Young family of color smiling together in their living room.

See Jane 2021 TV: Looking Back and Moving Forward

The State of Representation in Popular Television from 2016 to 2020


Executive Summary

Since 2004, the Institute has led the movement to systemically drive equity, inclusion and diversity in family media and entertainment. The Institute has advocated for greater inclusion in entertainment media through cutting-edge research and advocacy, and is the first research organization to examine representation of six key identities: gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQIA+, disability, age (50+), and large body type. For this study we have analyzed the inclusion of characters with these six identities for the past five years in the most popular broadcast and cable scripted television shows.

As we reported in our 2019 See Jane report, female leads and co-leads in popular children’s television increased substantially over the past decade – from 42.0% in 2008 to 52.0% in 2018. However, to maintain progress the Industry should remain diligent about casting women and girls in leading roles. As the 2020 See Jane report revealed, 45.0% of leading characters in 2019 were women/girls, a decrease from 2018.

For our 2021 See Jane report we expand from children’s programming to analyze whether underrepresented groups are seen in popular television programming for all ages, over the past 5 years. By looking back over the past five years, we can identify trends, highlight progress, and also shine a light on where we need to keep pushing the Industry to improve in programming for all ages.

Our analysis includes television programming consumed during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an analysis from the Motion Picture Association, due to the pandemic the number of original scripted TV programs across broadcast, cable, premium pay and streaming dropped for the first time since they started tracking. For instance, in 2020 there were 493 scripted programs, down from the record high 532 programs in 2019, with many productions moved to 2021 or 2022. The production delays likely influenced the shows that were produced and therefore consumed.

In order to advance global culture change and move forward, it is critical that we see representations of characters in media that reflect the public. As the findings of this report indicate, inclusion of underrepresented groups in popular content varies over time and depends upon character prominence. Although there are efforts in the industry to tell more diverse stories and greenlight programming that better reflects the public, our findings suggest that the most popular programming on cable and television is still dominated by white male characters, especially at the lead/co-lead level.

Women Reach Parity in Minor Roles for Popular Programming

In 2016, women/girls were just 37.8% of minor characters, but in 2020 women/girls as minor characters jumped to 52.7%.

More Women Are Seen and Heard

From 2016 to 2020 female characters’ screen time increased by 8.4% and female characters’ speaking time increased by 7.0%.

More Black, Indigenous, People of Color in Supporting Roles

In 2020, 40.4% of all supporting characters in popular programming were BIPOC, compared to 32.2% in 2016.

No LGBTQIA+ Leads or Co-Leads

There were no LGBTQIA+ leads/co-leads from 2016 to 2020 in the most popular programming.

Sharp Increase in Disabled Representation

In 2020, 19.4% of leads/co-leads were disabled characters, an increase from 2016 when there were no disabled leads/co-leads.

Just 24.8% of Leading Characters Are 50+

From 2016 to 2020, characters 50+ were less than a quarter of leads/co-leads in popular programming.

Characters With A Large Body Type Are Rarely Shown

For all years analyzed, less than 10% of lead/co-lead characters in popular programming had a large body type.


Share this Page: