Per annual reports released by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy group GLAAD, primetime broadcast and cable networks are increasing their use of LGBT images. And for the first time in history, there will be an equal number of male and female LGBT characters on TV.
Fox leads the broadcast pack in GLAAD’s Network Responsibility Index; 42% of its primetime programming hours include LGBT characters or storylines. ABC trails behind at 33% and CBS is dead last with 14%. Meanwhile, ABC Family is the most inclusive cable net — half of its original programming included LGBT impressions — followed by FX at 40%. History and TBS both received failing grades.
In fact, History didn’t air any LGBT images last season.
While NRI looks back at the 2012-2013 season, GLAAD’s second survey, Where We Are on TV, looks ahead at this upcoming season. This report also boded well for Fox and ABC, which have the highest percentage of LGBT characters from the five broadcast networks. Despite a drop from a record high of 4.4% last season, 3.3% of scripted primetime broadcast series will have LGBT characters in 2013-2014 — the second highest rate to date.
With the cancellation of the sitcoms “The New Normal” and “Partners,” which were centered around same-sex couples, as well as “Smash” and “Happy Endings,” GLAAD’s associate director of entertainment media, Matt Kane, said there’s a void in the number of LGBT leads, as opposed to minor characters, on TV.
“When a program features an LGBT story line in a prominent way, it really gives the audience a chance to see the character as a fully rounded human being from all sides and not simply as background noise or as sort of a one-shaded character,” he said. “That’s always a good thing from our perspective because we want these story lines to build empathy in a viewer for LGBT people as fellow citizens in general.”
Despite the community’s progress, GLAAD’s national spokesperson, actor Wilson Cruz, said transsexuals as well as people of color and people with disabilities are still underrepresented.
“Television is still having problems telling stories of trans people,” Cruz said. “They still tend to be sensationalistic story lines, which depict trans people as victims or pathetic or deceptive.”
Thanks to shows like “Modern Family,” “Glee” and “Grey’s Anatomy” and cable nets like HBO and Cinemax, the industry has made leaps and bounds since Cruz’s debut as TV’s first scripted gay character on “My So-Called Life” in 1995.
“I do see shows like ‘The Fosters’ as an example of where I would like television to be going, which is a much more diverse cast, really able to tell the three-dimensional stories of LGBT people,” Cruz said. “This is a show that’s not a comedy, we’re not the butt of jokes here. We’re taken very seriously and so are out families.”
The prominence of LGBT people on reality TV may have boosted their visibility on scripted TV, Kane said. Most recently, NBC’s singing competition “The Voice” had four openly gay contestants (two of them were finalists) in its first season, same-sex couple Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge — aka the “Beekman boys” — won the “Amazing Race” last year and MTV’s hit “Catfish” regularly spotlights LBGT relationships.
Kane said TV and film execs alike need to be mindful that their choices in characters and story arcs are capable of creating dialogue about LGBT issues around the world.
“These shows are not only broadcast here, they’re also broadcast around the world in countries in which the rights and acceptances of LGBT people are still far behind where they are in the United States,” Kane said. “These shows have the potential to do a lot of good, simply by telling the stories of LGBT people to an audience that may still not be very familiar with them.”