Here's some news sure to brighten your Monday: Deadline is reporting that NBC is developing a new comedy about a lesbian lead character, which will mark the first time in history a network TV show has featured a lesbian protagonist who was out from the beginning of the series, and whose sexuality was a crucial element of the plot.
The multi-camera comedy, executive produced by Ellen DeGeneres and writer Liz Feldman (2 Broke Girls, the Oscars), will focus on a lesbian and her straight male best friend. Right as she gets pregnant with his child, he gets married to the love of his life.
This won't be the first time that a network TV show has featured a lesbian lead character — that would be DeGeneres' Ellen, in which the comedian's character came out in a hugely controversial episode — but it will be the first time that a show's protagonist will be out as lesbian from the very beginning of the series, and for her sexuality to be a main plotline on the series.
The inspiring news comes just two weeks after two GLAAD studies revealed the dismal state of LGBT plotlines and characters on television, reporting that only 4 percent of TV regulars identify as LGBT and that in the 2012-2013 season, some networks produced zero percent of LGBT-related content. In addition, According to GLAAD's website, in the last few years, only five network series have featured LGBT leading characters, none of whom identified as lesbian (Grey's Anatomy's Callie Torres is bisexual). Pretty Little Liars and The Fosters both have lesbian protagonists, but they're on ABC Family, not a main network. Cable has generally had a better track record with LGBT content than the networks, which cater to larger audiences and major advertisers.
Happily, NBC's as-yet-untitled show is the second network series announced to be in development this year that's poised to make huge strides for LGBT visibility on television. In September, the CW disclosed their plans to develop ZE, the first show in history to star a transgender lead character (and a teenager, no less.) Shows like ZE and NBC's new comedy won't correct these wrongs completely, of course, but they'll surely be huge steps in the right direction.
If all goes well, both shows will find success, and the audience reactions will be better than they were sixteen years ago, when DeGeneres, on her eponymous ABC sitcom, came out as gay during the show's fourth season. The unprecedented announcement sparked enormous controversy, with several companies pulling their ads from the show and both DeGeneres and studio executives receiving death threats. While the majority of the fallout from the episode was positive — it became the highest-rated episode of the series, won 2 Emmys, and had a lasting influence on shows like Will & Grace and The L Word — the immediate backlash was massive. Remaining episodes contained Viewer Discretion warnings, the show got cancelled after its fifth season, and DeGeneres' career plummeted. Now, with her beloved talk show, it's hard to imagine that the comedian ever faced controversy, but those who remember the famous "Puppy Episode" of Ellen know that DeGeneres' road to success was not an easy one.
That was 1997, though, and much has changed since Ellen. While reports like the GLAAD studies show that TV still has a long way to go in terms of LGBT visibility, there's no doubt that progress has been made. Hopefully, ZE and the NBC comedy will entertain and educate viewers, not alienate them.