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LGBT characters on broadcast TV at record high, GLAAD study finds

October 05, 2012|By Meredith Blake
  • "The New Normal" is one of several new network series featuring gay characters.
"The New Normal" is one of several new network series featuring… (Timothy White / NBC )

Boosted by new shows such as "Partners" and "The New Normal," the broadcast prime-time landscape is more gay-inclusive than ever. 

In a report released Friday, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation – better known as GLAAD – found that at the launch of the 2012-13 television season, the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in scripted series is at an all-time high.

GLAAD reviewed a total of 701 characters from 97 programs scheduled to air on the five major broadcast networks. By its estimation, there are currently 31 regular LGBT characters on network television, for a total of about 4.4% of all regular characters. This is a discernible increase from last year, when the grand total was 19 (or 2.9%).

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Leading the pack is ABC, home to "Modern Family" and "Happy Endings," where 5.2% of regular scripted characters (or 10 out of 194) are LGBT. Right on their heels is Fox, with six characters, or about 5.1%. Fox is also the only broadcast network to feature a scripted transgender character, Unique on "Glee."

NBC has more LGBT characters than Fox, but its overall percentage (4.2) is lower. Its percentage is likely to remain high, given that "The New Normal" was recently picked up for an entire season.

CBS earns the worst grade of the major networks, with four LGBT characters out of 142 series regulars (or 2.8%).  This is an improvement on last year’s 0.7%, although if “Partners” gets canceled -- a distinct possibility -- CBS is likely to find itself back in the diversity doghouse.

Numbers are also higher across cable television, where GLAAD counted a total of 35 LGBT characters popping up regularly in scripted series. The overall leader is Showtime with 12, while HBO is home to cable's most inclusive show, "True Blood," which has six gay, lesbian or bisexual characters. Adult Swim, ABC Family, TeenNick and MTV also earned high marks.

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GLAAD partnered with a number of other media advocacy groups to track a range of demographic statistics. They found that this year's crop of LGBT characters, which includes 11 people of color, is more diverse than last year's.

But for diversity champions, the news isn’t entirely glowing. Although African American representation has increased slightly over the past year (12% versus 9%), Latino numbers are down from 5.6% to 4.1%.

The GLAAD study also found that 78% (547) of all series regular characters on prime-time broadcast television are white and that male characters outnumber female characters, 55% to 45%. People with disabilities are virtually nonexistent: There are just four in all of prime-time broadcast television (or 0.6%).

Compare that to the actual demographics of the American population – 72% white, 49.1% male – and it’s clear there’s still room for improvement.

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