An Early Frost is a 1985 American made-for-television drama film and the first major film, made for television or feature films, to deal with the topic of AIDS. It was first broadcast on the NBC television network today, November 11, in 1985. It was directed by John Erman, from the Emmy Award-winning teleplay written by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, (story by Sherman Yellen). Aidan Quinn starred as Michael Pierson, a Chicago attorney who goes home to break the news – that he is gay and has AIDS – to his parents, played by Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands.
Tom Shales of The Washington Post called An Early Frost "the most important TV movie of the year."
The film was number one in the Nielsen ratings during the night it aired, garnering a 23.3 share and watched by 34 million people (the film outperformed a San Francisco 49ers-Denver Broncos game broadcast on ABC and a Cagney & Lacey episode on CBS).
The film was nominated for 14 Emmy Awards and won three, including Outstanding Writing For a Movie or Miniseries for Cowen and Lipman for their teleplay. Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Aidan Quinn, Sylvia Sidney and John Glover were all nominated for their performances, as was John Erman for his direction. It also won the coveted Peabody Award. The network, however, lost $500,000 in revenue because advertisers were leery about sponsoring the film. The film conveyed the prejudices surrounding HIV/AIDS at the time and the then common limited understanding by the general public of the methods of transmission and likelihood of infection.
While the three major networks generally shied away from airing programming with similar themes until 1988, in the weeks following the broadcast of An Early Frost, episodes of St. Elsewhere, Mr. Belvedere, and Hotel dealt with AIDS issues. The movie paved the way for later TV and feature films dealing with the topic of AIDS, including Go Toward The Light (1988); The Littlest Victims and The Ryan White Story (both 1989); Longtime Companion (1990); and Philadelphia (1993).