I’m going to start this off by addressing why I even watch The CW – superheroes. I love superheroes and comics, even despite the pure garbage a lot of superhero content is on TV. I suffer through plot points that make no sense all because I love the characters created from their comic book pasts. I did watch Smallville and Gilmore Girls back when the network was The WB, but the platform has changed quite a bit since then. Superheroes dominate the network’s roster and they are the only channel doing it. Besides FOX with Gotham, Netflix, ABC with Marvel’s Agents of Shield, and when CBS had Supergirl for the first season and then The CW picked it up. But The CW are the only ones that have a whole universe to play in. (While Netflix has the ability to create The Defenders, the extent of the CWDC characters are too vast for Netflix to keep up with).
While The CW is currently known for their superhero lineup and comic book adaptations, their representation is lackluster, to say the least. Though could a show about a man who gets struck by lightning, who can thus run faster than the speed of – well everything – something people can feel represented by? Yes. The answer is yes. That is the beauty of creation, the audience and reader can find what they need from an artifact and feel whole. For a community like LGBTQIA+ though, representation means a lot and many looks to people or characters in this case, that resemble them and how they may be feeling. Being a part of the community myself, I can attest to the feeling of being alone in the world for thinking you are something looked down upon, but through characters on TV and in film, I found that I wasn’t alone. Representation matters for all races and orientations, we all want to feel like we aren’t alone and characters in TV can provide that comfort and reassurance.
As I searched full lineup of shows, I found that the network provides many characters that young and old, queer boys and girls can feel represented by and relate to. But I noticed that the 9 pm time slots actually had flushed out story arcs with their LGBT+ characters, versus those in the 8 pm time slot each week. Thinking that the ‘girl’ shows and the ‘boy’ shows would be different, I was surprised to find that they were pretty even on characters, the big factor being the time slots. The typical “family time” on primetime television is at 8 pm, though I doubt many families are sitting down together to watch Arrow, the stigma still stands as the family-friendly content. Eight pm is seen as a place many children may be watching and given that The CW’s powerhouses are all in the 8/7c time slot throughout the week they hold a huge impact on them. Meanwhile, 9/8c are the shows that are reboots, spinoffs, new, or the less popular DC shows. The network seems to give these shows leeway to create freely, providing great representation to almost make up for the 8 pm slot.
Through deconstruction, the network’s flaws almost fell into my lap. It’s not unknown that the top-rated superhero shows are The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl; but why wouldn’t they when they get promoted more on social media and in commercial space. From my feeds online, I am bombarded by sponsored trailers of these three and Riverdale the most. As far as DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, or even their new show All American; I haven’t seen one promo. Watching on The CW App is the same, Riverdale is the top and then The Flash. On the channel, you get the normal advertisements of all the shows coming up in a day or two, and the big guns thrown in two times instead of once in half an hour. Taking apart the workings of The CW through their ad play was an interesting find in the form of deconstructing why these main 8 pm slots have so little representation for the LGBT+ community versus the 9 pm.
Why don’t we just look at the shows and compare how the time slots affect the representation.
CAUTION SPOILERS AHEAD
(Doubt it would matter but I feel weird not saying it.)
Supergirl is a typical girl power show, addresses feminist ideas and today’s problems through the scope of an almost indestructible girl. While the storylines of girl power got lost when Kara Danvers (Supergirl) dated a former Prince playboy who owned slaves and degraded women (but that for another time). The show features at its core the relationship of the Danvers sisters, Kara and Alex. Alex is currently one of two LGBT+ characters on the show, and had a coming out story in season two after making their debut on The CW from CBS. During their run on CBS, Alex was basically paired up with a rich asshole named Maxwell Lord. He was condensing and the type of guy that wanted everything when he wanted it because he thought he had power over others, and he wanted to date Alex. He ended up being a decent guy, and Alex kissed him at the end of the season, but once the location of Los Angles to Vancouver happened due to The CW, Max was never seen again, and Alex was gay now.
Though the CBS season of Supergirl has been the best so far (and they are in season 4 right now) having the switch, Alex was able to be a great piece of representation for a lot of young viewers watching Supergirl. But once she had a girlfriend, their storyline got sidelined for Kara and her boyfriend, resulting in two minutes of screen time in a 44-minute show. Floriana Lima who played Alex’s girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer, was a series regular getting next to no screen time and decided the best for her was to leave the show. But before that was conveyed through talks behind the scenes, the season two finale ended with Alex purposing to Maggie. Their relationship lasted five episodes after that due to a bullshit excuse about Alex wanting kids, when Maggie didn’t; making it so they had to break up. Breaking up one of the only LGBT+ couples in all of The CW shows.
