The overall number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters on free-to-air US television networks will more than double this year after a three-year slump, according to an analysis of the 2008-2009 television season conducted by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

GLAAD’s 13th annual “Where We Are On TV” report shows that LGBT representations will account for 2.6% of all scripted series regular characters on the 2008-2009 television schedule, up from 1.4% in 2005, 1.3% in 2006, and 1.1% in 2007.

For 13 years, GLAAD’s report has analysed the characters on the networks’ primetime scripted programming. From information provided by the five broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW – GLAAD examined 88 scripted comedies and dramas announced to air this upcoming season, and counted a total of 616 characters, 16 of which are LGBT – more than twice the number of characters, seven, announced at the launch of the 2007-2008 season.

“This dramatic increase shows how far many networks have come in developing complex, multi-layered lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters,” said GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano.

The Fox network has seen the biggest gain with five LGBT characters this season, compared to zero regular characters last year. At the other end of the spectrum, CBS will not have any regular LGBT characters in its shows this season.

Of the 16 LGBT characters on these networks, only three are lead role; Brothers & Sisters’ Kevin Walker and Callie Torres and Erica Hahn from Grey’s Anatomy. The remaining characters are supporting roles (such as Andrew Van De Kamp on Desperate Housewives and Marc St. James on Ugly Betty) or recurring roles (including Devin Banks on 30 Rock and Chaz Pratt on ER).

“As the networks gradually add characters from all backgrounds and walks of life to primetime programming, more and more Americans are seeing their LGBT friends and neighbours reflected on the small screen,” said Giuliano.

On the mainstream pay-TV networks, the number of announced LGBT series regular characters dropped to 32 from last year’s high of 40. The presence of LGBT-focused pay-TV networks here! and Logo, which program specifically for LGBT viewers, add an additional 39 series regular LGBT characters.

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