The 2009-2010 Lesbians on Television Census

 
 

It’s that time of year, when networks begin to break our hearts with the axing of shows we like and announcing their replacements. Last year around this time, we were waiting to hear if The L Word‘s spin-off, The Farm, would be given the greenlight from Showtime. We were also excited about Wanda Sykes‘ new talk show, but skeptical that it was going to be on Fox. It was also around this time that Glee premiered its very first episode, and we were ecstatic that seeing Jane Lynch would become a regular occurrence.

We were looking forward to the bisexual Queen Sophie-Ann on True Blood and glad Wanda was also sticking around for another season of The New Adventures of Old Christine. And with Grey’s Anatomy, Better off Ted, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Rachel Maddow all sticking around, we were hopeful that there would be more exposure and parts for gay women on television.

So where do we stand a year later? It was announced last night that FlashForward, Better Off Ted, 24 and The Wanda Sykes Show were all being canceled. One less regular lesbian character and three less real lesbians with jobs on regular network television. And several others are still on the bubble, including Melrose Place (with the bisexual character Ella) and Heroes (with lesbian couple Gretchen and Claire).

Two shows that are still on the air, 90210 and The Closer, both had lesbian characters that are no longer. We can still hold out hope for Gia and Detective Mikki Mendoza, but both seem unlikely to return to their respective shows anytime soon.

But here is the good news: We’re actually ahead this time around. Take a look at this brilliant census from Heather Hogan:

In 2010, Jillian Michaels came out as bisexual and is also continuing to be a strong presence on The Biggest Loser while also launching her own NBC series, Losing It With Jillian Michaels, premiering June 1. Also in the real lesbian category, Jackie Warner is preparing her new Bravo series, Thintervention, which is set to debut sometime this year. Anna Paquin coming out as bisexual also gave us the addition of True Blood.

Other shows that employ out actresses or personalities include Fringe, Glee, American Idol, Criminal Minds, The Suze Orman Show and The Big Gay Sketch Show and Issues with Jane Velez Mitchell.

We also have some a addition in the lesbian characters category, including the teen lesbian Emily on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, which is basically trading up from their cancellation of 10 Things I Hate About You and their small lesbian part for Mandella. We still have queer female representation on Weeds, True Blood, Stargate Universe, Nurse Jackie, Friday Night Lights, House, All My Children and, of course, Grey’s Anatomy. A few maybes reside in The Good Wife, pending Kalinda’s sexuality announcement on the upcoming season finale, United States of Tara, pending Buck’s relationship with Pammy, and Bones, considering Angela isn’t likely to date any other women now that she is married. It’s not that she doesn’t count — she does — we are just unlikely to see any queer/bisexual visibility from her on the show. It’s not relevant to her storyline anymore.

Because reality television is so back and forth in nature — a lesbian contestant today can be kicked off tomorrow — we’re only going to include the regular hosts/personalities and we also have to include The Real L Word. Since we have yet to find out what kind of visibility they will provide us with, I can only say that I’m glad to include some more lesbians on the list. (I’m hoping I am not made to eat my words later.)

To give some perspective, this means we have maintained some of our biggest hitters (DeGeneres, Maddow, Calzona) but have lost some others that were providing something that we needed (Sykes, an out lesbian of color; Janis Hawk, a main lesbian character on primetime television.) If Kalinda does come out as anything other than straight, it will be a great addition to the queer women of color category, which Callie sits lonely in currently. It would appear that from the looks of gay female TV characters, we are all white and 90 percent of us have had issues concerning our sexuality at some point. (Pam on True Blood has never appeared to have any issues with being omnisexual.)

But it’s also true in the "real live lesbian" category. If Sykes loses her job on The New Adventures of Old Christine, Jasika Nicole and Jane Velez-Mitchell will be the only gay women of color on TV. Not too strong a showing.

So while we do have more visibility on American television than we have in years’ past, we cannot give the networks an A just yet. Reality and game shows and syndicated re-runs aside, there are thousands of shows on at any given time, on hundreds of channels that can help normalize lesbian and bisexual women. Excluding us isn’t just wrong — it’s inaccurate. We are a larger part of society than how we are shown on television. We deserve to be represented and represented fairly. We deserve acting jobs based on talent, no matter how we identify in our personal life. And if we’re not trying to be on television and, instead, just want to watch and feel a part of our favorite shows, then you should know we are dedicated fans to a fault. Ask Joss Whedon or Shonda Rhimes!

Television writers and executives, you are doing a little better but we expect more from you. Perhaps it’s time you start hiring in some lesbian showrunners and writers and you’ll have a better idea of where we’re coming form.