Where Are All the Gays on TV?

GLAAD says there are less LGBT characters on network television this season. By Cary Carr

Sandra Bernhard (center) played bisexual Nancy on Roseanne (courtesy of TBS)

A handful of mainstream shows have introduced LGBT characters into our homes over the years. There was Lance Loud back in the 70s – the first openly gay person to appear on TV in what might also be considered one of television’s first-ever reality shows: An American Family. Later, sitcoms like All in the Family, Roseanne and – more recently – even the oh-so-soapy Grey’s Anatomy would count gays and lesbians as important characters in ongoing story lines.

But despite the strides LGBTs are making in other facets of life, turns out the number of LGBT characters featured on network TV this season is on the decline for the first time in four years, according to the GLAAD’s annual “Where We Are on TV” report.

GLAAD found that less than three percent of series regulars are LGBT (that’s down from last year). Cable isn’t doing much better. Only 29 characters fall into the LGBT category on mainstream cable networks compared to 40 characters just three years ago.

Kurt is out loud and proud on Glee (courtesy of Fox)

But on the bright side, some networks are making improvements. Fox is now the number-one network in the report, featuring eight out of 117 series regulars as LGBT. That’s quite the turn-around considering that in 2007, Fox was at a whopping zero percent when it came to any portrayals of LGBT characters. Some credit definitely needs to go to Glee, a wildly popular series created by Ryan Murphy, that features no less than four LGBT characters: Kurt, Blaine, Brittany and Santana.

This year, Fox actually bumped out ABC for the top spot, which is now a close second. Guess that’s what happens when you cancel stand-out shows like Brothers and Sisters, a family drama that prominently featured a same-sex couple dealing with issues like marriage and adoption.

On the cable side, the crown for gay-friendly television champ goes to HBO with 11 LGBT characters in all. No shocker here if you consider the network’s gay-friendly record with shows like Sex & the City and Entourage. HBO also takes the prize for the most LGBT characters on cable – we can thank True Blood for that.

In the real world this week, one of the stars of the new drama The Playboy Club recently came out as gay after years of being closeted. Sean Maher, who’s been working in Hollywood for almost 15 years, says it was simply time to come clean. He opened up to Entertainment Weekly about what it’s like living with his partner and their two children in L.A. – a real-life Modern Family.

The Playboy Club's Sean Maher comes out and takes a stand against H8 (courtesy of Adam Bouska)

“It’s so liberating,” the 36-year-old told the magazine. “I’ve never discussed it publicly. I’ve never been asked about it publicly, but I would be lying is I said I didn’t paint a different picture.”

Maher plays Sean on The Playboy Club, a closeted gay man married to lesbian bunny Alice, played by Leah Renee Cudmore.

Of course, just because a show like The Playboy Club features an LGBT character (or even a gay actor), it doesn’t mean the portrayal is always fair or accurate. That’s why GLAAD evaluated how characters are really staking up compared to the real world, and the statistics are rather stark.

Turns out there aren’t any transgender characters on prime-time television these days (Chaz Bono is the only trans person on a reality show on network television). Lesbian and bisexual characters are also underrepresented, accounting for only 33 percent of LGBT characters. This leaves plenty of room for improvement considering women make up over half of the U.S. population.

So what shows do offer LGBT-friendly characters and story lines this fall? We rounded up a few that feature leading, supporting or recurring LGBT characters to watch out for:

True Blood has taken quite a few gay turns this season and last (courtesy of HBO)

Fox – Bones, Allen Gregory, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, Glee, Fox

ABC – GCB, Grey’s Anatomy, Happy Endings, Modern Family, Revenge, Desperate Housewives

NBC – The Playboy Club, Smash, The Office

CBS – The Good Wife, Rules of Engagement

The CW – 90210

HBO  – Boardwalk Empire, Hung, True Blood, Game of Thrones

Showtime – Nurse Jackie, Shameless, The Big C, Weeds

ABC Family – Pretty Little Liars, The Secret Life of the American Teenager

FX – Archer, American Horror Story