TV Continues to Lag on Diversity

Aug 29, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Network TV will be gayer this coming season, but it still won’t represent the nation’s diversity in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation, a leading media advocacy organization said.

In its 10th annual report on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender representation on the six major broadcast networks, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation reported that out of 710 regular roles on prime-time network series scheduled to appear in the 2005-06 season, 10 roles, or 1.4 percent, can be characterized as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Adding in recurring roles, the total rises to 16.

That’s up from the 11 the group counted in last year’s report, but still below the number that accurately reflects the LGBT population, according to GLAAD Entertainment Media Director Damon Romine. GLAAD did not conduct a count of total network series regular and recurring roles for 2004-05, so it did not have percentages of LGBT characters for that season.

“They are still not in the ballpark of where we should be to represent the reality of our community in this country,” Mr. Romine said.

While the actual number of LGBT people in the U.S. is hotly contested, with estimates ranging from 3 percent to 10 percent, the number is above the less than 2 percent reflected in network prime time, Mr. Romine said.

“We exist everywhere in the real world and we should also be part of the fictional world of television,” he said.

New to this year’s report, GLAAD also broke down the number of series regular roles by gender and race. A total of 403 roles, or 57 percent, are male this season, and 307 roles, or 43 percent, are female. Anglos make up 543 roles (76 percent of the total), African Americans account for 100 roles (14 percent), Latinos 43 roles (6 percent), Asians/ Pacific Islanders 19 roles (3 percent) and 5 roles for other races (1 percent).

Of the 16 lesbian, gay and bisexual roles on network TV, 13 are Anglo and 13 are male. The report found cable television not only counts more LGBT roles, but also represents more diversity among LGBT characters in terms of race and gender.

“Cable programs have a much better balance between male and female LGBT characters, and they make more of an effort to show our racial diversity,” Mr. Romine said.

The cable number is expected to increase exponentially as the three new cable networks aimed at LGBT viewers, Logo, here! and Q Television, all add more series to their schedules.

One particularly diverse area of programming remained the reality genre, GLAAD reported. The group noted that upcoming installments of UPN’s “America’s Next Top Model” and both of NBC’s “Apprentice” series feature characters with various sexual orientations, and said reality shows in general offer greater racial diversity than scripted programming.

Reality offers viewers a wider range of characters in terms of diversity because casting is open to almost anyone, said Allison Grodner, executive producer of CBS’s “Big Brother.”

“We pull from a pool of real people, so you’re going to get a mix of the population,” she said.

“Big Brother” currently features an African American gay man, Beau Beasley, and a Latina lesbian, Ivette Corredero, competing on the show, while one of the current installment’s most high-profile characters, Kaysar Ridha, is a straight Iraqi American Muslim. Mr. Ridha, who was initially voted off by his fellow contestants, was overwhelmingly selected by viewers to return to the series before getting voted off the show a second time.

“It’s not like we go searching for a gay character,” Ms. Grodner said. “It has just happened over the years … We look at them as interesting characters first.”

Oliver Goldstick, executive producer and co-creator of NBC’s new Friday night drama “Inconceivable,” said he did not expect his show to make it to a broadcast network. “Inconceivable” takes place in a fertility clinic and features a cast that’s diverse in terms of race and sexual orientation.

“We thought we had a cable show, because of the subject,” he said.

In particular, the show features a biracial gay couple going through the process of conceiving a child through a surrogate mother.

“Five years ago, if I had pitched this show it would have been a straight couple with a surrogate,” Mr. Goldstick said, noting that he and his same-sex partner, as well as his co-creator Marco Pennette and his partner, have had children through surrogates.

Incorporating a gay couple into the show’s story line came naturally to him, Mr. Goldstick said, because he understood what the couple was going through and could translate that to the series.

“I don’t have an agenda,” he said. “We’re telling stories.”

Reports such as GLAAD’s are important for the industry, said Mike Tollin, who is executive producing “Inconceivable” and four other shows for the networks.

“We’re very conscious of it and we try mightily,” he said of calls to diversify roles, “but our responsibility to the audience is to make sure it all works.”

Ensuring that casting reflects as wide a range as possible in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation has to balance out with the need to serve storytelling, Mr. Tollin said.

“It is best when it is organic,” he said. “To just sort of shove something in for the interest of diversity is not in the interest of anyone.”