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tara and darcy in paris in heartstopper season 2
tara and darcy in paris in heartstopper season 2
Teddy Cavendish/Netflix
Culture > Entertainment

Lesbian Scripted TV Shows Are Being Cancelled Prematurely: What That Means For Female-Led LGBTQ+ Representation In Media

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

We know that there is a history of television shows killing off lesbian characters, but now it seems that lesbian TV shows are also being killed too early. According to Autostraddle, there have been 210 out of 730 TV shows featuring lesbian, queer, bisexual, and transgender that have only lasted one season; “of those, around 45 are limited series – shows like Little Fires Everywhere, Mrs. America, Tales of the City, and The Bisexual…which leaves us with 170 TV shows with queer women and/or trans characters that were canceled after one season…” If they aren’t canceled after one season, they probably won’t last long after, since statistically 58% of them don’t make it past a second season.  

GLAAD was founded in 1985 and since then the non-profit organization has focused on fair and accurate representation of the LGBTQ+ community in national and local media programs. The organization reported that for the 2021-2022 television series season, they found “a 2.8% increase in the number of LGBTQ+ regular characters appearing on broadcast shows. On cable, they reported an increase of 20 characters from the previous year, with streaming shows boasting more than 358 LGBTQ+ characters.” However GLAAD also found that “this was the fifth consecutive year in which in which lesbian representation on streaming declined, adding to a long list of prematurely ended programs about queer women.” As them magazine suggests, television shows about queer men are continuing to see an increase in streaming, but queer women-led shows are not being given a chance to succeed and thrive. Deadline associate editor, Valerie Complex, tells them that this is clear “misogyny and lesbophobia…It’s so simple there is nothing more to add.” In a Collider article, for the 2022-2023 television season, GLAAD reported a decrease in LGBTQ+ representation all around and GLAAD blames it on the rapid cancellation of shows. GLAAD states how many of the series getting cancelled are LGBTQ-inclusive programs and how this is “leaving a large demographic of viewers constantly searching for new programs only for them to ultimately be canceled before a satisfying conclusion.” 

The streaming giant Netflix has gotten backlash over the years for its habit to cancel shows that predominately feature queer, bisexual, and trans women. Its comment section has been flooded with “save this TV show” hashtags and there was recently a petition for Netflix to renew First Kill, a show centering on a lesbian relationship that was canceled after one season on the streaming platform. There is reason for confusion among fans and the LGBTQ+ community when they see these popular shows being canceled. According to them, “Heartstopper, a series focused on two schoolboys who fall in love, was renewed for a second and third season less than a month after release.” The magazine then compares it to a new lesbian-led TV show that was adored by fans, “First Kill logged approximately 15.8 million more hours of collective viewing time within its first week than Heartstopper did.” Other queer women-led TV shows on Netflix, including I Am Not Okay With This, Sense8, Atypical, One Day at a Time, and Everything Sucks!, were canceled prematurely by the platform.  

When queer-women fans hear of these cancellations, they try everything in their power to save the shows that they can relate to because they don’t get to watch themselves portrayed on television very often, and on the rare chance when they do, many of the shows don’t last long. Much like with the First Kill cancellation, when Netflix announced it was canceling the queer women-led TV show Warrior Nun after two seasons, fans rallied and let Netflix know that it was canceling a show that they cared about. In a rare instance, Warrior Nun was resurrected, though not by Netflix, and will return as a trilogy of movies with another media company holding the rights. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “the series creator Simon Berry credited an intense fan campaign to revive the show after its cancellation.” 

There is a clear pattern with streaming platforms and cable networks prematurely canceling queer female-led television shows as opposed to queer men-led and straight character-led shows. The representation for lesbian TV shows has shown a decrease from the 2021-22 television season to the 2022-2023 season and without replacement, there will be a decrease in the 2023-2024 season. Collider included in their article that GLAAD reported that there has been a negative impact on representation since the high rate of show cancelations. GLAAD also includes that this isn’t a lost cause and there are solutions that streaming services and cable networks can do, such as “increasing transgender representation in comedies, green-lighting new queer shows on cable, and providing larger marketing budgets to LGBTQ+ forward shows.” In my opinion, streaming services like Netflix and cable networks would do best to remember to listen to their audiences and the statistics when deciding what television shows should proceed with another season, and not what the platform or network wants to succeed, because those seem to be different answers.  

Erin is a contributing writer for Her Campus USFSP. She enjoys writing about entertainment topics, such as the music and film industry, and about health and wellness or political topics pertaining to women. If Erin is not reading or browsing Goodreads, she is reviewing films on Letterboxd, making playlists, or in line on Ticketmaster.