In the United States, the public opinion of the LGBTQI+ community has evolved dramatically in the past decade, and so has the production and demand of LGBTQI+ content. In this article we take a look at how audience demand of LGBTQI+ shows has evolved in the US since 2016.
We freely admit that it is a bit of a struggle to define the LGBTQI+ TV “genre” precisely and so for this article our criteria was to select shows where the main character - or the entire cast - are part of the LGBTQI+ community. Our criteria is an effort to ensure that LGBTQI+ themes are central to the series included, not just marginally addressed.
As we will see later, this criteria doesn’t include some shows that are well respected within the community. For instance, sexuality and gender identity are core themes in The Umbrella Academy and Sense8, but neither show has a central LGBTQI+ character. Thus, both series will be looked at as special mentions later on in this article.
Going off of these criteria, we found that there has been a significant increase in demand for LGBTQI+ content from 2016 to 2021. In the earlier years, only a couple of titles had over 10x the average demand. Meanwhile, in 2020, 80% of the titles had double-digit demand rates.
Moreover, the period saw both the addition of new series and the endurance of older shows. Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, AXN’s How To Get Away With Murder and VH1’S RuPaul’s Drag Race were present on the list every year. The Netflix original and the AXN series were in the Top 3 multiple times, only dropping significantly on the list after the shows were finished.
Meanwhile, many new series broke through the list during the period. Shows like The CW’s Batwoman, BBC’s Killing Eve and HBO’s Euphoria are strong new additions that show significant demand surges each year.
What were the most popular LGBTQI+ shows in 2016?
In 2016, Orange Is the New Black, How to Get Away With Murder and RuPaul’s Drag Race topped the list. Meanwhile, Showtime’s The L Word, Logo’s Gay for Play and Netflix’s Eastsiders rounded out the Top 10.
Most of the titles here show up again in the following years. Shows like The L Word and You Me Her demonstrate some consistency in demand. However, Gay for Play and Eastsiders never get a spot on the list.
Although all of the titles registered above-average demand, there were some breakout shows with exceptional demand. For instance, Orange is the New Black and How to Get Away With Murder were among the top 50 most in-demand shows for all genres in 2016.
Impressively, the peak demand for Orange Is the New Black (49.0x) was more than twice that of How to Get Away With Murder (20.6x). The disparity between the shows on the list hasn’t been sustained. As we will see later, the difference between the shows at the top and the bottom of the list has decreased throughout the period.
The success of RuPaul's spin-offs in 2017
In 2017, most of the same titles from the year prior remained in the top ten LGBTQI+ list. In fact, the top three even remained in the same order: Orange is the New Black at 14.9x, How To Get Away With Murder at 14.4x and RuPaul’s Drag Race at 11.3x of the demand of the average title that year.
Meanwhile, this is Ellen’s first and only time on the list. The series that aired from 1994 to 1998 had a sudden resurge in 2017, recording 2.1x the demand average. The interest for the title peaked at 5.5x the average in October of that year before coming back down.
Whereas Ellen knocked out Gay For Play Game Show from the list, Eastsiders was overtaken by The Trixie and Katya Show. This series had a yearly demand of 1.5x and a peak of 1.9x the average.
Notably, many out of the most popular LGBTQI+ titles are spin-offs from RuPaul’s Drag Race. RuPaul’s All-Star Drag Race and Gay For Play Game Show are both hosted by RuPaul, while The Trixie and Katya Show are hosted by drag queens who rose to fame in the original drag race programme. It goes to show the dominant role drag queens have in LGBTQI+ entertainment.
Similarly, it’s striking that the list this year had mostly lesbian and drag queen leads, while shows with gay male-led series hardly made an appearance.
A surge in demand for the genre in 2018
The list for 2018 got shaken up a little bit, with a number of new titles making an appearance.
RuPaul’s Drag Race, Orange Is The New Black and How To Get Away With Murder headed the list once again, only in a different order this time. Orange Is the New Black recorded a higher peak, while RuPaul’s Drag Race recorded higher demand in the year overall. RuPaul’s show recorded 17.2x the demand average over the year with a peak of 38.5x the demand average.
BBC’s Killing Eve, Netflix’s Queer Eye and FX’s Pose are all new additions to the list.
Astonishingly, all three had a higher demand throughout 2018, than RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race did in the year before. In 2018, Pose came in sixth place and had yearly demand of 8.6x the demand average. In contrast, All Stars Drag Race was fourth on the list in 2017 with a demand of 5.2x the average.
