Meet the Networks That Aren't Making the Grade
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's annual report on the media's portrayal of LGBT people contains results that range from surprising (ABC Family is rated "excellent") to perhaps not so surprising (CBS is rated "adequate" after it was called a "failure" last year). Each year the GLAAD Network Responsibility Index grades the networks based on the percentage of prime-time programming featuring LGBT characters and assigns the networks a grade of excellent, good, adequate, or failing.
Among the broadcast networks, the CW, Fox, and ABC were given high marks for shows like Gossip Girl, Glee, and Grey's Anatomy respectively. Still, gay males make up the bulk of LGBT portrayals in broadcast programming — on average nearly three out of four LGBT-inclusive hours featured gay male characters — and transgender people were included in only 1% of gay-inclusive programming.
When it comes to cable, premium channels are breaking down barriers with shows like True Blood on HBO and The Real L Word on Showtime. And the big winner among cablers was ABC Family, which posted an 18-percentage-point increase in LGBT visibility — out of 103 total hours of original prime-time programming, 55% included LGBT impressions. ABC Family president Michael Riley released a statement to the press, saying, “We’re proud of our programming, and grateful for the recognition from GLAAD. We strive to reflect the rich diversity of our audience and the world around us, including the LGBT community, through strong characters and engaging, authentic storytelling.”
But even with all the progress being made on the small screen, there are still a few networks that could step up their gay inclusion. Check out the grades of the bottom six networks and what GLAAD says could make them a little friendlier.
NBC = Adequate
1180 Total Hours of Prime-Time Programming
167.25 LGBT-Inclusive Hours (15%)
2009-10 Score: 13%
2008-09 Score: 8%
2007-08 Score: 6%
2006-07 Score: 7%
Though it did not feature as many gay-inclusive hours as other networks,
NBC led the broadcast networks in overall racial diversity of its LGBT
Oscar, the gay accountant on The Office, had an increase in screen time last year, especially after the show introduced a possible love interest. The whole Thursday night lineup of comedy shows — Parks and Recreation, Community, Outsourced, and 30 Rock — included gay characters or story lines at one point or another through the season. In fact, 30 Rock won a GLAAD Award last year for Outstanding Individual Episode. Among the dramas, Parenthood, Law & Order: SVU, and Harry's Law each had featured stories with LGBT characters. Outlaw and Undercovers, two new shows last season, introduced gay characters, but neither show will return for a second season this fall. And of course there was Prince Poppycock on America's Got Talent, plus the four out contestants on The Voice and Richard Hatch on Celebrity Apprentice to cover the reality television arena.
GLAAD Recommends: Since Dr. Huang, a gay Asian character, won't be returning to Law & Order: SVU, and some of the dramas like Undercovers and Outlaw were canceled, GLAAD is urging NBC to ensure it replaces the lost LGBT characters. It's looking to shows like The Playboy Club and Smash to do just that.
FX = Adequate
82.5 Total Hours of Prime-Time Programming
15.5 LGBT-Inclusive Hours (19%)
2009-10 Score: 27%
2008-09 Score: 13%
2007-08 Score: 45%
This arbiter of edgy programming features Archer, the satirical animated spy series with two regular gay and bisexual characters. The show Sons of Anarchy features the ruthless ATF agent June Stahl, a lesbian villain (despite her law-upholding job) who murdered her girlfriend to cover up corrupt activities. The comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia featured episodes on gay marriage, and another with Mac's transgender ex-girlfriend in an episode that GLAAD said was a vast improvement over her first appearance on the show.
GLAAD Recommends: With Terriers and Lights Out canceled, the organization says the network should "introduce a flesh and blood LGBT regular character to one of their existing series or any new ones in development."
USA = Adequate
114 Total Hours of Prime-Time Programming
21 LGBT-Inclusive Hours (18%)
2009-10 Score: 4%
2008-09 Score: 12%
2007-08 Score: 4%
USA is all about upholding the law, with shows about law enforcement and attorneys. White Collar's lesbian FBI agent, Diana Berrigan, was upgraded to a series regular during the last season after being primarily a supporting character early on. Diana is also one of the few black lesbians on television. Fairly Legal features Spencer Reed, the gay brother of the main character, though GLAAD said the casual viewer would have no idea that Spencer is gay because his sexual orientation has not been addressed on the show. In Plain Sight had a story line about a gay couple in the witness protection program, and the show Psych featured a lesbian in a minor role.
GLAAD Recommends: Though Diana's increased presence on White Collar has helped USA's grade, the network still thinks Fairly Legal's producers could do more to expand Spencer's role.
