NEW YORK — Even as states and jurisdictions made gay and lesbian marriages legal, "The Newlywed Game" has played it straight – until now.
The long-running game show, now on the GSN cable network, said Wednesday it will feature its first gay couple this season on a celebrity edition. George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu on "Star Trek," will appear with his partner, Brad Altman.
They just celebrated their first anniversary after being married in Los Angeles last September, but they're nothing like the giggly young couples the game is known for. Takei and Altman have been together for 22 years.
"What we want is to display the normality and the joy of having a happy union," Takei said.
"The Newlywed Game" has been on TV off and on since it premiered in prime-time on ABC in 1967, mostly with Bob Eubanks as host. Singer Carnie Wilson is now host of the show, which is in its second season on GSN and done well in the ratings for the network.
The show always teased and tested couples about how well they know each other, with the slightly lascivious Eubanks delighting in questions about "making whoopee."
It has since featured older couples, interracial couples and some who have lived together many years before marriage. Even long-ago contestants were retested as part of "Oldyweds Game" segments.
Kelly Goode, GSN's programming chief, said she couldn't speculate on why gay couples were never included in the past because GSN, the former Game Show Network, has only been responsible for the show for two years. She said it was in the game's rules that the couple needed to have a legally-recognized marriage to play.
The change "made sense for GSN," Goode said. "It seems like the show has always reflected the times in terms of marriages depicted and this felt like the next logical step."
Takei and Altman haven't taped their episode yet but expect to do so soon. GSN hopes to air in October.
The show is sprinkling a handful of celebrity players and their new spouses in this season, including Davy Jones of The Monkees, Christopher Knight of "The Brady Bunch" and Jonny Fairplay of "Survivor."
Wilson said she had been pressing behind-the-scenes to have an all-gay edition of the show. She's excited about Takei's appearance.
"It's needed at this point," she said. "To me, this is not anything political. This is not a political statement. This show has always been about couples and how well they know each other."
Dan Gainor, a vice president at the conservative Culture and Media Institute, said the move was a publicity stunt for a show most Americans didn't realize was still on the air. Despite Wilson's views, Gainor said he believed it was a political statement for the California-based show and network, coming in a state where voters banned same-sex nuptials months after Takei and Altman married.
"They're trying to use TV and the movies to set the gay agenda and make it mainstream," Gainor said.
Even though they've been a committed couple for 22 years, Takei said he and Altman are quietly preparing for their appearance. He's taking careful note of what his partner orders in restaurants and wears.
"To be included in something we never felt we'd be included in is very satisfying," he said.