Dear Hollywood: I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. Here’s the pitch: you can drastically increase viewership by adding a well-written and well-acted lesbian couple to your show. This is because well-publicized, popular lesbian couples have the ability to mobilize domestic audiences while simultaneously drawing in viewers globally in a way that heterosexual couples—except in rare circumstances—cannot.
This isn’t an opinion, it’s cold, hard numbers. How viewers consume content is changing, and social media is gaining increasing importance as a gauge for the popularity of a show in a way that transcends the traditional polling/Nielsen method. The below four case studies—chosen specifically to reflect diversity across genre and network—should be sufficient to demonstrate the profitability of bringing in and retaining lesbian characters.
Pristina, 2016-current (“General Hospital,” daytime soap opera on broadcast network ABC)
“General Hospital” has a regrettably ambivalent relationship with the pairing of Kristina (Lexi Ainsworth) and Parker (Ashley Jones), leading fans to complain, with well-reasoned evidence, that GH never adequately valued “Pristina.” To support their point, they note that neither Ainsworth nor Jones are on contract, the actual number of minutes that Kristina and Parker have been on screen together may be cumulatively fewer than 45 minutes despite their storyline spanning two years, and the show never gave Pristina more than a single episode of happiness before the couple would be sidelined for months at a time. This begs the question: is there a tangible, metrics-based reason these two minor characters should be given more screen time? Objectively, yes, and here’s why:
“Well, now that we’ve had our one date and already said, ‘I love you,’ we’re just going to move in together off screen because that way no one gets to see us and it totally reinforces the lesbian U-Haul stereotype.”
- They poll well with viewers: According to the weekly poll conducted by “We Love Soaps, ” for September 18-22 Pristina was the #2 favorite couple across all daytime soaps, with Jones and Ainsworth both finishing in the top 8 for favorite actresses. The week before, Pristina was #4, and the four weeks before that, Pristina held steady at #2. It seems statistically accurate to say that so long as Pristina has screen time, the couple tends to rank #2 in this particular poll, losing out only to Franco and Elizabeth (“Friz”), also from GH. The next closest GH pair is Nathan and Maxie (“Naxie”).
- They’re internationally dynamic on social media: According to the free tools on talkwalker.com, a hashtag tracker, for the week of 1 October, the two hashtags #Pristina and #GH used together (to separate Pristina from the capital of Kosovo, among other things) were used 1,500 times on Twitter, reaching 109,100 people. Of the Tweeters, only 75.6% were based in the U.S. The next highest concentrations were, unexpectedly, from Colombia and Romania, indicating that Pristina’s fanbase spans multiple continents. #Friz #GH, for comparative context, was mentioned 2,700 times during the same time period, but the Tweeters were almost exclusively from the U.S. and Canada. #Naxie #GH, on the other hand, had only 154 mentions, also originating exclusively from Canada and the U.S. This reinforces Pristina’s status as the second-most popular pairing on GH by numbers and the only pairing that transcends North American viewership.
- They compete evenly against popular straight couples: On Youtube, the two most watched videos tagged for Pristina have 1.4 million and 738,000 views. The top two Friz videos have just shy of a million views and 262,000 views, while for Naxie the numbers are 1.9 million and 203,000 views. These numbers suggest Pristina is approximately as popular as Friz and Naxie despite being a minor storyline.
- They win awards: In April 2017, Ainsworth won an Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of Kristina’s coming out storyline. Although GH cast members are frequently nominated and win in Emmy categories, it is worth noting that Ainsworth was a clear favorite, entering the awards night with 9-4 odds, suggesting widespread support in the entertainment industry for the storyline.
Parker is bringing sexy back. Sexy glasses. How YOU doin’?
Conclusion: Pristina fans are a vocal subcommunity in GH’s fanbase whose investment in the Kristina-Parker same-sex pairing significantly punches above its weight compared to the show’s primary, heterosexual couples. The Pristina storyline has brought in not only viewers who ordinarily wouldn’t watch soap operas, but also international viewers. GH’s uneven, vacillating approach to the couple, however, (guess they’re now going to lesbian off screen in Oregon, ugh) has turned off other potential viewers, who have selected instead to follow couples with more screen time, such as the budding romance of “Teriah” (Tessa and Mariah) on “The Young and the Restless.” The fact that there’s a large market for lesbian storylines on soap operas despite the belief that soap opera audiences are too socially conservative to accept them is also supported by the enormous popularity of Olivia and Natalia, “Otalia,” on “Guiding Light.”
“Want to come back to my place for ‘coffee’? To be clear, I just mean sex. There is no coffee.”