The 2012-13 TV season was a banner year in terms of visibility for the gay and lesbian community on network television. Six new shows premiered with gay characters front and center, Adam Pally‘s Max was doing his thing on “Happy Endings” and “Smash” still existed — and then it all went away.
As networks began preparing for the 2013-14 season, and with the network model of television itself in danger, the Big Five (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and the CW) began canceling shows that weren’t working. Among those given the ax? Eleven shows with gay characters. Eleven.
“The New Normal” wasn’t normal enough (Or funny enough, depending on who you ask.), “Go On” moved on, “Happy Endings” got its own unhappy ending and “Partners” didn’t click on CBS. It was a rainbow bloodbath. (Also axed? “Don’t Trust the B—-,” “Malibu Country,” “90210,” “Emily Owens, M.D.,” “The Office,” “Smash” and “Southland” over on TNT.)
Still, there was hope that the networks might fill some of the holes with new shows featuring gay characters and stories. But, as Upfronts Week came and went, that hope was all but destroyed. NBC was the lone network to pick up a series centered around or prominently featuring a gay character with “Sean Saves the World,” Sean Hayes‘ return to network TV in which he plays a gay single dad. That’s it — that’s all we get.
To be fair, there are still the mainstays: ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” will be around next fall to continue to prove that lesbians can be adulterers too, FOX’s “Glee” will be around to annoy us all for another two seasons and The CW’s “The Carrie Diaries” eked out a stay of execution so that we may continue to see how young Walt (Brendan Dooling) handles coming out in the ’80s. (“Modern Family” and “Scandal” are sticking around, as well.)
But is that enough? At a time when support for marriage equality is gaining considerable steam (Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota all legalized gay marriage in May alone), is it enough to just have Cam and Mitch call each other “boyfriend” on “Modern Family” even though they are raising a child together?
A poll conducted by The Hollywood Reporter in November 2012 found gay characters on TV were helping push voters to a historically unprecedented level of support of gay marriage. “This data would suggest that seeing this stuff makes it more socially acceptable,” pollster Jon Penn said at the time. ‘Views on gay marriage have exponentially gone in its favor since 2002.”
We quickly forget that TV often does matter. It’s easily written off as mindless entertainment, but the fact that it has the power to expose the masses to diversity and potentially change minds can’t, and shouldn’t, be so easily discredited. Sure, a majority of the shows canceled weren’t all that good, but they were doing a service — one that is now sorely missing from the television landscape.
I’m not arguing that TV needs to be all gay, all the time, but there ought to be a fairer representation of the community than Sean Hayes fumbling with some teacups when his daughter asks him about his sexuality. However, with the state of things, it looks like we’ll have to take what we can get.