2021’s Long Impact on Representation

2021’s Long Impact on Representation

Year two of TV in a pandemic. A lot has changed, and we look at it all in a new light.

A year ago, I had a prediction:

My prediction? We’re going to see more cancelations every week until there’s a vaccine, and even then some shows (especially ones with kids) are not going to come back.

2020 By the Numbers

How’d that pan out?

As I’ve said before, the number of shows on air with queer rep has been dropping since 2017. Overall, representation itself is stagnating and this continued in 2020 due to a pandemic and the rising costs of managing filming.

Overview of Appearances

I usually start with a straight look at how many shows are on air, and how many characters and death.

YearShows
On-Air
Characters
On-Air
Characters
Who Died
202142062710
202048097138
201948598945
2018509102541
201748699141

I admit, my first moment was to cheer at the precipitous drop for death! And then I looked over at characters on air… Actually that bears a closer look.

Here are the percentage changes for characters:

Year% Change of
All Characters
% of Characters
Who Died
% Change
of Death
2021-35.43%1.59%-73.68%
2020-1.82%3.91%-15.56%
2019-3.51%4.55%9.76%
20183.43%4.00%0%
201722.5%4.14%-14.58%

A positive percentage means the numbers increased year to year. That last one is a little weird, but basically we want to see the percentages of dead characters go down. -73% means 73% fewer characters died. So that’s good! But the other column? The percentage change of all characters? That went down. A lot.

Graphical view of the above chart, which shows that agonizing drop

Of note. On October 28, 2020, I noted we had 17 dead characters for 2020. Now we have 38. That’s how much changed in two months.

This overall line somewhat mirrors the number of shows on air with queers, though at a less steep drop:

Graph showing the rise and then fall of the number of shows on air.

Those reinforce my believe that Peak TV is on a downward trend.

But last year, I was talking about the gains and losses of shows more than characters, primarily because we were losing a lot of shows. At the time, 2020 was a +5 (gaining 5 new shows internationally). The overall numbers actually changed, partly because we found more shows to add, but also because there were a few shows dropped at the end of 2020. That makes things for the last five years look like this:

YearNew 
Shows
Canceled 
Shows
Net 
Gain/Loss
20217367+6
2020145133+12
20191501500 (none)
2018161174-13
2017147138+9

At first you might think “Hey! Things are creeping upwards!” And in truth they are, but just very slowly when you consider that 2016 and 2015 were a net gain in the thirties.

While fewer shows are being canceled, the downward trend of new shows continues.

But that’s world wide so here’s just American TV shows (web series excluded, mini-series and TV movies included):

YearNew 
Shows
Canceled 
Shows
Net 
Gain/Loss
20215348+5
20208184-3
20198584+1
20186462+2
20175950+9

Again, much smaller gains.

How Were My Predictions?

I’m not happy that they were pretty on the nose.

When I posted last year, October had 95 new series, and 91 canceled. While it did change significantly to 145 new and 133 canceled (changing the growth from +4 to +12), it did not change the trend line much at all.

I want to say there’s a glimmer of hope, though. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t have more characters to add. And by that I mean more modern characters. And while yes, there is still a chance for a major death spree, even if the number of deaths double in the last two months of the year, it’s still half of previous years. Also the US shows are starting to make some gains per year, which matches the vibe I got the other week when I muttered “Why does every new show have at least one queer?”

That’s a good problem to have in my opinion.

I’m going to take a risk and say … next years? Things will get better.

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 and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.

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