One more novelty to the list in 2018 was ITV’s Vicious. It recorded a yearly demand of 4.5x the average and peaked at 5.2x the average in May.
Looking at the chart we see that more shows were in in the “Outstanding” tier this year. Furthermore, even The Trixie and Katya Show - 10th on the list - improved in demand.
The entire list shifted slightly to the right on the demand distribution chart as interest in the genre grew in 2018.
Outstanding newcomers in 2019
2019 continued to show the surge in interest for LGBTQI+ shows.
The last season of Orange Is the New Black aired that year and performed exceptionally well. The series had a peak of 58.4x the demand average, the highest on the list. The final season of the show was wildly popular, only losing out in demand to season three.
According to global TV demand data, season three was the most popular one (69.9x peak), while season five was the least popular (29.4x peak). Looking at the daily demand of the same period before and after each season, we see that seasons five and six had much lower peaks than season seven (63.3x).
All of the shows that year had high peaks: Las Estrellas’ El Corazon Nunca Se Equivoca had the lowest one, 16.9x, which is still impressive.
The year’s newcomers also performed well, coming in with remarkable demand peaks. For instance, Batwoman was ninth on the list overall, yet had a peak of 27.2x. Euphoria had an even more impressive debut: HBO’s new teen show had 13.2x the average demand that year and peaked at 30.9x the average.
The records broken in 2020
Signalling the start of the “global pandemic mayhem”, the year 2020 didn’t add new titles to the list. But some title showed great growth in demand, however.
RuPaul’s Drag Race, Killing Eve and Batwoman all jumped up the list to first, second and fourth place, respectively. These shows also had the highest recorded peaks: RuPaul’s Drag Race peaked at 55.8x, Killing Eve at 46.9x and Batwoman at 37.1x.
Looking at Killing Eve’s US demand surge in detail, we see that the demand for the show has steadily increased each season. According to the chart, the peak demand in season one (2018) was 21x the average, while in season two (2019) it was 42.8x. Finally, in 2020, season three had a daily peak of 51.7x the average.
Overall, the shows on the list registered higher peaks in 2020 compared to the years prior.
The lowest peak was for Orange Is the New Black (15.1x), which is impressive considering the show had ended in 2019. It’s curious to note that the peak demand for the Netflix original occurred at the end of May, right around when a new season would have launched.
RuPaul’s Drag Race was also the 20th most popular show overall in 2020. This is the highest rank recorded for an LGBTQI+ led show.
The unlikely numbers of 2021
We’re only halfway through it, but 2021 has already delivered some surprises.
US demand for CW’s Batwoman continues to rise in demand in what seems like an unstoppable streak. Even after main actress Ruby Rose’s departure from the series in 2020, the show has recorded 16.3x the demand average so far this year.
Looking at Batwoman’s demand in detail, we see the show debuted with 15x the demand average. This was already an outstanding number, but the show has continued to grow from there: Season one had a peak of 34.9x.
Meanwhile, Orange is the New Black and How To Get Away With Murder both continue to generate strong demand, even though both series have already ended. It’s curious to note that both are recording the same yearly demand at the moment: 10.9x.
What about The Umbrella Academy and Sense8?
Although these two Netflix originals didn’t meet the exact criteria that we have set for this article, they are beloved by the LGBTQI+ community and fans all over the globe. Looking at the US demand for both shows, it’s safe to say that their success is a great accomplishment for the representation of LGBTQI+ themes and characters.
Sense8 was a success from its debut in 2015 and has only increased in demand over time. It hit a peak of 23x the demand average in season one. The second season of the show was spread from the end of 2016 to 2017 and had multiple peaks, highest one being 20.9x in June of 2017. This is because the second season began with a single episode special in December, and the rest of the episodes in the seasons were released in June 2017.
In tandem, The Umbrella Academy also had impressive numbers from the start, with a demand of 16.4x the average the day it launched. Furthermore, season one peaked at 35.6x, while season two peaked at 137.5x the demand average.
Season two of The Umbrella Academy was so popular in 2020 that the show was in the top 30 of the most in-demand titles of all genres in the US that year.
Many shows have accomplished incredible feats in the past five years, and each year the standards are upped. We can never underestimate the power of entertainment in teaching about minority communities and creating empathy towards them. Hopefully, the surge in demand for LGBTQI+ shows will continue to surge over the next five years and beyond.