Every Sunday, I tune in to Brothers & Sisters, and, like millions of other Americans, enjoy the unfolding dramas of the Walker family as they play out from week to week. As a gay man, I am especially happy to find out what is happening with Kevin Walker, a multifaceted gay man in ABC's Emmy®-award winning drama. When I see these types of gay characters on television, I know that the next generations of gay Americans are coming of age in a world where media visibility makes their coming out process far simpler than mine.
Now that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has ended its strike, networks are moving at lightning speed on their fall development season. Having worked with Hollywood executives during my time at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), I am familiar with television development and know how the beginning of the development process affects the potential for gay and transgender visibility. Producers conceive of show ideas, with a full cast of characters, and pitch those ideas to networks. The networks then determine which shows to pick up for pilots, wherein casting decisions are made; and those pilots, though they may change and evolve, eventually become the television series we know and love.
What this means is that if a gay or transgender character is not written into the show from its inception, the likelihood of the show gaining such a character in the future is rare. Broadcast networks, and ABC in particular, have demonstrated an increasing willingness to reflect their gay and transgender audience in their television characters. What has been especially refreshing in recent years is how multidimensional these characters are. From Kevin Walker to Carmelita on Dirty Sexy Money to Oscar on NBC's The Office, we see well-developed characters who reflect different aspects of the diversity within our community. We have exes who come back into the picture and complicate our new relationship. We are romantics who fall for smooth-talking politicians. We are accountants who struggle to deal with zany bosses.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of gay and transgender visibility, of the importance for millions of Americans struggling with their identity to see their lives accurately reflected on the shows, of the countless hearts and minds that can change because of these characters. When it comes down to it, programming with quality, multidimensional characters is good for the bottom line.
As GLAAD pointed out in last year's inaugural "Network Responsibility Index," where we measured lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender impressions on television, the 2007 buying power of gay and transgender American adults was estimated at $690 billion, according to the 2006 Report on the Gay & Lesbian Market from Packaged Facts/Witeck-Combs Communications. Our report also referenced studies by PlanetOut.com Partners which found that 87% of gay and transgender people are highly likely to actively seek out brands that advertise uniquely to them.
Ugly Betty. Brothers & Sisters. The Office. Dirty Sexy Money. Desperate Housewives. These are hugely successful shows. Well-written, authentic characters help the audience feel an emotional connection to a show, and when an audience has that connection, they are more likely to keep tuning in, and to encourage their friends to do the same. As that audience grows, so do the advertising dollars on television and the Internet -- dollars to which the writers now have greater access. It's a win-win situation.
Networks have increasingly done better with gay and transgender visibility in their unscripted series than they have in their scripted shows. Reality television does a better job at depicting the full diversity of our community. When it comes to scripted series, however, it is my sincere hope that returning writers will use the new development season to create characters who reflect the full diversity of the American television audience. We want to fall in love with your funny, smart, engaging shows. We ask simply that we be accurately and inclusively reflected in them.
All of this tells us that producers and networks have to make a conscious choice to be inclusive. With development season upon us and the strike over, show creators have the opportunity to build characters who will convey the gripping stories that reflect what is really happening in families and offices and communities across the country.
I am encouraged by ABC's announcement that Brothers & Sisters, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, and Dirty Sexy Money have been renewed for next year, meaning our favorite gay and transgender characters will be returning in the fall. As happy as I am to have Kevin Walker on my television every Sunday, I hope that the writers and networks will continue to treat the presence of such multidimensional characters as a priority as they plan for the new fall season.