If A Queer Watches a Show, Does It Count?

If A Queer Watches a Show, Does It Count?

I had to sit and think about this one for a while, because I have so many feelings. But overall my feeling is “We’re losing queer content at an abruptly faster rate, because we are being seen as disposable.”

The Right Brand

Our much loved The Owl House just concluded its third season. That season was incredibly divisive because it wasn’t a ‘season,’ as it was 3 extra long episodes to wrap things up and, since it as only about 3 hours instead of 11, it fell short on being able to handle everything. Creator Dana Terrace took to reddit to explain things 2 years ago:

At the end of the day, there are a few business people who oversee what fits into the Disney brand and one day one of those guys decided TOH didn’t fit that “brand”. The story is serialized (BARELY compared to any average anime lmao), our audience skews older, and that just didn’t fit this one guy’s tastes. That’s it! Ain’t that wild? Really grinds my guts, boils my brain, kicks my shins, all the things. It sucks but it is what it is.

The Owl House AMA on Reddit — by Dana Terrace

Now, Terrace does not throw Disney (or the people she worked with on the show) under the bus, and in fact she says she does not think the show was canceled because it was queer. She says it ‘skews older.’

What does that even mean? In context, are we saying “the show was aimed at people the same age as the characters, and that’s too old for Disney”? Who were shows like Kim Possible aimed at? Not Disney Kids, I agree, but they were for tweens and The Owl House certainly hit that mark.

And what else has Disney canceled lately? Willow. Okay, I know the producers are saying “It’s not canceled, it’s paused!” but come on, look at Mindhunter, which was ‘paused’ so long they ended up letting everyone go to follow their own contracts elsewhere. This is, in practical terms, a cancellation.

Disney and Lucasfilm have released the actors from their obligation to the show for the time being, which allows them to seek out other roles during the interim, but [Jonathan] Kasdan [the creator and showrunner] claims they have every intention of producing the next season.

‘Willow’ Cancelled On Disney Plus Because It Abandoned What Made The Original Film Great [Update: Maybe Not?] — Erik Kain

There’s also Big Shot (the John Stamos led series about girls’ high school basketball), The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (the Lauren Graham led series about a junior hockey team), and The Mysterious Benedict Society which had a couple of heavily queer-coded characters (and yes, I’m annoyed I don’t get to add it), as well as a lot of intentionally one-season shows I’m not counting.

The point is, outside of the Star Wars series which do have queers (in Andor, blink and you’ll miss it), the shows that got hit were ones with queer or super queer coded content.

Low Performance

The L Word: Generation Q was not only canceled, it was removed from Showtime. Not only was it removed, some places (like Germany), they never even got to see season three. Why was it removed? It was ‘low performing’:

As part of the changes, the company will “divert investment away from areas that are underperforming” and that accounts for “less than 10% of our views,” Chris McCarthy, who oversees Showtime, said in his memo.

‘The L Word: Generation Q’ Removed From Showtime Platforms Following Cancellation — By Nellie Andreeva

We recently got the official news that A League of their Own would not be getting a full season order, but a 4 episode wrap up. And why? It was … low performing:

As THR reported earlier this month in a larger look under the hood at Amazon, several insiders at the retail giant/streamer said its reliance on testing and data led to a clash last summer between Graham and marketing execs after data showed audiences found League’s queer stories off-putting and suggested downplaying those themes in materials promoting the show. Graham expressed concern about bias built into Amazon’s system for evaluating shows, which multiple sources said often ranked broad series featuring straight, white male leads above all others. One executive calls A League of Their Own “a proxy for how diverse and inclusive shows are treated.” Graham subsequently launched into an interrogation of the system, questioning multiple executives about it. Amazon took the issue seriously and dropped the system of ranking shows based on audience scores. 

Amazon Confirms ‘A League of Their Own’ Ending With Four Episodes — by Lesley Goldberg

Now if you re-read that, you might Spock the old eyebrow. See, basically the only reason we’re even getting a finale for ALotO is because Will Graham used their muscle (and a bit of nepotism) to get a short season. But also it’s painfully clear that the queer audience was not used as a metric for success.

The Numbers Aren’t Lying

Once I read about how Amazon was ranking shows, my heart sank. I drew that straight (sorry) line to connect things.

Amazon has a bias about shows, and it will rank cis, straight, white, male led shows over all. They took a show that was aimed at a queer audience and said “Well only the queers like it, so whatever.” And those metrics are actually part of why I was pushing to have more than just our LWTV scores for shows on pages. IMDb, of course, wants to cost over $120k a year for the access we need, so that’s not going to happen any time soon, but let’s look at the numbers from IMDb, an Amazon subsidiary.

On IMDb, ALotO is ranked as a 7.5:

23,245 IMDb users have given a weighted average vote of 7.5 / 10 -- the rest of the image shows the breakdown, most important of which is 55.4% of viewers gave it 10.

And if you break that down by the demographics, some things become clearer:

All Ages< 1818-2930-4445+
All7.5 (23,245)9.0 (8)8.4 (1,060)7.6 (3,853)6.4 (2,243)
Males6.1 (3.097)7.0 (1)7.2 (178)6.2 (1,281)5.8 (1,278)
Females8.4 (4,792)9.2 (7)8.9 (802)8.5 (2,419)7.6 (892)
Source: IMDB

From that, the first thing my eyes are drawn to is that, on average, women loved this show. 45+ least of all, but a 7.6 for a show is still pretty darn high. Younger men as well (<18 through 29) also liked this show a lot.

Which means we have a show that is actually rated pretty highly, but somehow it was ‘low performing’? What it really means is that Amazon’s built in biases as to what magical formula makes a ‘good’ show is seriously whacked.

And if you think Amazon is the only network that does it, well, I have a bridge to sell you.

Capitalism Strikes Again

If you start collecting all the reasons a show is canceled, especially queer shows, and you start digging into this more and more, you’re doing to see that these are not bad shows. My beloved One Day at a Time sits at an IMDb score of 8.2 for crying out loud! But Netflix, who hides all those viewing metrics, won’t ever tell us what ‘low performing’ means.

So what gives?

Well, since it costs money to keep a show on streaming (you have to actually pay the people who made the show for re-streams), guess what? We’re expendable. We are not worth the expenses to keep L Word Gen Q around. We’re not valued. They don’t want our money.

At the start of this week, the news came down that a Writers’ Strike is imminent. What is the strike over? Money, obviously, but more to the point, studios have made almost $30 billion in annual profits, but writers? Their pay went down. That’s right, the studios make billions, but they’re too greedy to pay the people who create things.

But hey, it’ll work out for the studio, as they’ll pull a Discovery+ and yank everything that isn’t reality TV.

What Next?

I say we vote with our wallets and feet. Cancel subscriptions (heavens knows with inflation, most of us cycle through our streamers anyway). If they don’t have the queer content we want, we don’t pay them a damn cent. But also speak up. Push them back. Ask Showtime “Hey, why the hell can’t I watch Gen Q?” Keep pushing and asking.

It’s the only way we get to have any quality content, and not fear that it will vanish into the night.

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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