Premiering on November 11, 1985, An Early Frost was the first television film to deal with the subject of AIDS. It tells the story of Michael Pierson (Aidan Quinn), a young and successful Chicago attorney who is gay and who is stricken with AIDS. After being hospitalized, Michael goes home to break the news of both his devastating illness and his sexual orientation to his parents (Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara). They must not only come to terms with their son's impending death but also with their own prejudices concerning homosexuality and their own ignorance concerning this disease.


Although network television has had a better record in dealing with HIV/AIDS than has the commercial film industry, An Early Frost still spent over two years in development and still underwent thirteen script revisions before NBC would even begin production. That it aired within weeks of Rock Hudson's death was both coincidental and crucial.

Hudson's disclosure that he had AIDS foregrounded the problems that the disease was posing for television coverage such as how to represent homosexual practices associated with HIV transmission; how to circumvent the stigma and blame attached to people with AIDS; how to present rapidly changing and extremely confusing medical information. In effect, An Early Frost would become the prototypical AIDS narrative for millions of Americans who were, up to then, uninformed and apathetic about the burgeoning epidemic.

While the film loses points for its lack of frankness about homosexuality--the relationship between Michael and his partner, Peter, is presented as a same sex variation of a conventional but antiseptic heterosexual marriage--it gains points for its accuracy about AIDS. The movie successfully provided current information about transmission and treatment of HIV and, more importantly, dispelled irrational fears about rampant contamination and instant fatality.

Moreover, the film offered points of identification for many viewers who, at the time, would have never imagined themselves feeling emotionally affected and morally engaged by the suffering of a person with AIDS and his family.

Primary Source

Wolfe Video