Why Aren't There More Gay Characters on Network TV?

By Richard Lawson

Oct 02, 2009

Hey TV, where all your gays at? A recent GLAAD study showed that only 3% of characters on the Big Five networks' shows are GLBT. Even worse, out of CBS's 132 series regulars, exactly zero of them fall into any of those categories. In 2009, that is pretty bad. I mean Fox--which is owned by a crazed, right-wing Aussie bandicoot--at least has four lonely gay folks running around on their shows (for a whopping total of 4% of their series regulars). So what gives? Why is it so hard to put queerness on broadcast television?

This is not going to launch into some didactic screed about this country's history of homophobia and the miles and miles we've still left to go before all citizens receive equal treatment and equal rights. I promise it won't. I'm really asking a sincere question. What is so hard about putting gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered characters on a network show? It's 2009 for god's sake, gay marriage is legal in, well, only six states, but still! Progress only ever moves forward, whether people like it or not. So a new America is inevitably emerging. One in which gay folks are just like everybody else. So couldn't television--which has pushed the culture envelope before--be a little ahead of the curve here?

Of course there are certain shows--The Office, Grey's Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters--that are already telling stories about gay characters with depth and nuance (not just faaaabulous or butch), but it's a really small handful. And that one major network--the biggest broadcast network at that--could carry on these days without having one queer series regular (not even one who's totally othered or stereotyped to the hilt), just feels so... disheartening.

I've no doubt that CBS will get at least a couple gay peeps on the airwaves eventually while the other networks will add more to their rosters. But why they can't just push the whole change thing through a little bit faster is what I don't understand. Popular culture and all widely-devoured media often can and do set the tone for acceptance and openness and all that other good, humanity-affirming stuff for the rest of the country. That CBS would just not bother to pay attention to that is frustrating. And, you know, gay kids need role models and swoony love stories (and all the other fun stuff you get on television) same as straight kids do. TV is a huge part of the national conversation. Why one of its biggest suppliers would just up and wholesale forget about an entire portion of the population is beyond me.

I'm not going to try and speculate as to what the reasons may be for the Eye's big gay blackout, but I can promise that everyone will feel better when it opens its doors to some gay folks. Because you're presenting a more shaded--and thus more realistic--world when you just come out and calmly state the beautiful truth: Some people are like this, others are like that, but who cares, they're all still people. People who can solve crimes or NC some IS things in Los Angeles or expound on theories about the big bang (they could totally make Jim Parsons' character gay without missing a beat) or whatever it is that people on CBS shows are doing these days. Let's hope they get on the ball about this genuinely important issue. 'Cause this situation right now? It's more than a little troubling.

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  • sleep234 Nov 24, 2009

    As a fan of the recently departed CNN News program Lou Dobbs Tonight, I'll call myself old-fashioned, that is one that has been raised on centuries-old Christian family values (no sex before marriage, no doing drugs, no embracing the homosexual lifestyle, etc., etc.,) It may sound boring to the gung-ho advocates screaming for equal rights for the GLBT demographic, but to a God fearing individual like myself, living the Christian lifestyle is a preety cool thing. In response to the writer's question, I'll say two words, "good riddance." One might also consider reading former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle's 1992 speech on the concept of family values. In closing, to me marriage in itself is in-between a heterosexual man & a heterosexual woman.

  • skeeter291 Nov 18, 2009

    drbellows said: "I'm GLAD there's a lack of gays on TV. It's WRONG WRONG WRONG! If I see a show with a bunch of gays, I change the channel and boycott the sponsors." Then I guess you don't buy a lot of stuff. Since we are on the topic of money and buying and sponsors, drbellows, do you realize that the Spending power of gay Americans reached over $608 billion in 2007, representing a cumulative growth of 35%? That's 2 years ago. As of 2008 that figure was $701 billion dollars. So, your boycott will mean little because if it's one thing, especially this gay man, likes to do is shop.
    Source for spending figures: Witeck-Combs

  • SWLinPHX Nov 09, 2009

    To playmkr278: Are you serious?!? You say characters "make out too much"?? No way. Heteros are shown doing everything imaginable, but it is a "huge & controversial event" just to show two gay people (especially men) even kiss! What universe are you living in?!

  • synchroman Oct 28, 2009

    Maybe GLAAD and any other whiners will shut up after last week's shows. Here we go:

    1) The Psychiatrist character (played by B.D. Wong) mentions he's gay as if everyone knows it (I didn't) on Law & Order SVU. Of course, he's offended that the perp compares adult/child love rights to homosexual rights. Hmmm.... I wonder why he would make that association? 2) Clair's college roommate on Heroes has a crush on Clair and gave her a smack on the lips last week. The roommate is proud of who she is and now Clair isn't sure about her own sexuality. She's considering a gay relationship with her -- and now we have the "I don't fit in" comparison for mutants and gay people.

    3) On Flash Forward the FBI chick who sees herself as pregnant in her flash forward turns out to be gay meets another lesbian. They make out (a LOT) and spend the night with each other on their first date. (Great lifestyle example there). On this show the FBI is depicted as being against the gay lifestyle (she keeps it a secret so she can get promoted).

    4) On the premier of Blue Collar we learn that the FBI dude's assistant is a gay woman and out of reach for the new bad/good guy. We see her loosely flirting some TSA chick at that airport. In this show the FBI has a "We don't ask, we don't care" policy about gays. The complete opposite of Flash Forward shows that writers don't care about actual facts (does the FBI have a homosexual policy?) but would rather just work in a gay angle any way they can.

    So, is that good enough for you complainers? Four shows I really like have subplots that have nothing to do with my lifestyle or anyone I know. They are in there just for the loud 2% crowd that whines about not getting recognized enough. I think just this one last week's worth of programming shows that you're getting more than enough attention. So maybe you can give it a rest for a while.

  • Xaviersx Oct 16, 2009

    I'm all for making divorce illegal, . . only God should be able to split a couple, in halves, quarters, etc.

  • oliviasorama Oct 14, 2009

    There are more than enough already.

  • levangregory Oct 13, 2009

    Let's just make all marriage legal (gay/straight, brother and sister)...we need more tolerance!!!

  • levangregory Oct 13, 2009

    This sounds about right...after all, it reflects the percentage of gays in America (2-3%). Why not just focus on characters, instead of Gay or "Straight" characters?

  • playmkr278 Oct 12, 2009

    I am so happy with these percentages. I don't mind gay relationships on a series (if it makes sense). What I do not like, in echoing scotschattan, is having the gay agenda shoved down our throats (no pun intended).

    Also, why do gay characters have to makeout so much? And I'm not saying because there gay because I get annoyed when there are the same scenes with straight couples.

    I enjoy a serie(s) with substance not just sex.

  • scotschattan Oct 11, 2009

    people get tired of a parade of pressure groups "selling the story for a pot of message" they blacks are not 35% of the population but it appears this is the case on T.V. mostly judges, police chiefs, and clever,mouthy females etc. the bad guys are nazis, k.k.k. or skinheads not arabs, blacks even "normal white folks". HOW MUCH PREACHING CAN YOU WEDGE IN? Writing is the week link in T.V. probable because some non-writer says let's make this dude a black, a gay or female. You are hastening the demise of television viewing or are you to stupid it understand?

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