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From Fox to Netflix: GLAAD ranks the most LGBT-friendly TV and streaming networks

by Cameron Kell and Oscar Garza | The Frame

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Brittany and Santana get married in Fox's hit 'Glee,' one of the shows praised in GLAAD's most recent Network Responsibility Index. Courtesy of Fox

From "Glee" to "Empire," Fox has stepped up its representation of LGBT people in a big way.

Those efforts to create content for a more diverse audience have been noted. Yesterday, when the L.A.-based media advocacy organization GLAAD published the newest iteration of its annual Network Responsibility Index, they highlighted Fox in particular as a network that was doing more of the right thing.

Matt Kane, the Programs Director of Entertainment Media at GLAAD, joined us on The Frame today to talk "Empire" and "Glee," the progressive work available on streaming outlets like Netflix and Amazon, and how GLAAD is continuing to try to improve diversity on television.

Interview Highlights:

This is the ninth annual Network Responsibility Index that GLAAD has released. What does this Index measure, exactly? What are some of the more notable things from this year's report?

The Index measures LGBT impressions on television networks that aired in the last year. What we actually do is examine every hour of original broadcast and cable primetime programming for all five broadcast networks and 10 different cable networks to determine how often LGBT people actually appear in the programming that's being aired.

What we found this year is that Fox, who we actually gave a failing grade in our first NRI back in 2007, had the highest percentage of LGBT-inclusive hours that we'd ever seen on a broadcast network before. So they actually got the very first "Excellent" score that we've ever given to a broadcast network.

So what does the general state of LGBT-inclusive television look like today?

It looks like a very different landscape than it did just 10 years ago, when we really started to conceive of this report. Back then we were still seeing many networks that were reluctant to include us in their stories, but what we see now is that it's become very much a part of their operating procedure to include at least some LGBT characters in their slate of shows every year.

Now that we've got these higher numbers, we want to see a better attention on the part of the networks towards diversity and some more small details around these characters. We want to see them falling away from tropes and representing a range of races, genders, faiths, socioeconomic backgrounds, and showing people with disabilities, so we're really getting a good picture that represents the actual diversity of the real LGBT community.

GLAAD's Index primarily looks at broadcast and cable TV, but over the past few years we've been seeing a lot more original programming on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. How do streaming services stack up against more traditional formats?

We're definitely seeing more inclusive programming on streaming services, and it's actually pretty interesting to see what they've put out in the last five years alone. That's been some of the most groundbreaking inclusive programming we've ever seen, and that includes shows like "Transparent," "Sense8," and "Orange is the New Black."

Their programming not only tends to be more diverse, but it also touches on stories that many of the traditional networks have been reluctant to really tackle before. So the streaming services have really set themselves apart by telling the stories of people like Maura from "Transparent," stories that no one was willing to give airtime to before.

When you look at the reports network by network, you're generally seeing an upward trend in LGBT-inclusive TV. Why do you think that is? Is television reflecting society, or is it society reflecting what people are seeing on television?

TV and society have a reciprocal relationship — TV reflects what it sees going on in society to make its programming more relevant to a modern audience, and at the same time society often takes cues from television.

For instance, a show like "Modern Family," which has been shown to have real appeal across partisan lines, has been something that many people have cited as a reason why they now may support equality for same-sex couples, while before they might not have.

At the outset of this report, GLAAD notes that this will be its last Network Responsibility Index. What's happening here? What will GLAAD be focusing its efforts on going forward?

While we've seen really great strides and increases in the number of LGBT characters, what we're really concerned with now is the diversity of those characters, and the Network Responsibility Index is just not the best tool we have in our toolbox to address that.

We have another report that comes out in the fall called the Where We Are in TV report, it's classically known as our character count but really it's a comprehensive look at all diversity on television. That's the report that we think is going to be more useful in trying to push the networks to examine how they're creating these LGBT characters and why they should use a little more thought in how they do so. 

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