2022 has been the year of Netflix heartstopperthe United States queer as folk reboot, and Hulu conversations with friends offering us authentic and original LGBTQ characters and narratives. But something is rotten in the state of Queerdom: This year has also seen a purge of queer television, with Netflix, The CW and HBO, among others, unceremoniously canceling many LGBTQ shows, breaking the hearts of their most ardent devotees and provoking online outrage. .
Two of the latest examples of these painful cancellations are the BBC/HBO co-production. knight jack and those of netflix First murder. In July, HBO announced that the lesbian period drama was cancelled. The following month, the supernatural sapphic love story. First murder was canceled by Netflix.
Unsurprisingly, the shows’ dedicated fans were furious. Among them, knight jack fan Megan Troy appealed to HRC, America’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization: “Thank you @HRC for finally speaking out about queer representation on TV! Can you help support the other queer shows that are also at risk of cancellation? DIVA magazine editor Roxy Bourdillon wrote an impassioned letter praising knight jack and highlighting how “we have always been here, and always will be, whether you like it or not. This show saves lives. Now is the time to save Jack.”
Another fan, Georgia, shared her thoughts on Twitter, “Yes. knight jack it was a show about a historical mlm [man loves men] couple or a historical heterosexual couple would have been renewed season after season. Society is so uncomfortable with the idea that a woman can be happy without a man that they choose to ignore any wlw [woman loves women] forms of media.
Despite running only one season, First murderFans were equally devastated by his sad fate. Xolaris tweeted: “First murdera show that is not [have] any big name attached, being written off as if it didn’t dominate Netflix’s Top 10 within its [sic] first month of release is annoying. Let the sapphics have something DAMN!
“I just canceled my subscription,” Alayna tweeted, agreeing. “I just got Netflix to support the show.”
When asked about this trend, queer writer Benjamin Cook, co-author of the screenwriting bible The writer‘s story with prominent gay television executive producer Russell T Davies (queer as folk, It’s‘it’s a sin), saying LGBTQ Nation, “After being denied equal representation on TV for so long, it hurts even more when LGBTQ shows are cancelled. We are acutely sorry. Viewers have grown fond of these strange characters, only to have their stories cut short, and it feels unfair. It’s happening to straight shows too, but there are a lot more of them. They are, dare we say it, more expendable.”
The CW is perhaps the network that most notoriously put an end to TV shows with regular queer characters. The long list includes DC‘s Legends of Tomorrow, Dynasty, legacies, In the dark, Roswell: New Mexico, batwoman, the 4400 Y Naomiand even the rebooted Delighted he got the ax in May, after four seasons.
Many of these shows contributed to The CW’s role as the premier broadcast network for LGBTQ representation. According to GLAAD’s “Where We Are in TV Report” for 2021-22, the overall percentage of LGBTQ series regulars on scripted broadcasts is 11.9% of all series regulars, an increase of 2.8 percentage points from 2020. The CW ranked first among its competitors for its percentage of LGBTQ series regulars at 17.1%.
But when the biggest broadcast network for LGBTQ representation changes its internal policies, canceling shows and consequently not prioritizing queer representation and inclusion, what next? The CW will not air any TV series with a queer lead character in its upcoming lineup. tom fast was the CW’s only LGBTQ-led show and was also axed, after one season in the summer of 2022. It’s the same old story: Queer shows don’t have the longevity or protection of broadcast, cable, and television in net.
Then why? Is it about business? Are these shows struggling to build engagement and fandoms? It doesn’t seem to be necessarily the case. One of the recent examples of uproar among fans is the cancellation of One day at a time. Netflix produced three seasons of the remake of the classic Norman Lear sitcom. While it was critically acclaimed and its viewership increased season after season, Netflix pulled the plug. Fans instigated a major social media campaign: They didn’t want to give up on queer Elena and her non-binary partner, Syd. One day at a time it was the first broadcast show to be saved, albeit for only one season, on cable television, with Pop TV stepping in.
It seems like streamers and networks are just looking for good publicity: fans will applaud them for making television inclusive, but end up heartbroken when their new favorite shows are quietly and unceremoniously cancelled. Many programs are removed long before they are given a chance to succeed. Does this phenomenon stem from the inherent belief that straight characters are more expandable, while gay characters are expendable? Is direct television more financially viable? Does the future really look that bleak?
That seems to be the main assumption guiding many of these business decisions. knight jack is an example of this trend, but also of another phenomenon: if male-led queer television is doing poorly, shows with queer female leads will do even worse. The BBC/HBO show is on a growing list of series led by lesbian or bisexual female leads that have been ruthlessly cancelled, including One day at a time, Stumptown, I’m not okay with this Y High Fidelity. Some critics refer to this trend as a corporate-minded version of the “Bury Your Gays” or “Dead Lesbian Syndrome” trope. With so many queer shows gone, the trust that many queer people have placed in HBO Max, The CW, or Netflix may well dissipate in the long run.
Networks and streaming services should take pride in making television that so many LGBTQ people feel comfortable on. Imagine what queer shows could accomplish if given the right opportunity to succeed. Netflix, HBO Max, The CW, et al., are all capitalist companies and take cost-benefit models into consideration. Representing marginalized communities, they may only attract niche audiences, but those audiences are dedicated. The queer public is loyal.
LGBTQ people are not a phenomenon that can be canceled or removed, so neither should their shows. Let’s hope they don’t fall victim to the decline of the peak television era.