'Empire' Leads FOX To Excellence On GLAAD's Annual Network Responsibility Index

For the ninth year running, GLAAD has released their Network Responsibility Index (NRI), an annual report that grades many of television's major networks on their inclusion and portrayals of LGBT characters. But as the Index approaches 10 years of revealing statistics, it comes to us this time with a couple of major twists: for the first time ever, a broadcast network has achieved the Index's highest rating of "Excellent;" and, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis has announced that 2015 will be the final year the organization releases the report.

That announcement likely comes as a surprise to those who have followed the NRI closely over the past near-decade. Ellis warns that the conclusion of the NRI isn't a declaration of "Mission Accomplished." Even though LGBT characters can now be found on practically every single major television network, Ellis stresses that, "We haven’t 'won' when it comes to television, because simply getting higher numbers of LGBT people on TV was never the only goal." She goes on:

Since its founding, GLAAD has pushed for fair and accurate representations in the media, and today, as LGBT images on TV continue to flourish, that means better reflecting the rich diversity of our community. [...] Statistically speaking, LGBT characters are still most likely going to be white, male, cisgender, and from a middle-class background. These depictions don’t accurately represent the diversity of the LGBT community, and that still leaves too many people starved for representations of themselves.

The numbers are surprisingly encouraging. While only three of the five broadcast networks decreased in percentage of LGBT-inclusive hours of programming from last year, things looked much better on cable, where all but one of the 10 networks surveyed increased in percentage or stayed the same. Here is who topped the list.

Good: Showtime, 41 Percent (Up From 34 Percent)

Six networks were ranked as "Good" both this year and last; HBO was the only network surveyed whose percentage remained the same from 2014. However, GLAAD reduced its final ranking in response to the cancellation of Looking, the end of True Blood, and the killing of Oberyn Martell, one of the only bisexual male characters to have ever existed on such a show as high profile as Game Of Thrones.

Despite the addition of a third LGBT-inclusive Shonda Rhimes show to its lineup, ABC actually fell two percentage points this year. The CW can boast one of the few shows on television to feature an LGBT character as its lead: The 100's Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor) was revealed as bisexual in Season 2. Both Showtime and FX received praise for including transgender characters in their LGBT portrayals: Angelique in Showtime's Penny Dreadful and Venus in FX's Sons Of Anarchy. The latter network led the "Good" pack with 54 percentage (up from 49 percent last year), thanks to shows like American Horror Story, Anger Management, Archer, The Bridge, and Tyrant.

Excellent: FOX, 45 Percent (Up From 36 Percent)

Although the number of "Excellent" networks fell from three in 2014, there's still reason to celebrate: FOX moved up to become the first broadcast network in all nine years to receive GLAAD's highest ranking. Although The CW matches FOX in percentage of programming hours devoted to LGBT characters (and FX actually surpasses it), GLAAD awarded FOX with its high grade not just for the quantity of its portrayals, but also the quality and diversity:

In the first year GLAAD conducted research for the NRI, we found that FOX trailed every other broadcast network in including LGBT characters in its programming. Since then, it has not only made drastic improvements in that regard, but it has brought audiences groundbreaking shows like Glee and Empire. The network also featured one of the most diverse lineups of LGBT characters on television, with 36 percent of its LGBT impressions this year being made by people of color.

ABC Family remained "Excellent" for the second year in a row, although its percentage point jumped drastically from 42 percent to a whopping 74 percent, thanks to the additions of Chasing Life and reality program Becoming Us to an already very inclusive lineup including The Fosters, Pretty Little Liars, and Switched At Birth. GLAAD's "Where We Are On TV" diversity report should be published sometime next month.

Images: Chuck Hodes/FOX (2); Joseph Lederer/A&E; Jeff Neumann/CBS; Jonathan Hession/Showtime

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