Talking about how the realationship of Alex and Maggie has effected her and the fans. (19:14 – 26:00 [25:55 (“I fought friend”)]
Talking about how they cut more than half of Alex and Maggie’s scenes. (35:00 to 36:00)
For the new season, they also introduced the first transgender superhero played by an actress who is transgender. Though her character is revealed to be an alien which in of itself seems as though they are sticking their character into an even lower-class level due to aliens being seen as “roaches” this season. (Trying to play off the immigrant problems the U.S. are experiencing today). But it adds a factor to how this character is represented in the show, making viewers who may be trans to feel as though they will still be alienated even if they are a superhero.
Charmed is not only a new show for The CW this season but it is also a reboot of the original show of the same name that started in 1998 and ran until 2006. The show is relatively the same despite the general CW vibes it gives off and one of the main characters is portrayed as a lesbian. While the original featured four main sisters who were all straight, now there are three sisters set in present time going to college. Within the first episode, they show Mel’s (one of the sisters) ex-girlfriend who ends up getting back together with her at the end of the episode.
Arrow is the breakout for the DC comics on The CW, besides when they had Smallville on The WB. But Arrow started this whole universe, every new show with DC comics (expect Black Lightning and the transfer of Supergirl) has stemmed from Arrow. Barry Allen showed up in season two, next year he had a show. Barry crossover-ed with Supergirl on CBS during her first season, then The CW picked it up and now they are Super-Friends. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is the B-list superheroes that started with the characters the writers couldn’t find a place for in their original shows so stuck them on a time ship to help fix time. They all are connected in the Arrow-verse because Arrow was a success in the first couple of seasons.
As far as representation for the LGBT community goes, they never had a great track record. Sara Lance who is the Captain of the Waverider now on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow started on Arrow and is the first character to be a part of the community. Having dated Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) at the start (well he actually cheated with Sara behind his girlfriend’s back which in fact as Sara’s own sister, Laurel) when she came back from her disappearance like Oliver, her girlfriend, Nyssa, came looking for her. Since she left the show more than four years ago now, Arrow has one LGBT character that receives no storylines at all. Curtis Holt in the comics was never gay but in the adaptation of the character, they had him married to his husband, Paul. When his relationship crumbled because Paul found out about Curtis’ vigilante crime fighting, his sexuality and plotline changed to just have him helping Team Arrow.
Now they only insert random lines pertaining to Curtis being gay just to remind the audience that the writers hadn’t forgotten that he was. He has a boyfriend in the current season, yet we don’t get any scenes with them or development in their relationship. Curtis creates representation in a show made for the boy demographic in a sea of girl content on The CW but having him enter in season four and Sara leaving a year before he got into the story feels as though he was a second thought only really added for another tech person besides Felicity.
They also made Oliver’s son reveal that he is gay through a flash forward in a conversation with another character by stating, “that’s why my boyfriend broke up with me.” That’s the only time they mentioned William’s sexual orientation and only said it in a conversation in the future. Not having any real impact other than having another LGBT character in the show.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow 9/8c
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow started out being the B-list superhero show trying too hard to be serious like the other main three programs. They soon became the fun and lighthearted show featuring wacky plots that are so far from the typical superhero stereotypes that every other falls into. I mean they literally had an episode where the team becomes a giant knock-off Tickle Me Elmo named Beebo to fight a giant demon. (Honestly, it is a great time, the best superhero show on TV and streaming service. Highly recommend it.)
The main character of the show came from Arrow as stated before, Sara Lance, who is a canon (fandom terms meaning the show has solidified it) bisexual woman as the Captain of the Waverider. Sara hasn’t had a proper relationship until last season (season three) but had many hook-ups with women in different time periods and a few men. Currently Sara is dating the Director of the Time Bureau, a government program in charge of keeping time in place, named Ava Sharpe who in fact is one of the clones from the future that was created as help and is described as “the perfect woman” (which is not great in terms of feminism but that for another time) and is a lesbian. They are the main couple in the show giving a well-rounded relationship with two badass women in charge of their respected teams.
Two other characters in the show are canon bisexual, John Constantine and Gary Green. Constantine is basically a demon bounty hunter who uses the dark arts to send them back to hell. He has been with Sara, Gary, and the season is displaying a past love, Des, he had to send to hell due to a demon latching on to him. Gary Green is the right-hand man to Ava at the Time Bureau, has a wacky and nerdy personality and just wants love. He was said to have been with Sara one episode in conversation, Constantine, and has a crush on a new character at the bureau named Mona. Legends has the most canon LGBT characters on The CW and shows a well-written storyline with Ava and Sara as well as giving them their own separate stories growing the characters in a natural way relating close to how it is in real life.
