One of my favourite things I built for this site is the show score system. Having a 0-100 scale value for shows allows us to apply a little more nuance to the overall concept of ‘how good is a show?’ And when we at LezWatch.TV ask “How good is a show?” what we really mean is “I want to watch TV shows with queer characters. How good is this show for that?” That’s why you get a lot of shows down-graded for being decent overall, but not all that good for queers (that’s pretty much why All in the Family, which is a great show, has a 19).
But if you look at the statistics for shows, you may have noticed that the average score for all shows is around 48 (±3 depending on the day). And, as one of my friends pointed out, that’s really low! The reason for it is as obvious as one might think: All the (bad for queers) shows in the early days hurt their scores.
The Dawn of Queers – 1952-1982
The first thirty years of queers on your screens was pretty recent. In fact, it’s within the living memory of many readers. And if you looked at the shows that were on then, there are only 50! For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to run these numbers on USA TV shows only (no miniseries, no TV movies). The overall averages won’t change, but that drops the shows to 27, and 16 when I remove shows that are listed but don’t happen to have queers in that first block of years.
Those scores are between 14.8 and 50, for an average of 31.19. While only 4 shows had death (21% of shows on air with queers), the majority had ‘bad’ queers. In sitcoms, however, we had positive representation that wasn’t always for laughs. Admittedly most of those sitcom queers are ‘big queer reveals’ like on The Jeffersons, but even then, the laughs to be had were on the cis men and their general confusion but ultimate acceptance of their ‘old friends.’
And of all those shows only one, Days of Our Lives, went on to have queers in seasons after 1981-82.
Queer for Ratings – 1982-1992
There’s a little overlap in years, since TV seasons in the US end in Spring and start again in Fall. And the reason I don’t do another 30 year jump is that when we do that, we get well over a couple hundred shows, and the scores become a little bit weirder to understand. So if we step it back to a decade, that gives us an easier to process bite.
On the outset, there are 35 shows from that decade that show up with queers in the time frame. That’s still double the shows, though, which is good. However the low score is a 0 thanks to the TV version of 9 to 5 having an unaired episode. If you omit that one, you get a low of 11.5 and a high of 53.25, with an average of 34.2.
The Lesbian Kiss for Ratings shows up at last in 1991, with LA Law. In 1992, Rosanne did it it as well, with a very awkward kiss. This remains an issue today, with shows bringing in queers for a shocker reveal in a bad way. Unlike the sitcoms of yore, there was never an intent to change the main characters or make them rethink life. Now it was just a ‘gotcha!’ reveal.
Queers As People – 1992-2002
In this segment, we finally progress to around 100 shows, but we also start getting a lot more queers-of-the-week. Characters are also starting to get actual plots! More than just “My surprise visiting old friend came to our reunion in a dress!” people had actual storylines. This is what I think of as “The Xena Era” but it’s also where Ellen finally came out.
Sadly this comes with a much more complicated calutiona. We can’t just grab the score per show, as now we have more of the Law & Order type shows, and other long running things like The Simpsons who have queers, but not in every year. And this really does illustrate a flaw. The show scores are cumulative for the entire time a show is on-air, resulting in The Simpsons having a 53.71 score, but Patty doesn’t come out until season 16, which isn’t until the 2000s!
Scores range from 1.5 to 85 and the needle barely moves for an average of 35.
A Queer Boom – 2002-2012
Anyone’s who’s glanced at the death chart knows that starting in 2005, the deaths began increasing noticeably. Also the calculations get even worse, which is why I had to do some extrapolation and a little massaging to get out the data. Shows go from 0 to 89.5, and the average finally ticks up to 41.
The good news is this is we doubled again the number of shows! We also get a lot of queer centric shows, like Exes and Ohs and The L Word. The bad news is queers of the week is still a thing, as are queers-who-die-for-non-queers.
Kill the Queers – 2012-2022
The trend line was jumped in 2013, which means that is literally the year we started to have more deaths than math expected. We also have over 500 shows on air. The interesting thing is, with scores between 0 and 99.5, the average is 47! That suggests that the death (i.e. “The Lexa Effect), as well as lower scores you get for queers-of-the-week shows, is super heavily impacting the overall scores.
In other words, more shows, not much higher scores. That’s not something we should expect to see. We’re getting record numbers of death, but we’re not getting record high scores.
Growth Is Slow
Unsurprising at all, growth is slow. We’ve only moved from an average score in the low 30s to the high 40s. When I went in to collecting all this, I thought that maybe we’d get an average of 60 these days. It is somewhat disappointing to see that, after all this time, we’ve barely made headway.
The reality though is that things actually are getting better in isolated segments. The CW, for example, has an average of 57 for all their on-air shows. Freeform has a 73. And that means the smaller networks are going to be the continued source of queer growth. In a lot of ways, that’s a telling sign for the impending heat death of network TV.
If linear TV doesn’t learn to grow and change and adapt, they will be fighting for a smaller and smaller slice of a pie who wants brain-candy without representation. 70% of Americans right now support gay marriage as of 2020, and 41% of white evangelicals supported gay marriage in a 2019 survey. The majority is slowly creeping in, and it will be interesting to see if linear TV, with the airtime limits that streaming does not have, continues spiralling downward or if they follow the lead of CW and Freeform.