Study: Network boasts most LGBT portrayals

ABC boasts the most extensive portrayal of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters, while Fox offers the least, according to a new study by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The first-ever “GLAAD Network Responsibility Index,” which the org will release today, is GLAAD’s most extensive account to date of how the broadcast webs and cable handle the still-sensitive issue of depicting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (or LGBT) individuals on TV.

“We continue to be incredibly underrepresented on the networks,” said GLAAD prexy Neil Giuliano. “The announced 2007 fall schedule does nothing to allay these concerns. The bright spot, however, is that the quality of LGBT images seems to be improving.”

GLAAD kept tabs on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW from June 1, 2006, through May 31, 2007, and tallied the “quantity, quality and diversity of images” from all 4,693 hours of programming. Any major or minor LGBT portrayal — even if only inferred, or if the characters weren’t even human (i.e., on animated shows like “The Simpsons”) — was examined.

The org then assigned grades to the nets, either excellent, good, fair or failing.

ABC was given the top marks — “good” — thanks to shows such as “Ugly Betty” and “Brothers & Sisters.” Overall, 15% of ABC’s programming included LGBT impressions.

“This season alone, ABC created several multidimensional, complex LGBT characters,” the study said. “ABC has raised the bar for the broadcast networks of how to seamlessly weave our stories and relationships into the fabric of shows that have a broad audience and mainstream appeal.”

On the flip side, only 6% of Fox’s fare included anything related to LGBT portrayals — giving the network a “failing” grade. (Fox reps declined comment, having not seen the report.) The org cited one positive step, however: The net’s LGBT impressions included several instances of diversity, including the portrayal of a gay male of Middle Eastern descent on “The War at Home” that garnered the show a Humanitas Prize.

But with much of Fox’s LGBT representation coming from animated satirical characters such as Smithers on “The Simpsons,” and with the network not pointing out gay contestants on contests like “American Idol,” GLAAD said it doesn’t expect to see much of an increase in LGBT content on Fox next season.

Among the other networks, 12% of the CW’s sked included LGBT mentions — thanks in large part to “America’s Next Top Model.” CBS followed, with 9%.

Then there’s NBC, once home to “Will & Grace” but now averaging LGBT content in just 7% of its schedule.

One bright light for the Peacock: It offered up the most lesbian-inclusive images thanks to the character of Dr. Kerry Weaver on “ER.”

Overall, most of the LGBT impressions in primetime were of white gay men, the study said.

GLAAD didn’t examine cable as thoroughly, but it did single out several networks for praise, starting with NBC Universal’s Bravo, which it called “perhaps the most LGBT-inclusive of the general entertainment cable networks.” Reality shows like “Queer Eye,” “Project Runway,” “Work Out” and “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” were cited.

Also praised were Showtime (“The L Word,” “Weeds”) HBO (“Entourage,” “The Wire”), Comedy Central (“The Daily Show”), the N (“Degrassi,” “South of Nowhere”) and FX (“The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck”).

Cable has boasted more regular and recurring LGBT characters in its series than the broadcast nets for the last several years. In the 2006-07 season, cable included 35 characters, the broadcast nets 18. (The year before that, cable included a record 40 LGBT characters.)

For the broadcast networks, the tally of LGBT characters is still far above that for most of TV history. Such portrayals finally took off in the mid-1990s, but after peaking in the late ’90s (with 30 characters in the 1999-2000 season), the nets have begun to drop off again in their representation of such characters.

“There is not one program on the five networks that couldn’t benefit from the storytelling possibilities that comes from adding LGBT representation,” the study said.

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