In 2006, when homosexual, bisexual, and transgender characters were gaining prominence on TV shows, GLAAD launched the Network Responsibility Index. The annual report was meant to hold programmers accountable for on-screen images of the LGBT community, and fight the perception that any portrayal – good or bad – was better than being altogether shut out.
The year’s report profiling the 2014 TV season will be the final report issued by the organization. Does that mean they’re satisfied with current depictions of LGBT people on TV? Has the country changed enough in just one decade? No, says current GLAAD president Sarah Ellis; but there are now enough fair and positive portrayals that it’s time to refocus efforts on representations of the diversity among those identifying as LGBT+. In a guest blog for Variety announcing the retirement of the NRI, Ellis writes, “We haven’t ‘won’ when it comes to television, because simply getting higher numbers of LGBT people on TV was never the only goal. Since its founding, GLAAD has pushed for fair and accurate representations in the media, and today, as LGBT images on TV continue to flourish, that means better reflecting the rich diversity of our community.”
Ten years ago, in his introduction for the 2006 NRI, then-president of GLAAD Neil Giuliano lamented the dearth of characters in network shows but complimented the quality of LGBT stories and roles. In the real world, he argued, “[P]eople are harassed, fired from their jobs, kicked out of schools and their homes, beaten and killed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.” Such inequality could be addressed and even changed by the way LGBT people are represented on TV.
That first report only evaluated the primetime programming of the five broadcast networks. ABC led the lineup in both the quantity and accuracy of LGBT ‘impressions’. Fox was the least inclusive network that year with gender or sexuality-diverse characters only appearing in 6% of its primetime programming. In the 2014 report ABC has fallen to third place, surpassed by FOX and NBC, who included LGBT portrayals in 37% of primetime programming. With the 2009 report GLAAD began grading cable channels, revealing that HBO led all networks with 42% of programming featuring LGBT representation. The report also began assigning grades of Excellent, Good, Adequate, or Failing to each evaluated network.
In the most recent report, which evaluated 2891 hours of broadcast time and 2299 hours of cable programming, Fox and The CW topped the broadcast networks with 45% representation while ABC Family led cable programmers with 74%. This is the first time Fox has received an Excellent grade. CBS was the lowest-graded broadcast network with and Adequate grade, while the History Channel and A&E were both branded with Failing. This years’ report also provides summaries for additional networks not included in the overall report, including Amazon, Bravo, and Hulu.
Looking ahead Ellis writes that, “[T]hings have gotten exponentially better for both real-life LGBT people and our fictional counterparts, and brought us to what may be the next phase for media advocacy: pushing for real, intersectional diversity.” The NRI has shown that LGBT characters are still most likely to be white, middle-class men but shows like Empire and Orange is the New Black are hearkening change. GLAAD will refocus future efforts toward increased diversity in continued high-quality roles.