Every year since 2007, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has released its Network Responsibility Index, looking at the quantity and quality of the portrayals of LGBT people during the last TV season. This year's report took into account ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, NBC and 10 cable networks from June 1, 2011 to May 31, 2012, and as always, is intended to provide a guide to improving representations as well as calling out problematic ones.
Given that television, particularly the broadcast network, are still our most pervasive mass medium (as opposed to the kaleidoscope of niche content that is the internet), the study's not just an important audit, it also provides a valuable insight into how our culture is changing (or isn't, given that a sitcom about a gay couple having a kid can still get dropped by an affiliate station for its content).
The full 42-page report is online and is in interesting read — some highlights are below.
In terms of the broadcast networks, The CW tops the rankings. While the young-skewing network declined slightly in its score from last year, it remains first in terms of hours of inclusive programming and LGBT characters of color (thanks is large part to "America’s Next Top Model" and "The LA Complex").
CBS is once against the worst. CBS, which tends to run older in terms of its average audience age, has landed in last place for the fourth year in a row in terms of the broadcast networks. It owes most of its inclusive programming hours to "The Good Wife," which features badass bisexual private investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi). This year, the network was back to a "Failing" rating.
Showtime came the closest overall to a score of "Excellent." No network nabbed an "Excellent" score this year, but Showtime came the closest, ranking highest out of all of the networks tracked. GLAAD lauded the LGBT characters and storylines in "Shameless" and "The Real L Word," but took the cable channel to task for including derogatory language and reactions toward transgender women in "Californication" and "House of Lies."
Transgender portrayals continue to be sparse. The report calls this area out as an area in which network in general need to improve, noting the impact of Chaz Bono's participation on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" — "His role on the show and media appearances on behalf of it led to an unprecedented amount of discussion about transgender issues in the nationalmedia that will have lasting cultural impact." The network's short-lived sitcom "Work It," in which two men try to pass as women in order to get jobs, was called out as offensive for featuring the same type of humor as is used to mock transgender women.
Gay men and bisexual women are the most common LGBT characters. 69% of all LGBT inclusive programming hours feature gay men, while lesbian women are less commonly represented. On the other hand, the vast majority of bisexual characters on network television are female.
Reality programming has opened the door for LGBT representation in unexpected outlets. Interestingly, this year GLAAD tracked two popular cable networks known for a "more conservative viewing audience" — TLC and History. While History didn't fare well, TLC actually racked up a surprisingly large around of inclusive programming thanks to shows like "Say Yes to the Dress" and "NY Ink" featuring LGBT shop managers and couples — it actually outdid CBS in terms of numbers.
Procedurals don't often feature LGBT main characters. And given that they're a standard of programming, at some networks (like CBS) more than others, that equals fewer inclusive hours. GLAAD did call out Matt Jones' Special Agent Ned Dorneget on "NCIS" and LAPD officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) on "Southland" as exceptions to the rule.
Check out GLAAD's full report here.