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American Television, Drama  
 
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In December 2003 HBO premiered a six-hour, $60 million TV presentation of Tony Kushner's pathbreaking AIDS epic Angels in America. Angels, which featured an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, and Al Pacino, received rave critical reviews and garnered an astonishing 11 Emmy awards. Emma Thompson, in an Advocate interview about her response to the play, remarked "I opened the play, read the first couple of pages, rang Mike [director Mike Nichols], and said 'I'll do it.' The writing has that effect on you. It's so remarkable."

The continued uptick in queer characters across television platforms has been further documented by GLAAD who, in 2005, launched their annual "Where We Are on TV" report.

Sponsor Message.

GLAAD's reports track trends and compile statistics for series regular characters on broadcast television with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, and race/ethnicity. According to GLAAD the number of inclusive dramas (those series with leading and/or supporting GLBTQ characters) on the five broadcast networks have grown steadily and have featured a diverse assortment of characters such as police officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) on NBC's Southland; attorney Kevin Walker (Matthew Rhys), retired company CFO Saul Holden (Ron Rifkin), and professional chef Scotty Wandell (out actor Luke Macfarlane) on ABC's Brothers and Sisters; investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) on CBS's The Good Wife; and physician couple Dr. Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw) and Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) on ABC's Grey's Anatomy.

In an evident nod to the increasing media attention focused on same-sex marriage initiatives and legislation, Arizona and Callie were married in Grey's Anatomy's "White Wedding" episode (air date May 5, 2011), as were Brothers and Sisters' Kevin and Scotty in the "Prior Commitments" episode (air date May 11, 2008). The CW's 90210--a reboot of the popular 1990s Aaron Spelling teen drama Beverly Hills 90210 that debuted in 2008--also showcased the coming-out of Teddy Montgomery (Trevor Donovan) who in season four (2011) renewed a relationship with former flame and marriage equality advocate Shane (Ryan Rottman).

Although no cable network has yet attempted to replicate the queerscapes of Queer As Folk and The L Word, the number of regularly appearing out characters on mainstream cable channels continues to be higher than those characters shown on broadcast networks. Scripted programming on cable has continued to highlight an increasingly inclusive and diverse array of characters, whether in a leading or supporting role or with a recurring series presence.

ABC Family's GREEK, for instance, features gay African-American college student Calvin Owens (Paul James), while Pretty Little Liars--also on ABC Family--showcases Emily Fields (portrayed by Filipino-Irish actress Shay Mitchell). TeenNick's long-running series Degrassi: The Next Generation includes teenager Adam Torres (Jordan Todosey) among its ensemble. According to Steve Stohn, Degrassi's executive producer, the decision to incorporate a transgender person reflected a more naturalistic portrayal of adolescents, engaging viewers by "being more realistic."

Indeed, this emphasis on realistic situations and characters was at its most pronounced in the problematic yet intensely nuanced character Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) on HBO's long-running and critically acclaimed series The Wire. In an interview with the AfterElton website, Williams described his character as being an unashamedly gay street thug who, despite having a violent streak, also lives by a strict code of conduct.

Omar Little had been an integral part of The Wire's cast since its debut in 2002 but, as befitted a violent show, Little also met a violent (if somewhat shocking) end after being shot in the head by a young boy in the "Clarifications" episode (air date February 24, 2008). Little had many devoted fans, including U.S. president Barack Obama, who mentioned while campaigning for president in 2008 that Omar was his favorite character in his favorite show. As Obama carefully stated, "That's not an endorsement. He's not my favorite person, but he's a fascinating character."

In terms of the number of glbtq representations on mainstream cable, HBO and Showtime continue to dominate, due in large part to HBO's True Blood and its sexually ambiguous legion of vampires and witches.

Prominent among True Blood's cohort are flamboyant African-American short order cook Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis) and his Hispanic boyfriend Jesus Velasquez (Kevin Alejandro), who are both witches. With regard to Lafayette's character, Alan Ball, the out writer-producer and sometime director of the True Blood series, has noted that Lafayette is a stereotype-busting chameleon, "refusing to be a gangster, [and] refusing to be effeminate." Ball, who also created HBO's Six Feet Under, added that the gay themes on True Blood are simply topical and that the series represents a "fun, irreverent way to show how easy it is to disenfranchise a group."

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