Gays on TV: Not so much

162252__shawn_lAs Kathy Griffin likes to ask: Where my gays at?

The answer, apparently, is not on primetime network TV, according to a new study by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. With Will & Grace‘s Will and Jack out to permanent pasture, and the cancellation of Crumbs and Out of Practice, there are now only eight gay male characters and one lesbian among the 679 lead or supporting characters on the 95 fall comedies and dramas slated for CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, and The CW. (And, oh yeah, that MyNetworkTV thing too.) Even more of a bummer, of the three highest-profile returning characters, Desperate Housewives‘ evil Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom, pictured at left) isn’t featured in every episode, and The Office‘s Oscar is only a bit player. (Thank heavens for ER‘s Dr. Weaver!)

Granted, as LAist notes, the study neglects to include Smithers on The Simpsons, and what’s more, it also doesn’t account for the homoerotic spectacle of Prison Break (oh, come now, it’s not just me!) or the Incredibly True Adventure of Two Boys in Love that is Scrubs (hey, that theory’s on series creator Bill Lawrence). Still, GLAAD’s report doesn’t paint a particularly fabulous sporty well-balanced picture, particularly when you add to it the fact that it also took a look at the racial mix of the lead and supporting roles, and found that African-Americans made up only 12 percent, Latinos 7 percent, and Asian-Pacific a slim 3 percent.

Now I don’t mean to sound cynical here, but given the fact that complaints about the lack of diversity in the networks’ lineups is an annual (and fruitless) sport, I’m hardly about to hold my breath and wait for the networks to improve their performance. And, I’m a tad ashamed to say, I’m not ready to check in to Betty Ford to get over my network cravings and join some kind of boob-tube boycott. Which, I guess, leaves me with two options: taking solace in g-g-g-gay reality fare like America’s Next Top Model and The Amazing Race, or, perhaps, continuing to turn to cable, where Bravo, F/X, Logo, and HBO (among others) continue to represent.

What do you make of the networks’ poor record on diversity? And what, if anything, can be done to improve it?

Comments (46 total) Add your comment
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  • brandonk

    I guess I watch enough reality TV that I really don’t notice the whiteness factor. SYTYCD, American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, Survivor, The Amazing Race, etc., all usually feature quite a few minorities/other cultures.

  • Chris

    The thing is, 8/679 is about 1%, and only about 2-3% of the country is gay, so that ratio is fairly close…

  • Craig G

    2-3% of the country is gay???
    no way…it’s estimated at around 10%, but I think it’s more- plenty of closet cases in marriages and others afraid to come out…
    I love evil Andrew on Desperate Housewives, but we need more visibility! Movies like “Quinceañera” are great examples of how we can be portrayed outside stereotypes…TV just seems to be way behind.

  • Tricia

    Michael, according to the last census data, Latinos made up 12.6%; Asians 3.6% and African Americans 12.3%, so I guess with regard to race, they got 2 out of those 3 right! And, with regard to homosexuality, a legal brief presented by homosexual rights groups in 2003 trying to overturn a sodomy law in Texas asserted that: The most widely accepted study of sexual practices in the United States is the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS). The NHSLS found that 2.8 percent of the male, and 1.4 percent of the female, population identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (See Laumann, et al., The Social Organization of Sex: Sexual Practices in the United States.) Perhaps because television in recent years has been so assertive in presenting gays in lead roles that we became confused about the facts.

  • Eddie

    Right on, Slezak! I only wish you’d given props to the ethnically diverse Grey’s Anatomy. I’m not the biggest fan of reality TV (except Big Brother…O:-D), and I that makes the networks scripted shows’ lack of gay characters and minorities even more noticable to me.
    Oh, and while we’re on the subject of Andrew, why oh WHY would Marc Cherry make the sole gay (semi-regular) character on Desperate Housewives a sociopathic d-bag! *sigh*
    At least we can look back and see that TV has made at least some progress with respect to diversity since its youth.

  • James DeSimas

    Hey PopWatch:
    A perfect tie-in to this post is the new Surivor cast being clearly separated by race for the first episode. That’s an idea that automatically brings some diversity to the table AND is an interesting and new concept, CERTAIN to drum up some controversy.

  • Lene

    Speaking of diversity… where are the characters with a disability?

  • kaylak

    Why in the world do we need more gay characters? Why not more white, or more asian, or more black…WHAT IN THE WORLD???

  • Stephanie Travitsky

    I agree with Lane. “Life Goes on” was about it, and towards the end of the show it focused more on Becca and Chad Lowe.

  • Ed

    We just have to wait till there is a democrat in the office and the gays will come out of the closet and back on to t.v.
    Slezak, another Valerie catchphrase which fits this post:
    “gotta get gay Micky, gotta get gay”…Valerie’s response to needing a publicist.

  • Gaygaygay

    I think the fact Andrew is a douchebag with character depth is a much more interesting breakthrough than Jack McPharland that was nothing but a cliche like 90% other gay characters on TV (the funny bitchy sexually liberated sassy sidekick). The day minorities win is the day their specificity (race, sexuality, whatever) is only part of their character on screen. If gay characters can be evil or nice or have several layers, all the better. We have douchebags in our community too !

  • Colleen

    I also don’t mean to sound cynical but GLAAD lost me by decrying a difference of 1 between this year and last.
    Perhaps hit shows like Lost and Grey’s that are also diverse will begin to have an impact on how new shows are cast.

  • Josh

    There are so many interesting storylines that can be done with minorities, and even regular stories can be made more fascinating. I loved the show “Little People, Big World” for example, as well as the aforementioned Corky on “Life Goes On.” What I’d really love to see is a character on a show like “One Tree Hill” or “The OC”… a main character… struggle with homosexuality — wondering if they’ll go to hell, coming out, etc., coming to accept themselves but still having it be an important part of their lives in this marriage-banning society, if not the defining part.

  • Josh

    Hey Tricia: As a gay man out to some but not all because of the harsh reality of society and small-town workplaces, I have to disagree with you and say that census grossly underestimates the number of gays out there. Because once you really begin looking, you find a lot (one study said one in every ten people is gay, so we still need another eight percent). And even if your statistic is more accurate, the bigger problem here is how no major lead or supporting actors, other than Dr. Weaver on ER, respresent a realistic, well-balanced gay character. Where are our role models? Little girls can look to shows like “L&O: SVU”, “Cold Case,” and “Veronica Mars” for some pretty cool role models, but young people confused about their sexuality who desperately need role models more than perhaps any one else? Out of luck.

  • Aly

    I could be mixing TV with real life but isn’t B. D. Wong’s character on SVU gay? I know he’s a supporting cast member but he’s really good and not a stereotype.

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