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TV Goes Trans

TV Goes Trans June 10, 2015

Becoming-Us.P

Many minority groups complain — and often rightfully so — that they are underrepresented on TV.

At this moment in time, self-identified transgender people don’t appear to be among them.

But how many of these folks are there?

According to LiveScience.com:

The most frequently cited estimate is that 700,000 people in the United States, or about 0.2 to 0.3 percent of the population, are transgender, though some experts say the true number is probably greater than that. However, there aren’t reliable statistics on this, because neither the U.S. Census Bureau nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ask people in national surveys whether they identify themselves as being a gender different from the one indicated by their physical features at birth.

Even before Bruce Jenner made a splash with a high-profile ABC interview with Diane Sawyer (who appears to have transitioned herself, from news anchor to Barbara Walters-style talk-show host), which led into the release of a highly stylized Vanity Fair cover, photo spread and profile, TV was already flirting with the transgender phenomenon.

The Television Critics Association, to which I belong, gave several nominations for its 2015 awards to the Amazon Studios show “Transparent,” starring Jeffrey Tambor as a father and retired college professor who announces he’s really a woman (I didn’t nominate it nor vote for it).

Meanwhile, “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest is executive producer of “Becoming Us,” an unscripted show on the ironically titled ABC Family network about a Chicago teen whose father is undergoing surgery and treatments to look like a woman (and divorcing his mother at the same time). It premiered on Monday.

And, of course, Jenner’s big publicity push is culminating in the E! reality show “I Am Cait,” premiering July 26. I guess being out of the Kardashian TV empire wasn’t working out.

TLC, home to the Duggars’ “19 Kids and Counting,” and such edifying fare as “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “Sex Sent Me to the ER,” is premiering “I Am Jazz” (hmm, was Jenner copying this title?), featuring teen transgender activist Jazz Jennings.

One of Discovery’s spinoff channels, Discovery Life, is airing “New Girls on the Block,” with an all-transgender cast.

ABC Family isn’t concerned at all about objections to “Becoming Us.” From Fortune.com:

[Network president Tom] Ascheim told Fortune he has no worries about losing advertisers like the ones who previously balked at Pretty Little Liars, the dark and racy teen mystery and social media phenomenon that debuted in 2010 and has maintained strong ratings into its sixth season, raking in 2.38 million viewers for its sixth-season opener last week.

“We in fact were sold out through the summer when the show was premiering,” said Ascheim. “We had great support from commercial partners. I think our advertisers are seeing the same demographic trends that we are and they know that their young audiences and customers feel very strongly about the sort of equity around LGBT issues and transgender issues in particular … They’re marketers, they want to support their customers. They’re with us.”

The 20-plus advertisers for Monday’s premiere ranged from Applebee’s to Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion, with spots geared toward young women. Noted Ascheim: “It’s always good to be on the right side of history.”

And there’s more to come.

It’s not just about societal trends. There is a significant number of LGBT network executives (cable and broadcast), writers and producers. As might be expected, they advocate for programming that reflects their lives and worldview.

In the end, the ratings will determine what stays on the air, and it’s obvious that the transgender community itself doesn’t represent enough people to make a TV show a success (and according to the CDC, people who identify as gay are about 1.6% of the population, and all LGBT are about 3%). Whether because of sympathy, curiosity or voyeurism, it’ll be the American public at large that decides whether the networks’ gamble is worth it.

How many Catholics will be tuning in — and why?

Image: Courtesy ABC Family

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