When it comes to television, the threat of cancellation is always looming. Numbers dip, appeal wears off: very few shows with lukewarm figures stay on the air for much longer.
What this means is that sometimes shows will sacrifice quality or believability (even the belief in their viewer's intelligence) in order to try and up the numbers. After all, for most networks, the only thing worse than a terrible show is one that nobody is watching.
How do you get people to watch television? You do something shocking and dramatic, something that will get fans talking regardless of whether or not what they have to say is good or bad, something like what these shows did.
These days, it's not all that uncommon: The seemingly heterosexual female character is seduced - or at the very least given extreme pause - by a potentially lesbian or bisexual temptress. It's happened in everything from The Simpsons (Marge Simpson kisses Lady Gaga) to Community (Annie goes in for a kiss with Britta). But when did it first begin?
The answer is in the nineties legal drama L. A. Law, in the episode "He's A Crowd". The kiss occurred between C. J. Lamb and Abby Perkins, and created an enormous amount of controversy and publicity, given the fact that the character of Abby Perkins had never expressed an interest in woman (nor did after). Even though several sponsors pulled their ads from the show, the episode pulled in a huge number of viewers and renewed viewer interest - L.A. Law went on to run for another three seasons.
Michele Green, who played Abby, later went on to confirm that the kiss was nothing more than a ratings ploy (writer David E. Kelley, who wrote the episode, went on to use the "lesbian kiss" in two other shows). Since then, the "lesbian kiss" episode has become a prominent trope in television, with the New York Times noting that it regularly occurs during "sweeps" periods, when broadcast networks determine advertising rates.