The New Lesbian Coven on “Dante’s Cove”

Previous seasons of here! TV’s campy, queer soap opera, Dante’s Cove, have been bursting with gay beefcake, but in the upcoming third season, which premieres Friday, Oct. 19, there are more lesbian characters than ever before. Even better? Three of them are played by out lesbian actors: Michelle Wolff, who reprises her second-season role as Britt; Jill Bennett, who replaces Erin Cummings as Michelle; and Jenny Shimizu, who plays new character Elena.

As Shimizu told us, “Here! TV is giving the fans what they want.” Up until now, the fan base for Dante’s Cove has been overwhelmingly gay male. The queer women viewers who watched the show — especially in Season 2 with the addition of Michelle Wolff’s Britt and the love triangle between Britt, Michelle and Van (Nadine Heimann) — were pleased with the increase in lesbian content from Season 1, but still wanted more.

That presented a challenge for the show: how to increase the lesbian audience without alienating the core audience of gay male viewers who had followed the show from the start. Here! TV gamely took on this challenge when they renewed Dante’s Cove, making here! the first LGBT network to renew a series for a third season.

Meredith Kadlec, here! TV’s vice president of original programming, also was aware that lesbian and bi women viewers enjoy shows with a sci-fi/fantasy bent, such as the much-loved — and missed — Xena: Warrior Princess. “Back when we were doing Season 2 [of Dante’s], we simply didn’t have the resources to do a whole separate lesbian show,” she explained. “So I thought this Dante’s Cove setting is a perfect place in which to put more lesbian characters.”

Kadlec admitted that she worried that the gay male viewers would object to the stronger female presence in the second season. Yes, they loved the diva character of Grace, played by Tracy Scoggins (The Colbys), who had been on board since Season 1, and the boys also enjoyed seeing Thea Gill (Queer as Folk) in Season 2. But Kadlec was surprised by their reaction to Michelle Wolff joining the cast.

“They loved the addition of the Britt character,” she said, “and thought she was really interesting. And I just felt like, OK, this is working out.” So in Season 3 they gave Britt a backstory, more screen time and a new love interest: antiquities dealer Elena (Shimizu).

Jenny Shimizu is pleased with how the writers portrayed the relationship between Elena and Britt. “[Usually] there’s always one woman who’s more aggressive and one who’s more submissive,” she said. “Elena and Britt were both independent women. It was interesting to not fall into the clichés of one person taking the lead all the time. It was fun to have each character being strong with each other and not giving in.”

Since Dante’s Cove is, after all, a soap opera, dyke drama is right at home, and Season 3 provides a tasty dose with a love triangle between Elena, Britt and Michelle. “I’m involved unintentionally,” Shimizu said of her character, Elena. “I think I’m in a good relationship with one woman, but Britt still has feelings for her ex-girlfriend Michelle.”