Ryan has an interesting post up about whether Star Trek has a heterosexist bias. I think he makes some interesting points, but I think I disagree with his ultimate conclusion.
Star Trek is somewhat biased,but I think it's unfair to say the writers are homophobic. Rather, I think Star Trek has a mainstream bias. I suspect studio executives think so little of their audience, that they are afraid that putting in a gay subplot would either drive away viewers or cause too much "controversy".
The Old Series was somewhat groundbreaking, covering issues like race and feminism. Roddenberry wanted Kirk's second-in-command to be a woman, but the TV execs said absolutely not. So instead, women were nurses, the space telephone operator, and space secretaries. In miniskirts. It wasn't until The Next Generation that we got actual strong women in positions of authority.
I think the reason for this is that Star Trek was really forced to appeal to a mainstream audience. It had to be the sort of thing that audiences could pick up immediately, be entertained for a while, then put away, maybe to watch it next week. It was episodic television in its purest form and entirely plot-driven. By the end of an episode, everything was exactly as it was at the beginning of the episode, with the exception of a disposable redshirt or two. I can't help but attribute some of this to a desire to syndicate the show, where episodes may be shown out of order. No matter the reason, when the goal of your show is to maximize the franchise possibilities of your idea, that's not conducive to telling a story or even deep characterization.
Think about it. Who in Star Trek actually developed as a character? Heck, over the course of one of the series, who even changed as a character? Virtually no one. You might make he case about some of he characters in later series, but not many.
And I think that's due to the need for mainstream appeal in ST. When you get a creator and writers for whom the story is paramount, you can make magic. Buffy is the obvious example here. Hush, where there's absolutely no dialog for most of the hour-long episode, really was TV unlike anything I've seen before or since. The Body, where Buffy's mother dies is heartbreaking. One of he characters even becomes a lesbian, forms what is probably the healthiest of relationships on the show, loses her partner, becomes the evil villain for a season, then is redeemed for the final season.
Instead of getting more TV like this, we get SciFi's Crap Movie of the Week where Stock Male Character fights poorly-CGI genetically engineered livestock/alien/unknown jungle creature before rescuing By-the-book But Brilliant Scientist Love Interest Woman from imminent death before riding into the sunset.
I'm not saying episodic TV is nothing but crap. I really enjoy Star Trek, Farscape, Stargate SG-1, and others. It's just really frustrating to see great shows like Firefly, Buffy, Firefly, B5, and Firefly -- not just enjoyable TV but as close to serious art as anything on television can be -- only get shuffled around from network to network, get given crappy timeslots, and completely ignored where it counts (*cough* Emmys *cough*).
To save the world, Buffy actually damned the love of her life to Hell. All Tony Soprano did was whack a few people.