The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has awarded their first-ever rating of “excellent” to MTV for offering “richly diverse portrayals of gay and transgender people” for 42% of their line-up. The CW fell only a little short with 35% of their airtime devoted to LGBT. Which is a totally great thing! I’m all for more diversity on television, but let’s not go putting halos around the networks’ heads just yet.
It’s more than a safe assumption that gays get good ratings. Remember Queer Eye? As one of the first gay-centric reality television shows to air on a major network, back in 2003 the Fab Five were raking in 3.34 million viewers per episode on their first season. And they were pulling off of years of slowly developing LGBT prominence on the tube. Sex and the City, Friends, Spin City and many other popular shows were integrating gay characters into their plots, and Will & Grace had a successful series run of 8 years.
It’s no wonder MTV and the CW have followed suit. Most notably, Gossip Girl‘s Eric van der Woodsen came out early in the first season, and MTV’s The Real World always manages to have a LGBT housemate — “token” status notwithstanding.
It’s great that the network’s interest in ratings has finally aligned with a greater-good purpose (and it’s not as if we can say they’re being disingenuous about it, especially not MTV, whose activism-focused website, Think MTV, provides viewers with a platform to promote marriage equality and other LGBT rights). And it’s even better that people watching television are accepting and enjoying gays on big time networks.
But representing gays on TV hardly means these channels are “diverse.”
The CW is particularly unbalanced. Their line-up features not one lead character of color — when they do exist, they are only part of a larger mix of mostly white characters, such as in 90210 or their new series Fly Girls. MTV’s saving grace is the reality spin-off Daddy’s Girls (which is not currently airing, but actually has gotten good ratings in the past, so hopefully will spark a trend).
Of course, it’s not a new idea that television lacks in racial diversity. The New York Times reported on the subject just last year, citing — though they could not directly associate — low ratings in accordance with cancellations, unrenewed series, and a small amount of blacks on television over all.
It’s a good thing when people are recognized for breaking the long-standing diversity barrier on television, whether it be racial or sexual, and we hope these networks continue to broadcast a wide range of LGBT shows. However, having a line-up of mostly wealthy and/or attractive white people with a healthy mix of gays does not a diverse network make — hopefully MTV and the CW will continue the trend in other realms of diversity.
Meanwhile, I’ll be tuning in to see if any new drama is cooking between The Real World: New Orleans’ black, gay housemate Preston (two minorities in one!) and hairdressing, claims-not-to-be-gay housemate Ryan. Oh, the drama!