Negative Growth Continues

Negative Growth Continues

I didn’t want to pull a punch in the title.

Since 2017 the number of shows with queer rep has decreased. This trend continued in 2018 and 2019, and then 2020 happened and it all got weird. To the point that I did not actually collect stats in June to figure out growth. I’m working to reconstruct things, but the status is… strange.

New Shows vs Cancellations Is Still Too High

When I try to figure out why it doesn’t feel like it’s getting better, I start by looking at the ratio of canceled shows to new shows. In a perfect world, we would always have either more new shows than canceled or (given the practical limits of time, at least close to even).

In reality, we can see the 2019 had a lot of new shows and a record high cancellation count.

Chart showing overall negative growth of new shows with queer characters.

2020 actually is better than 2019, in that we had fewer cancellations. That is until you look at the other change:

Chart showing 2020 through 2000, with shows on air, canceled, and new.

You can see the peak in 2019 and the noticeable drop in 2020. This confirms my hypothesis from last October. The bubble’s popped.

It’s Worst In the US

Arguably this is because the US has more shows than other nations, but the flip in 2019 where we have more cancellations than growth is bigger, and the difference between them in 2020 is even closer the wrong way.

Chart showing overall negative growth of new shows with queer characters. US Only.

Also you can see the drop in the number of shows in the US. This is absolutely COVID related, by the way.

Just slicing it to the last three years, you can see a trend:

YearNew ShowsCanceled ShowsUS ShowsNew US ShowsCanceled US ShowsDeath on US Shows
202030.47%27.54%55.98%48.89%53.28%50.00%
201929.76%32.69%56.89%52.21%53.02%67.44%
201829.38%27.16%53.83%39.50%41.82%70.97%

To explain:

  • New Shows — Of all the shows on air, what percent are new?
  • Canceled Shows — Of all shows on air, what percent were canceled?
  • US Shows — Of all shows on air, what percent were based in the USA?
  • New US Shows — Of all new shows on air, what percent were based in the USA?
  • Canceled US Shows — Of all canceled shows on air, what percent were based in the USA?
  • Death on US Shows — Of all dead characters, what percent were on US shows?

And that trend line we looked at with the percentage changes and how we crossed into the bad place in 2017?

Percentage of shows new and canceled in the US, trending badly.

Yep, still negative growth.

What About Good Rep?

We don’t just use raw on-air numbers to measure representation for good reason. Our show scores take into account the myriad angles of impactful TV. That is, it’s not just enough to have a lot of queers on TV, that rep has to be good. Last year I mentioned this as the major US linear stations had a happy-surprising upward trend!

Bad news. 2021 isn’t a repeat. Calculating at the same time (spring) as 2020, we have bigger drops and smaller gains.

ABCCBSNBCFOXThe CWTotal Change
Avg. Score0.89%-1.07%-0.40%-2.40%-4.72%-1.54%
Avg. Score (onair)10.76%0.35%0.76%1.39%2.57%3.17%
Characters10.91%14.74%10.82%8.48%11.25%11.24%
Dead Characters0.00%11.11%3.45%0.00%5.00%3.91%
Shows6.25%4.48%8.97%9.80%0.00%5.90%
Shows (onair)-14.29%-25.00%-6.25%-10.00%-23.53%-15.81%

The average scores for all shows on all major linear networks went down (except for ABC). The On-Air score grew significancy less. The characters, dead characters, and shows will always be ticking upwards, as unless we math wrong (or someone comes back from the dead, Sara Lance…) they’re always increasing. But shows on-air paints a devastating picture.

We decreased the shows on mainstream, linear TV noticeably. We lost 12 shows. And that may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost 16%.

Are there Good Stats?

Well. We haven’t recorded a death since December 2020, which is not the record (that would be 1429 days (1980-05-27 to 1984-04-25), but at 121 days, it’s the most since June 2001. And just to give you a historical sense, that was when Xena died.

Also a number of shows are picking up again, and ones like All Rise are returning Amy Acker to the screen, which is always wonderful. But that means we’re going to have more queers on fewer shows, and I can’t count that as a win for anyone.

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.

6 thoughts on “Negative Growth Continues

  • A very informative article but I will point out as more shows with LGBTQ representation are produced it is natural your going to have more shows canceled. I also believe the pandemic hasn’t helped with production being slowed down causing shows to be canceled and new ones to be delayed. Right now it’s just a trend that will happen and you will see an increase in LGQBT shows soon.