The Flash 8/7c
The Flash is the highest rated DCCW shows based (in my opinion) on many people knowing who Barry Allen is prior to the show. The Flash is known even without comic book knowledge much like Batman and Superman are, so it is fair that he would have the highest rating. Though Barry and the gang have no representation for the LGBT community other than the Captain at the Precinct both Barry Allen and Joe West (his kind of step-dad/father-in-law – yeah don’t ask) work at until this season. Barry and his wife/kind of step-sister (again don’t ask about that past, just accept it and move on), Iris’ daughter, Nora West-Allen, comes to their time period to meet her father since he gets lost in crisis two years after she is born. Nora turns out to be either a lesbian or bisexual, they only touched on it in one episode where she had a crush on a journalist that follows the meta-human activity in Central City. That is all, five seasons in they finally have an LGBT+ character to hold value in the show and not a supporting character to drive the plot further with no real storylines of his own.
Black Lightning 9/8c
Black Lightning is the newest of the DCCW shows, it is in its sophomore year and features Jefferson Pierce (Black Lightning) and his family, wife and two daughters. Jefferson was a vigilante back in the day before his girls were born but since he would come home bloody constantly his wife convinced him to put the cause down. Years later his city is still crypt, he is a principal of a school surrounded by gangs, and his youngest got involved with a guy in a gang who threatens her in the first episode. The boy’s gang then kidnaps Anissa and Jennifer, so Jefferson took the problem in his own hands, put the suit back on and got his girls back. Soon Anissa realized she had her own powers as well as her younger sister, Jennifer. In season two, Anissa finds herself having a crush on Grace and the two start a relationship by the fifth episode. Paying tribute to the relationship developed in the comics.
I have a bone to pick with Riverdale for ruining my Archie comic characters, but I will save that for another time. Riverdale is an adaption of the characters from the beloved Archie Comics turned into a teen soap opera with a mystery. The show has many problems branching from the direction of the show after season one and their depiction of kids on TV. But their representation of the LGBT+ community is sidelined. From the start, we had Betty’s best friend, Kevin, the stereotypical gay best friend but the show acknowledged that flaw and made a joke out of it, which gives an awareness in of itself how problematic that is. Though when Riverdaleblew up, the show gained their episode count from 13 to 22 and they started taking themselves too seriously. The show and it’s writing changed drastically and so did their characters, changing the feel of the show from aware of their faults to it being all serious.
Kevin fell back into the background only appearing in an episode to drive the plot. Cheryl, the head bitch in charge (her words not mine), who has been in the show since the first episode got an amazing story arc about her sexuality. Though we had this turn in Cheryl’s character, when she and her girlfriend, Toni, started dating they got all their scenes cut for other straight couples. While Cheryl and Toni have been together for about a year now on the show, they are barely given thirty seconds of screen time in most episodes compared to full five-minute sex scenes between two straight sixteen-year-old. They even have a sex scene between a teacher and her student, Archie, in season one; but having a proper scene of two girls singing a ballad to each other in the musical episode gets cut for time?
(13:30 to 14:50 [can just watch for a few seconds too you will understand])
(12:55 to 14:00)
All American 9/8c
While I haven’t seen too much of All American, I’ll keep it short. I really just wanted to see if the time slot after Riverdale, had a more prominent LGBT character, as I found in the previous days. Turns out it does. Coop who is Spencer James’ (the lead) best friend is a lesbian who hits on all the ladies constantly. The show is mostly about football and Spencer’s transfer from his home in South Los Angeles to a team in Beverly Hills. It shows how his two worlds collide and are based on the real life of pro football player Spencer Paysinger.
Looking at the effect of the time slots and how the LGBT+ community is represented through fantasy themes and queer studies, we can figure out how this company can change how a character is treated at eight versus nine.
As stated earlier, primetime television on major networks has more “family-friendly” programming do to the fantasy theme of censusing the eight o’clock time slot. “In 1974, there was widespread public criticism regarding the amount of sex and violence than on American television.” The biggest backlash in that year was a made for TV movie called Born Innocent that showed a lesbian rape scene in the move and in promotional ads and thus was blamed for a rape of a young girl that same year. The FCC got the three major networks at the time to adopt the “family-friendly hour” and addressed the government to solidify the mandate of family hour. Due to the effect of the mandate on All in the Family being moved to 9 pm and ratings dropping, the creator and legend Norman Lear cited creative infringement and first amendment rights winning the lawsuit by being backed by guilds. The next year, 1975, a district court judge declared the “family viewing hour” null and void. Though the effect of the act for a year has continued today.
