What Do Aliens, Talking Fish and LGBT Characters Share?

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Your chances of seeing a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character on the broadcast networks in prime time this new TV season are about the same as your chances of seeing a talking fish or caveman.

The number of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) characters on broadcast TV is plunging in prime time, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation states in its most recent "Where We Are on TV" report.

Seven regular LGBT characters, out of 650 regular lead or supporting characters, are featured in just five scripted programs, the group reports.

That's down from nine characters on eight scripted series in the '06-'07 season; and two seasons back, GLAAD clocked 10 LGBT roles on nine scripted shows.

In fact, this season's only new non-heterosexual regular character is Bonnie Somerville's bisexual character on ABC's chick ensemble series, "Cashmere Mafia."

On the new prime-time schedules, LGBT characters represent just 1.1 percent of those 650 characters. In real life, based on U.S. Census projections, LGBT marketing companies estimate 15.3 million adults identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, which would be about 6.8 percent of the population.

In contrast, non-human-race (NHR) regular characters are enjoying something of a renaissance on broadcast TV.

Six have prominent roles in prime time, including a talking fish, a talking dog and an alien of the outer-space sort, all on Fox, and three cavemen on ABC. All told, they represent 1 percent of those 650 characters (compared with LGBT characters' 1.1 percent). In real life, based on Census projections, talking fish, talking dogs, aliens and cavemen make up 0 percent of the population. It appears they are the only group besides white men who are overrepresented on broadcast prime-time TV.

We think this might be the highest count of NHR characters on the broadcast landscape since the Golden Age of Non-Human-Race TV, when shows such as "Lassie," "Mr. Ed," "My Favorite Martian" and "Bewitched" graced the airwaves.

"The reality is, we are your neighbors, your co-workers, your family and your friends, yet you're just as likely to find a novelty character like a talking fish as you are to find a gay character on network TV," GLAAD rep Damon Romine told The TV Column in an e-mail yesterday.

This, of course, screamed for a response from the Alien, Talking Animal & Cavemen Alliance Against Caricature (ATACAAC), but, sadly, that group exists only in our head.

Even more depressing, six of the seven LGBT characters are on just one network -- ABC (which, ironically, also is responsible for doubling the prime-time NHR ranks this season).

No LGBT lead or supporting regular characters are scheduled to appear on scripted series on CBS or the CW, GLAAD reports -- nor on Fox, which, on the other hand, is responsible for both talking animals and that alien of the outer-space sort.

One bright spot: On mainstream cable networks, a total of 40 LGBT series regulars were counted across 21 scripted series slated to air this season. That's 15 more than were counted last year, GLAAD said.

GLAAD also looked at the broadcast networks' 650 prime-time characters in terms of gender, race and ethnicity: Males continue to outpace females 58 to 42 percent. And 77 percent of this fall's regular characters -- 499 of them -- are white, which is up 2 percent compared with the previous season.

Meanwhile, 12 percent -- 81 characters -- are identified as "African American" by GLAAD, though that tally includes a character from the CW's new "Life Is Wild" who is South African and played by South African-born actor Atandwa Kani. Forty characters are Hispanic and 18 are Asian-Pacific Islander, GLAAD reported. The remaining 12 characters include four identified by GLAAD as "multi-racial," one of "Middle Eastern origin, one Tlingit (Native Alaskan) woman" and that assortment of talking pets, aliens and cavemen.

While the CW has no LGBT characters in its scripted programming, GLAAD gives it props for ranking first in overall diversity, with 32 percent of its series characters being "people of color." Fox, also with no LGBT characters, ranks last when it comes to diversity, at 18 percent.

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