Statistics: One Show in Five

Statistics: One Show in Five

I’m sure you’ve heard the complaints that every TV show has to throw in a queer character here or there and the Diversity Police are forcing it on us. That always leads people to question how much representation we’re actually getting and, in fact, is it everywhere.

Asking the Unknowable

On some levels this is an impossible ask, because there’s no global database of all TV characters on all shows. Yes, I know you’re thinking “But IMDb…” right now, and while they do track everything, they don’t have a way to generate the count of “How many TV characters have existed on scripted TV shows in the history of ever?”

Thankfully, there are resources like Statista, who keeps track of how many scripted TV shows there are per year, and recently published the number of original scripted TV series in the United States from 2009 to 2018.

Chart showing the growth of US scripted TV shows.

As you can see, the number has increased from 210 to 495 over the last 10 years, which is actually a pretty incredible amount. The prevalence of streaming TV has caused the growth.


The obvious followup question is does that correlate to all shows with queer female, transgender, and non-binary characters. In order to do that, I checked our stats and factored in how many shows, internationally (including web series) we had on-air per year, and then how many US based TV shows (including streaming but not web series) we have per year.

For the most part, this matches the growth of TV directly. At least until last year…

That drop in 2018 is not your imagination.

The first takeaway we have here is that the reflection of queers-to-shows hasn’t changed much internationally in the last decade. That is, we’re seeing roughly the same percentage of shows with any queer rep as we have been for ten years. This means our conclusion is that the claim that every show is adding in a queer is incorrect.

The second takeaway is that the representation in America is actually getting worse.

Regular Representation

Another burning question is how many shows have regular and active characters. In 2018 and 2017 we’ve had roughly 100 US shows with regular characters. This is a little tricky to track, since some characters aren’t regulars in that specific year. However the number of shows with regular queer characters actually tracks along with the main line of the number of US Scripted shows.

A chart showing US scripted TV shows compared to US shows with regular queers and queers in general.

Which means this:

One in five scripted television shows in the United States has a queer female, transgender, or non-binary regular character.

It Could Be Worse

The one ‘good’ takeaway here, when we look at that bewildering drop of US based shows with queers, is that the number of regular queer characters on US shows has not dropped. So while we have fewer shows, we have a higher percentage of shows with regular characters.

That’s not really the best trade off, though.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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