As they found out the mandate was infringing on these TV shows and not allowing the freedom of speech in television causing it to return back, networks still continued the notion of the “family viewing hour” due to the countless amounts of views they need to keep their company from losing profit. Thus, today the eight o’clock hour is still seen as a family-friendly time slot for the major networks. Creating the censor of not only cuss words, sex, and violence; but the representation of LGBT that not everyone has accepted to show to their children. Creating a space for minor characters to be classified under LGBT but not shown their own storylines in a relationship fully compared to those straight couples. Since the 8 pm slot is reserved for the family, The CW falls into the trappings of thinking children won’t be able to watch if they are showing a couple that some parents and people don’t feel comfortable watching (for some reason).
The funny thing is that Arrow is basically a Batman version of Green Arrow, dark and broody, who ends up killing most of his opponents unlike Supergirl and The Flash, who don’t kill any of their opponents. So, the company is fine for Oliver Queen to have sex scenes with Felicity and show violence but to show a couple together, that draws the line from the eight o’clock hour to the nine. Having a couple or two couples in one program through well-written plotlines that give life to both characters and representation for a community that feels excluded, is not “family-friendly” to The CW?
The network seems to have a naturalization of heterosexuality, like most of the world does due to society. The naturalization of heterosexuality, in terms from queer studies, is the assumption that everyone is heterosexual unless labeled otherwise. While they have one to two LGBT characters in their eight pm spot, most hold no value other than another team member that drives the plot and helps, not having a storyline arc for themselves. The CW also has the mentality to say that having one couple or character is all the show can have due to their being too many LGBT characters. But in real life, LGBT people tend to hang out with others who are like them, as well as straight people – not just straight people. In Supergirl, Alex hadn’t fully realized that she was gay until Maggie Sawyer came into her life and showed her how free and comfortable you could be once you accept who you truly are. While Alex had always really known she was a lesbian, it took Maggie (another LGBT person) to express how opening the closet door can relive a lot of stress to conform to that naturalization. Even expressing how Alex fell into compulsory heterosexuality, the impression explicit or implicit, that people should be heterosexual or else something is wrong with them. When she came out to her sister, Kara, she said that in high school she liked going to sleepovers with her best friend because she knew how she felt about her but pushed it down for 15 to 20 years thinking something was wrong with her.
The CW has only one show (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) that has four canon LGBT characters and are even hitting at two more on the same show. While Legends of Tomorrow is on at nine, the depiction of four characters with story arcs and are written complex is amazing representation on TV. A big problem is that The CW doesn’t promote their nine o’clock nearly as much as their eight pm time slots, due to the popularity of those on at eight. But if you stop and think about advertisements, the whole point it to push a product to a viewer who may not know about it. So, why spend more on ads for shows that have large loyal fanbases coming back each week and not any on the shows not popular? That would just make your nine o’clock hour have even fewer viewers besides the smaller loyal fanbases they already have.
The real question that I want to be answered is why do we just expect this as okay? Just wait till nine for your representation kid, when your parents are watching their content that is not family-friendly. The problem is that kids who are struggling to find themselves or feeling they have something wrong with them like Alex, can’t watch their favorite superhero show or teen mystery and find that. While they have the connection of the arc of Alex finding herself in Supergirl, and Cheryl in Riverdale at eight, that is where it stops. Two characters on two very different shows, who are both girls, one a lesbian the other bisexual, with no guys for young men to relate to.
While networks have the mentality to always gain and never lose as a Variety article states that the “Museum of Broadcast Communications television curator Walter J. Podrazik says he has seen a “desire not to offend from the business side” since the days of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, and Rob and Laura Petrie, sleeping in separate beds.” I mean I love, I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show probably more the next person, sometimes you have to stretch the rules; like how they pushed the twin beds together in I Love Lucy with a huge headboard to allude that they slept in just one bed. Plus, we have come this far from the days that Laura would be home all day cleaning and taking care of Ritchie waiting for Rob to get back from writing a television show. One hour shouldn’t be this much of a difference in representation for a network that says they are, “Open to all, all choices, all orientations, all lifestyles, and all possibilities.” Honestly for a network that “Dare[s] to Defy,” they should defy the depiction of lack-luster LGBT characters with no meaningful arcs and no point other to help the straight couples who show five-minute sex scenes and one kiss in a season for the LGBT characters. The CW has the right idea in the nine o’clock hour, just influence the writing to be free for all characters at eight.