On May 18, 2006 — that's 10 years ago today — TV audiences said goodbye to Will Truman and Grace Adler, not to mention their hilarious cohorts, Jack McFarland and Karen Walker. Will & Grace had an eight-season run that brought gay characters to the forefront, succeeding where shows like Ellen, which carried a parental advisory warning after Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian, struggled.
The award-winning sitcom has even won praise from Vice President Joe Biden.
"I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has done so far," Biden said in a defense of same-sex marriage in 2012.
"These characters connected with people at a very personal level, in their homes, and allowed non-LGBT audiences to find shared commonalities and learn more about our community," echoed Ray Bradford, GLAAD director of programs for entertainment media, in an interview with Refinery29.
So, where are we now, 10 years after the Will & Grace finale? The past decade has given us LGBT-centric shows like Looking, The L Word, and Lip Service, none of which are still on the air. LGBT characters, do, however, thrive on programs like Orange Is the New Black, Modern Family, and Transparent. But GLAAD's 2015 Where We Are On TV report — the 2016 version isn't released until this October — shows there's still much work to be done.
While the report showed an overall increase in both regular and recurring LGBT characters, cable and streaming shows are responsible for the bulk of that progress. The number of regular LGBT characters counted on cable shows increased from 64 to 84 (and recurring characters from 41 to 58), but just 4% of characters on prime-time broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) were identified as LGBT. Though soap operas have introduced characters who are trans, no prime-time show has followed suit. CBS will remedy that with the casting of trans actress Laverne Cox in its new show, Doubt.
"Simply put, we want to see more substantive and diverse LGBT characters," Bradford explained. "There are zero regular or recurring transgender characters on prime-time scripted broadcast, many bisexual characters still fall into outdated and dangerous tropes, and the overwhelming majority of LGBT characters are white."
With projects like ABC's miniseries about the Stonewall riots, When We Rise, in the pipeline, GLAAD is hopeful that this year's report will paint a more diverse picture. Diversity is more than just a numbers game, however.
"It isn’t enough for LGBT characters just to be present," Bradford insisted. "They must be crafted with thought and substance. We want to see more nuanced and fully realized characters rather than tokens and shallow stereotypes."
Here are some current shows that are trying to do their part.