In the age of “your fave is problematic” and other Tumblr essays and Twitter rants written about what’s wrong with certain TV shows, it’s easy to look at all the rage and wonder, “Why is this so important? It’s just an effing TV show!”
Sure, there’s plenty of frivolous elements of entertainment, but it’s also very influential. You might think that you’re immune to its effects, but you’re not, nobody is. TV informs our opinions about all sorts of things, including people. if your only experience with black people are of violent characters on TV, what will you think black people are like? If you only see women portrayed as pristine princesses who enjoy doing household chores, what do you think people will assume that the average woman should be like?
We see a portrayal in the media, and we take that perception with us into the real world. And that’s one way that stereotypes thrive. There’s a reason why people want more diverse narratives in television: It’s because television acts as both a reflection of society and as a force of change in society! That’s why it’s awesome when television shows feature gay characters, or there’s a TV show about an Asian woman. It’s solidifying the fact that these people exist and their stories deserve to be told!
There have been quite a few TV firsts that diversified the television landscape that just can’t be ignored. Find out about 11 of them below.
The First Latino In A Starring RoleDesi Arnaz is best known for his role in I Love Lucy as Lucy's on screen (and IRL) husband. He's Cuban, and the show didn't try to hide that or whitewash his Latin heritage. I mean, the guy was regularly shown speaking Spanish and Samba dancing!
The First TV Show About And Starring A Black WomanBy the last '60s there were some TV shows out there featuring black casts, but most of them were comedic or grossly stereotypical roles. But in comes Julia, a show about a widowed black mother who's a nurse. While the show was criticized for not dealing with enough racial issues, this was still one of the first times there was a black female character on television who wasn't just there to be laughed at.
The First Interracial KissStar Trek made television history by airing the first interracial kiss between Uhura and Kirk. This episode aired in 1968, an incredibly politically turbulent year in American politics. NBC was actually worried that the kiss would alienate its viewers in the Deep South. Nevertheless, many fans sent in letters to the show, praising the episode.
The First Drama With A Black Man In A Leading RoleFact: Bill Cosby sucks as a human being. Fact: He was the first black man to star in an American television drama. The show, ISpy, was a massive hit and propelled Cosby into stardom. While nobody with sense is condoning this man's personal life, it would be silly to deny the influence he has had on black actors in Hollywood.
The First TV Show About A Young Single Professional Woman-moore-showBefore The Mary Tyler Moore Show, you'd be hard pressed to find a TV show starring a young woman who wasn't married or didn't have a kid. Marry Tyler Moore changed all that, reflecting changing norms about what a woman's destiny is. Hint: Maybe it's not just about getting married, getting pregnant, and living in the suburbs. Mary was a city girl living a city life, and she wasn't ashamed. That's exactly what a lot of girls and young women needed to see in the early '70s.
The First Gay Character Who Was Treated Like A Human BeingIn 1971, Norman Lear's show All In The Family featured one of the earliest portrayals of a gay man who--gasp--was actually a sympathetic character. Homosexuality was just not TV friendly at the time for the most part, but that didn't stop Boys Beware, a TV movie/PSA about gay pedophiles, from reaching America's television screens. So that's why All In The Family's character, Kenneth, was such a major departure from the norm. While one could argue that the only way to humanize him in the '70s was to make him a strong, burly man--as opposed to a more effeminate gay man--it was still a huge deal.
The First Abortion Episode In TV HistoryAbortion is still a touchy topic on television, even though the first TV episode dedicated to the issue came out in 1972. This was a huge deal at the time because it aired just two months before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in the United States. By the way, Maude, who got the abortion in the episode, wasn't a young, confused teenager: She was a 47-year-old woman who became pregnant. Sup, reality?
The First TV Show About An Asian-American FamilyYou might enjoy Fresh Off The Boat, but did you know that there was another show about an Asian-American family 20 years prior? Yep, Margaret Cho starred in All-American Girl, a short-lived comedy about a Korean-American woman and her family in 1995. This was the first, and, for about two decades, the only show about an Asian-American family in television history.
The First TV Show Starring A Lesbian CharacterYou probably only know Ellen from her talk show, but did you know that she starred in a show in the '90s called, er, Ellen? Probably not. You also probably didn't know that she was the first openly lesbian woman to star in a TV show. In fact, she came out to the press just before an episode of the show in which Ellen's character comes out. This wouldn't be as huge of a deal now, but in the '90s? It was major.
The First Same-Sex Couple On A Children's Primetime ShowWhile it definitely wasn't totally out there to see a lesbian couple on television in 2014, it definitely wasn't normal to see one on a children's television station. That's why conservatives across America were enraged when audiences were introduced to two moms on Disney Channel's Good Luck Charlie. Yeah, Disney Channel. Who else thought that Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network would do it first? Can't just be me.
The First Trans Woman To Get An Emmy NodTransgender people are finally starting to get the respect they deserve in the television industry. Laverne Cox made history by becoming the first openly transgender woman to be nominated for an Emmy for her role in Orange Is The New Black. She didn't win, but hell, a nomination is still a big effing deal.
What other TV firsts do you know about? What do we still need to see on television? Let us know in the comments!