Hey Hollywood, What’s Up with the Sapphic TV Cancellations?

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first kill

The cast of First Kill (Credit: Netflix)

As a person who is obsessed with the representation of queer women on television, I am used to being disappointed. Whether it’s the queerbaiting of two characters that are clearly in love (I’m looking at you, Supergirl) or another example of the “bury your gays” trope, it’s not uncommon for me to crave better representation of women loving women (WLW) on TV.

But last week, Netflix took my displeasure to the next level when it cancelled the hit TV show First Kill and buried the chance at another season of this incredible lesbian vampire series. Unfortunately, First Kill is hardly the only sapphic show that has been axed in the recent past.

In the last few years, we’ve seen too many cancellations of TV shows with prominent queer female characters. This has been especially true on Netflix, which has cancelled shows including Teenage Bounty Hunters, Everything Sucks, One Day at A Time, I Am Not Okay With This, Gentefied, Trinkets, Atypical, GLOW, and Dead to Me, many of which only ran for one season.

But it’s not just Netflix that has done away with much of its queer female representation. For example, in the last year alone, the CW cancelled at least seven shows with queer female characters, including Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Legacies, Charmed, 4400, and Roswell, New Mexico.

Other WLW shows that have been cancelled in the past year include Gentleman Jack and Generation on HBO Max, The Wilds on Amazon Prime, Killing Eve on BBC America, Motherland: Fort Salem on Freeform, and Dollface and Love, Victor on Hulu.

Many of these cancellations are not for lack of popularity. According to Netflix data, First Kill earned nearly 98 million total hours in the global top 10s compared to Heartstopper, which spent just over 53 million hours in the same spot and was renewed for two additional seasons.

So if this isn’t an issue of initial viewership: why are so many WLW shows biting the dust?

A big part of a show’s success is how it is marketed. And according to First Kill showrunner Felicia Henderson, the marketing for First Kill was limited to its queer storyline as opposed to other elements of the show such as “monsters vs. monsters hunters” and “the battle between two powerful matriarchs.” Unfortunately, in its marketing, Netflix pigeonholed First Kill as simply a lesbian show, when in reality, the show appeals to a much broader population.

This leads me to question: who are the people at the decision-making tables at places like Netflix or the CW? Are there queer women deciding how to market these shows and how much money should be spent on certain programs?

If TV shows with queer female characters are to survive and thrive, networks and streamers need to invest in these shows as much as they do with any other program. Just because a show features queer women, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have a chance to succeed.

 

 

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Becca Damante
Becca Damante
Becca is a Smith college graduate with a B.A. in Women and Gender Studies and an Archives concentration. She has worked and written for non-profits organizations such as Media Matters for America, The Century Foundation, and GLAAD, and loves to write about the intersections between pop culture, politics, and social justice. You can find her at @beccadamante on Twitter.