CBS = Adequate
1110 Total Hours of Prime-Time Programming
114 LGBT-Inclusive Hours (10%)
2009-10 Score: 7%
2008-09 Score: 5%
2007-08 Score: 9%
2006-07 Score: 9%
The Good Wife is the only scripted show on CBS to include an LGBT character. Actress Archie Panjabi won an Emmy last year for her portrayal of Kalinda, who is bisexual. This past season also marked the start of a recurring role for the gay brother of the show's central character, Alicia Florrick. NCIS and The Mentalist, two procedural dramas, had single-episode story lines that included LGBT characters. None of the network's comedies included a regular LGBT character. Instead, a transgender sex worker appeared in one scene of How I Met Your Mother, a gay ex-boyfriend of Molly’s was featured on Mike and Molly, and Charlie had a bisexual girlfriend in one episode of Two and a Half Men.
CBS's reality programming was more inclusive. Big Brother had Ragan, and The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business included the Reverend Mel White and his son Mike White, lesbian contestant Keisha, and Luke, who is gay. Keisha and her sister won the season.
GLAAD Recommends: Premiering this fall is Two Broke Girls, from Sex and the City executive producer Michael Patrick King, and it seems a likely place for an LGBT character. The group also recommends that procedural shows like CSI and NCIS: Los Angeles stop portraying gay people as victims or pathological killers.
A&E = Failing
290 - Total Hours of Prime-Time Programming
14.5 - LGBT-Inclusive Hours (5%)
2009-10 Score: 3%
2008-09 Score: 1%
2007-08 Score: 4%
A&E has received nothing but failing grades, but at least this year it broadcast more LGBT-inclusive programming than ever. At least 75% of the LGBT-inclusive hours counted on A&E this year can be attributed to Paranormal State’s host Ryan Buell, in addition to popular train-wreck program Intervention. The scripted series Breakout Kings features a bisexual inmate named T-Bag.
The network also aired the documentary The September Issue, which includes Vogue editor at large André Leon Talley.
GLAAD Recommends: The report's writers say that telling A&E there's room for improvement "would be an understatement." They suggest the network do more to venture in depth into the lives of LGBT people featured on its shows. Visibility will lessen because Buell announced he won't be returning to Paranormal State for a sixth season.
TBS = Failing
86 Total Hours of Prime-Time Programming
4 LGBT-Inclusive Hours (5%)
2009-10 Score: 2%
2008-09 Score: 1%
2007-08 Score: 7%
The amount of LGBT-inclusive hours on TBS has decreased significantly, dipping as low as 1% in the 2008-2009 season. This year the network is at 5%, but that's mainly because it aired the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Of all of the TBS programming, Are We There Yet? is one of the few shows to feature a gay character. Cedric was a black gay teen on whom the family’s daughter developed a crush until he came out to her. He was on one episode. Ellen DeGeneres's Somewhat Special Special was an hour-long, one-off event hosted by the lesbian comedian.
GLAAD Recommends: The cancellation of Glory Daze and My Boys will leave a hole in TBS programming. The organization said, "This would be the perfect time to finally introduce a regular (or even recurring) lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender character to one of its shows and start digging its way out of the 'failing' score it’s received for the past four years."
And now for the good news ...
The CW: The young network — youthful in actual time on the air as well as its audience — has gone from having no LGBT characters in its first year to the most inclusive rating of "excellent," with% of prime-time programming featuring LGBT people. Its most popular shows, including America's Next Top Model, 90210, and Gossip Girl have contributed to its high ratings, but GLAAD foresees possible snags since Teddy, 90210's gay character, will not be a series regular next season.
Fox: Glee is one of television's most LGBT-inclusive shows, especially with characters Kurt and Blaine as well as Santana. Short-lived series like Running Wilde and The Chicago Code featured gay characters. However, one of the network's most popular nights, Sunday's animation block, has been gay-inclusive with The Simpsons, The Cleveland Show, and American Dad as well as trans-inclusive with Bob's Burgers. Family Guy tackled barely any gay issues last season, as it has in the past. GLAAD recommends that while bisexual Angela on Bones did marry her boyfriend, the show's producers need to remember not to completely eradicate the other aspects of her sexual orientation. They also urge the American Idol producers to try featuring an openly gay contestant after the success of NBC's The Voice.
ABC Family: The only cable network to receive an "excellent" rating, ABC Family was initially founded in 1977 as an extension of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network. Nowadays the channel is nothing like Robertson's network, with a history of gay-inclusive shows like Kyle XY and Greek, which have attracted a young, loyal viewership. Fifty-five percent of the network's prime-time programming was LGBT-inclusive, thanks to shows like The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Huge, and Make It or Break It.