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    • That’s why I made sure to point out that we’re not getting the same volume of new shows. More shows with queers are being canceled than we are seeing new shows with queers being added. That struck me as rather unnatural. Even without COVID, based on the prior years, I expected to see either continued growth (be that slow or near-flat) and not a regress.

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  • As we begin to understand the impact of the pandemic across all platforms, do you think the lack of shows with queer characters is due to a lack of marketable resources? That advertisers aren’t interested in paying to be included in our content, or could it be a lack of storytelling content without it being a coming-out story?

    We are still in a live dataset with the pandemic, and the amount of things we will be counting (for years) seems innumerable. What is your opinion about the ‘when’ executive leadership will understand the need to ‘mind the metric’?

    For example, Wynonna Earp (with amazing inclusion and queer content) has a dedicated fanbase, actively pursues getting the show picked up for Season 5, yet it hasn’t been. Do you think if it were a ‘straighter’ show it would have been picked up already?

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    • Advertisement for queer females in general is garbage. Seeing queers as ‘marketable’ is a double edged sword here, because there are neither the resources nor the metrics to support (or not) expending more resources. We’re not counted. It took the Nielsens until the last few years to add in tracking same-sex couple households, and that still excludes non-couples!

      But I don’t think the issue is advertisements here, at least not directly. While we’re certainly not targeted in ads, the canceled shows aren’t ‘queer’ shows. I mean, yes, queer led shows (Tommy, Abby’s, Instinct) have an abysmal record lately, but even things like NCIS New Orleans (the only NCIS to have a regular female queer) is canceled.

      The issue is the networks, IMO. They aren’t willing to ‘risk’ diversity. Keep in mind, these are the same people who said they didn’t have Latinx writers for Magnum PI because (drumroll please) they couldn’t find any (BTW that story gets even worse the longer you dig into it). It’s ‘safe’ to have cis, white, male leads, who look/act just like the CEOs, and so they do. It’s the same reason the toxicity of certain shows on CBS is still a massive issue. Mo Ryan had a great article on that – http://www.vulture.com/2018/08/les-moonves-brad-kern-limits-of-metoo.html – and the tl’dr is “They’re fine with it.” So it persists.

      What is your opinion about the ‘when’ executive leadership will understand the need to ‘mind the metric’?

      I will preface this with “If I knew this answer for sure, I’d be rich.” We’re reaching a tipping point with representation in all aspects where people just aren’t happy with what they’re getting. But I do think a large part of the issue is racism, sexism, and homophobia. So the ‘when’ is really ‘when will people realize that you can connect and identify with people who aren’t like you?’ And for that, I don’t know. I want to say “Soon!” but … Well. We’re (the world is) kind of a mess. See the above comments about CBS toxicity. All that is why.

      Wynonna Earp is a complex situation, where much of the renewal issues are wrapped up in money which is overly messy thanks to who owns the rights. That is, the people who are supposed to be paying for S5 don’t have money. And most shows who were in that situation (there were others) were also canceled. So on the one hand, yes. I do think if it was a straighter show (see Resident Alien) it would be more likely to be picked up. On the other hand, IDW has a lot more issues preventing it. Someone’s gotta pay for it, and the people who said they would can’t.

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  • I think we were thinking along the same lines, meaning ‘marketable’ and ‘safe’ (cis, white, male leads, who look/act just like the CEOs). They are risk averted vs risk adjusted. They see themselves as competing with other networks as opposed to leading against the norms, fearing any loss of revenue. It’s an outdated model, and one doomed to failure.

    I wish our community could form a confederation of sorts, supporting (even if temporarily) the premise that that our representation/content can succeed, instead of being splintered across the industries. I loved the idea of Clexacon for just that reason, it brought all the factions to a similar place.

    The markets/outlets are being splintered, you would think they would heed the writing on the wall that people are absolutely going to let their dollars follow their shows. I would use the example of people cutting the cord from cable to streaming apps (Netflix). I know my queer dollars follow my watch trends, not to be limited by subscriptions, I spend in many other ways as well (Clexacon for example).

    The potential demise of Wynonna Earp is saddening, it is such a good show.

    Thanks for the tip on Mo Ryan’s article, I’ll give it a read.

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    • It will take a collapse for them to change I’m afraid. They’re at the “denial” stage, assuming things will keep trucking along as is without need for change.

      If the Nielsen’s would (could) give a better breakdown of who is watching what… maybe that will come from all these splintered streamer networks. Certainly CW gets it, and weirdly Peacock is as well (if you don’t mind nostalgia).

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