out). He's a regular contributor to National Public Radio's "This American Life."

And last year, Savage wrote his first book: "The Kid," about how he and boyfriend Terry Miller traveled the emotional and practical path to becoming adoptive parents. The memoir received good reviews and lots of attention - not unlike D.J., the baby boy they took home and are raising here in Seattle.

But Savage now is entering a far dicier medium. Last week, the rights to "The Kid" were optioned for a TV series. It would be a ground-breaking show. Many American series have featured single dads: "Bachelor Father," "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," "My Three Sons," "My Two Dads." None have featured two dads who are also lovers.

On the other hand, there are recent signs television is more inclined to reflect reality - at least on cable, which Savage would prefer to network TV. He's probably right; "The Kid and The City" has a more promising hypothetical ring than "The Kid: Family Smackdown."

Two days ago, I caught up with Savage to get his comments on entering the TV maw.

Q: Maybe you should start with how all this came to pass.

A: When I was writing "The Kid," I would tell people I was writing a comic screenplay about adoption. But I didn't think that actually would happen.

But then the book got good reviews and calls started coming in. Universal was interested; so was Tom Hanks' company, Playtime. My literary agent hooked me up with someone who knew this field and could juggle egos and get the best deal. Which is what she did. I got to go to Los Angeles and have lots of lunches.

Q: You ended up making a deal with Blue Wolf Productions, which is owned by Robin Williams and his wife. Was there a factor besides money?

A: Robin and Michelle, no, Marsha, are very pro-gay. . . . Don't tell anyone I forgot her first name - after all, she's my best friend now!

Also, I got a producer credit, which means I can have a hand in the process.

Q: What is your wish for that process?

A: I would like that they not make it into crap. The book isn't mawkishly sentimental, and there's something about having children that turns most of America into a big dumb idiot.

So far as the characters, I don't want Terry and me made into cuddly, 45-year-old gay lawyers. And I don't want Melissa, our baby's mother, made into some crack addict. Her story is harrowing enough and she is the hero, really.

Q: Television is getting its toe in the water on gay characters, but shies from sex. What about that?

A: If TV is taking baby steps on the gay thing, this would be a good transition, because there's no sex in my book, either.

But I do want a palpable sense of desire between the Terry character and the Dan character. One of the nice things about "Ellen" coming out was lust -she and her girlfriend would attack each other. Unfortunately, they'd then lecture the audience.

The best political statement you can make about gays and lesbians in society now is to treat it as matter-of-fact. That's the most radical thing you could do. No pleading, whiny, mopey, we're-picked-on-more-than-anyone-else stuff.

Q: Are there family shows on TV . . .

A: . . . that I admire? "Malcolm in The Middle." "The Simpsons."

Q: But one is a way-out comedy, the other's a cartoon. Your book has some painful parts, like when Melissa gives D.J. to you and Terry.

A: We were so unprepared for how emotionally traumatic the "Here's the baby" part would be. Maybe the agency assumed it didn't need to be said, that it was obvious the moment would be fraught. I'd love that to be in the show, although that turning-on-a-dime thing is something TV tends to do badly. One time when it was done well was the "M # A # S # H" episode where Colonel Blake died. It's all about tone.

Q: Have you thought about casting for this? In your head, that is.

A: Oh, sure. Robert Downey Jr. is me - or maybe Ben Stiller. Clare Danes is Terry.

Q: Is this primarily a relationship show?

A: There's a reason the book opens with Terry and me fighting - and I don't want those warts removed. The book shows gay relationships are as messy as straight ones and the goal for anybody isn't to have a perfect relationship, but a good enough one in order to have kids. Personally, I'd love to have them do a flashback to how Terry and I met, which was sleazy, in a bar.

Q: Which is how lots of straight people meet. Still, can that get on TV?

A: Hopefully, because we're aiming this at being an HBO series - ack, I shouldn't even be saying that. I've jinxed it. Now it's going to wind up on UPN.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say before we finish?

A: Yes. Anyone who wants to hit me up for money should know that I'll only get a lot of money if this is made. So please don't call me at home. (pause) That's mainly a message for my family, but I want you to deliver it.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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