LGBT-focused media advocacy organization GLAAD had some positive news to report when it released its Network Responsibility Index on Thursday: Two channels received the top score of excellent from the annual report that charts the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBT representation on television.
ABC Family and Fox received those high marks, thanks to popular and inclusive programming like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Empire,” respectively. ABC Family also garnered praise for “The Fosters,” as it was the network to feature a transgender character played by a transgender actor (although it received some demerits for its portrayal of trans character Charlotte on “Liars”).
GLAAD determined the rankings for the report, now in its ninth year, by culling original programming that aired on all broadcast and 10 cable networks from June 1, 2014 through May 31, 2015. The cable networks were chosen based on a combination of Nielsen Media Research rankings, cultural and media recognition factors, and the diversity and breadth of original programming. While live sporting events were not counted as part of GLAAD’s analysis, it organized everything else by drama series, comedy series, unscripted programming (i.e. reality and game shows), and newsmagazines/special event programming. Each representation of an LGBT person, or significant discussion of an LGBT issue, during the course of an hour counts as one “impression” (An LGBT character who appeared in 12 episodes of a series would equate to 12 impressions for the show, for example).
Of the other channels researched, ABC, CW, FX, HBO, MTV and Showtime all received good rankings, while CBS, NBC, TLC, TNT and USA received adequate marks and A&E and History got failing scores.
The positive feedback is old hat to ABC Family, which received its third consecutive excellent rating. But it’s a first for Fox, which has come a long way since it received a failing grade in the inaugural NRI in 2006. Fox also featured the highest percentage of LGBT-inclusive original programming hours, coming in at 45.4%. This is the highest percentage GLAAD has tracked on a broadcast network since the NRI’s inception.
“The ninth edition of the NRI marks the first time in the report’s history that a major broadcast network – Fox – received an excellent as a grade,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD CEO and president. “This milestone highlights real change across the media landscape.”
In part because of these changes, GLAAD also announced that this is the last year for the NRI. Instead, it will turn its focus to increasing the diversity of LGBT images on TV through its annual Where We Are On TV report.
“GLAAD’s Network Responsibility Index has helped reshape the television landscape, inspiring LGBT characters and storylines that move acceptance forward,” continued Ellis. “As representations of LGBT people in the media continue to rise in number, pushing television networks to make those representations more diverse is more crucial than ever. This requires a different set of tools than the NRI provides, and as such GLAAD will shift focus to its annual TV diversity and transgender reports.”
Some of these changes in media coverage are already in progress. The CW led in racially-diverse LGBT characters on TV during the reporting period (38% of LGBT roles) with Fox a close second (36%). Still, while ABC produced the highest volume of LGBT-inclusive content — 258.5 hours or 32% of its original programming — only 17% of the network’s LGBT impressions were made by people of color, the lowest of any broadcast network.
In April, GLAAD released its annual Studio Responsibility Index that showed that movie studios are slowly starting to come around to depicting lesbian, gay and bisexual characters on film — although they are still lacking in transgender characters.