It goes without saying that positive representations of the LGBT community in the media—especially TV—have the power to influence the public’s hearts and minds. Case in point: A little while ago, Vice President Joe Biden cited NBC’s sitcom Will & Grace as one of the factors that guided him to a supportive and accepting view of LGBT Americans. And five years ago, GLAAD found 34 percent of survey participants who stated increasingly favorable feelings toward LGBT people claimed that gay TV characters influenced their attitudes.
GLAAD’s just-released Network Responsibility Index (NRI) for the 2012 TV season, which tracks the quantity and quality of LGBT representation in broadcast and cable networks, finds that we have unquestionably gained more prominence in primetime. We are no longer being portrayed as tragic oddities; rather, we seem to be represented in a matter-of-fact way, like Mitchell and Cameron of Modern Family or Emily of Pretty Little Liars. Yet, there is still wide room for improvement. Of all the LGBT characters portrayed on television, an overwhelming 69 percent are gay men and 66 percent are white. The storylines of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals are lacking the diversity of our community. So, what’s on TV?
As the most inclusive of the five major broadcast networks, 29 percent of The CW’s primetime programming hours featured positive LGBT storylines. The CW also lead the pack in diversity: 62 percent of the appearances made by LGBT characters featured people of color.
Last year’s survey showed that Fox—yes, Fox—led ABC in positive representations by 6 percent. But this year, ABC shows like Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Happy Endings, and Chaz Bono’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars raised ABC’s grade, putting it ahead of Fox by 3 percent. NBC remained in fourth place despite an increase of 4 percent in LGBT inclusive hours.
And for the fourth consecutive year, CBS was in last place among major broadcast networks, dropping 2 points with just 8 percent of its primetime programming hours being inclusive. GLAAD gave The Eye a score of “adequate” last year, but this year it received a failing score.
Ten cable networks scored significantly higher than their broadcast counterparts in LGBT-inclusive content. Channels like Showtime (46 percent), ABC Family (34 percent), TNT (34 percent), and HBO (33 percent) were awarded with “Good” ratings for the amount of quality wide-ranging LGBT original programming.
The NRI does not include an analysis or a count of LGBT characters and storylines—that will be released this fall in GLAAD’s 17th annual Where We Are On TV report. The data will include a breakdown of the genders and races/ethnicities of the scripted characters scheduled to appear during this coming broadcasting season. As they say, stay tuned.