Why the Future of Queer Representation Is Uncertain After The CW’s Wave of CancellationsPhoto Courtesy of The CW TV Features The CW
Editor’s Note: This article originally published May 24, 2022, but after the recent cancellations of First Kill (Netflix), The Wilds (Prime Video) and others, we’re bringing it back as a reminder that unfortunately this troubling trend is not going away.
Months ago it was reported that the future of The CW, CBS and WarnerMedia’s joint network known for their long-lasting teen dramas, was shockingly uncertain. CBS and Warner are looking to sell the network to media company Nexstar, while the Warner Bros./Discovery merger also leaves the network on thin ice. The ramifications of that uncertain future have now become clear, as The CW has canceled over half of its scripted slate.
These cancellations are shocking. The CW has been known over the years as a network that, at the very least, would allow its long-running programming to take its final bow. Supergirl was the last show to get a heartfelt goodbye, as it narrowly dodged a Kryptonite bullet with its finale in November of 2021; its Arrowverse sibling shows have since gotten an unceremonious ax. Along with Batwoman and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The CW put an end to In the Dark, Roswell: New Mexico, Dynasty, The 4400, Naomi, Legacies, and Charmed.
The unfortunate connection among all these canceled shows is the presence of central queer characters, something The CW has been a trailblazer for in recent years. According to the GLAAD Where We Are on TV report for 2022, The CW has been the leading broadcast network for LGBTQ representation for five successive seasons, with 17% of their series regular characters being queer. Looking ahead to the 2023 report, the future looks bleak.
Each canceled show featured one or more lead queer character; Charmed even most recently added bisexual character Kaela Danso as the third Charmed One, making two out of three leading witches queer. Batwoman was one of the first superhero shows to star a Black lesbian, Legends of Tomorrow was notoriously queer with five series-regular queer characters. Naomi’s titular character was queer, Legacies featured several queer mains, and Roswell: New Mexico featured a pairing of two men—rare for The CW in comparison to their sapphic representation.
Now, the queer representation still standing at The CW is slim, with just one queer lead character in their upcoming lineup. Nancy Drew spin-off Tom Swift stands as the sole LGBTQ-lead show, with Walker, Kung Fu, and Nancy Drew each featuring one series regular LGBTQ character. The remaining Arrowverse shows—The Flash and Superman & Lois—do not feature any queer series regulars. Riverdale is the outlier with four standing queer series regulars, though it was just announced that the series would be ending after its upcoming Season 7, effectively slashing more queer content in 2023.
Despite The CW’s rocky history with LGBTQ representation (who could possibly forget what happened to Lexa in 2016?), the network has always been a haven for queer viewers. No matter if it was good or bad, queer viewers could always turn to The CW to see themselves be superheroes, witches, or simply someone trying to make their world a better place. The CW’s representation was proof that queer storytelling shouldn’t just be the singular responsibility of the few queer-focused shows that come out each year, but rather baked into any show as a reflection of our real world.
The CW’s shows are also incredibly accessible to queer or questioning teens, with the now-ended Netflix deal bolstering their popularity even more. A teen choosing to start Charmed on a whim might begin a journey of self-discovery, or it could be the first time a Latina lesbian saw herself represented on screen. For better or for worse, The CW’s representation has always been accessible and consistent, always ensuring that queer stories were being told on broadcast TV.
The CW has also long-ditched the coming out storyline; most of their queer characters just simply exist, without the need for side-plots featuring homophobia or drawn-out self-discovery—queer characters on The CW simply were, no explanation needed. In fact, Naomi’s take on Gen-Z’s approach to sexuality. was a highlight of the now-axed series, with the titular character never actually coming out, but still having a female friend in the loop of her complicated love life.
Despite this clear through-line in each of The CW’s canceled shows, CW CEO Mark Pedowitz stated at their 2022 Upfronts that “content was never a factor” in the cancellation of any of these shows. While the blame for the cancellations was placed on ratings, it seems that certain series on the network were treated differently internally before they ever took to the airwaves. Ahead of the premiere of Superman & Lois in February of last year, fans noticed ads for the show popping up everywhere, including pizza boxes in select cities. In contrast, when Ava DuVernay’s freshman superhero drama Naomi’s premiere rolled around this past January, there was no special two-hour premiere, and there were certainly no pizza boxes.
Even if the ratings for each of the canceled series were undeniably low (with the exception of both Legends of Tomorrow and Batwoman, who each ended up ranking higher on The CW’s ratings than renewed series Kung Fu, Riverdale, and Nancy Drew), maybe these shows had less of a chance to begin with. In fact, the wild success of a show like Legends of Tomorrow, in spite of its relatively unknown DC Comics characters and its overabundance of queer storytelling, sends a powerful message: Queer shows can and will thrive in spite of clear obstacles, so imagine what they could do when given a proper chance.
Without the overwhelming representation on The CW to point to in the future as an example of what TV could be when we’re all able to be seen on screen, I fear other networks will back off as well, moving on from the “fad” of queer storytelling. Following closely in The CW’s footsteps is the streamer partially responsible for their demise: Netflix. The streaming giant laid off 150 employees after their stock free-fall, and, according to Business Insider, those layoffs included most of their diversity-focused publishing channels, including their LGBTQ-focused Most.
With so many queer series now gone, it’s a waiting game to see if another network or streamer will pick up any of the slack, or if Peak TV’s infinite expansion has finally started to slow, picking off minority representation as its first casualties.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in Chicago. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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