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'How to Get Away With Murder' Creator on Show's LGBTQ Storylines

While the pedigree of Shondaland and Viola Davis propelled "How to Get Away with Murder," it's the show's diverse cast and storylines that helped sustain its success.
The cast of "How To Get Away With Murder."
The cast of "How To Get Away With Murder."Bob D'Amico / ABC

When “How to Get Away With Murder” premiered in 2014, it garnered a lot of buzz. The series brought Viola Davis to the small screen and completed the Shondaland trifecta that resulted in "TGIT" (Thank God It's Thursday): a full night of back-to-back television dramas and live tweeting.

But another weapon in the show's arsenal -- and one that would arguably contribute to its sustained success -- was the diversity of its cast, including a number of LGBTQ characters.

Emmy Award-winning actress Viola Davis is at the helm of the ABC drama, and Aja Naomi King, Jack Falahee, Karla Souza, Billy Brown, Alfred Enoch and Conrad Ricamora are among the other main cast members.

"How To Get Away With Murder" Creator Peter Nowalk arrives at Sunset Gower Studios on May 28, 2015, in Hollywood, California.
"How To Get Away With Murder" Creator Peter Nowalk arrives at Sunset Gower Studios on May 28, 2015, in Hollywood, California.Michael Tran / FilmMagic

“To me it was more about representing the actually reality of a law school. Starting from what’s real, which is law schools are full of all types of people as the world is,” "How to Get Away With Murder" Creator and Executive Producer Peter Nowalk told NBC OUT.

The series centers around Davis’ character, a defense lawyer and professor named Annalise Keating, who runs a law firm out of her home when she's not teaching her grueling law courses. When Keating picks five of her students to join her firm, a series of events are set into motion that change all of their lives forever. Murder, mayhem, secrets and gut-wrenching plot twists are just some of the things that have kept viewers watching.

In the second season, it is revealed that Annalise had previously been in a relationship with Eve (Famke Janssen), a woman with whom she went to law school. This twist added another LGBTQ storyline to the mix and, more importantly, put an LGBTQ character at the head of the series.

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating on "How to Get Away With Murder."
Viola Davis as Annalise Keating on "How to Get Away With Murder."Mitch Haaseth / ABC

"I love that Annalise doesn’t fit in one box ... I don’t know that Annalise even knows how to categorize herself other than simply doing what she wants," Nowalk said. Annalise was married to Sam Keating (Tom Verica), who was killed in the first season, and has since been in relationships with Nate (Billy Brown) and Eve.

The drama's commitment to LGBTQ storytelling did not start with the season 2 reveal -- it began in season 1 with Connor Walsh, played by Jack Falahee.

"I'm gay, so I wanted to write a character that I hadn't really seen on TV before," Nowalk said, while explaining the character of Connor, a proud, young, gay man who is unapologetic in his personal and professional pursuits.

Connor’s relationship with Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) was a topic of discussion when the series began, because of the duo's complex romantic connection and boundary-pushing sex scenes (especially for a broadcast network).

“The relationship was very romantic, and I think it felt new to people,” Nowalk said, which "makes you want to write for it and add more nuance.”

Oliver Hampton (Conrad Ricamora) and Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee) on "How To Get Away With Murder."
Oliver Hampton (Conrad Ricamora) and Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee) on "How To Get Away With Murder."Mitch Haaseth / Getty Images

“Oliver was only supposed to be in the pilot, but I just loved Conrad’s performance and his chemistry with Jack, so that kind of just grew,” Nowalk added.

Since his character’s first appearance, Oliver has driven important storylines forward and has been upgraded to a series regular ahead of the current third season. Not only does his character add another LGBTQ person of color to the television landscape, but Oliver is also one of just a few HIV-positive characters on TV.

"I just followed the story and the performances. It has all been happy accident,” Nowalk added.

Ricamora's upward trajectory continued when the actor was upgraded to a series regular, allowing the character of Oliver to further develop.

On the current season of "How to Get Away With Murder," one of the characters is found dead under a sheet -- but viewers are not yet sure which one. Each week, using flash forwards, one character is revealed to be alive.

While longtime viewers will be holding their breath to discover who is #UnderTheSheet, fans of Annalise, Connor and Oliver can breathe easy. All three of Nowalk's prominent LGBTQ characters have been revealed to be alive, so television will not beIng "burying its gays" this time around.

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