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TV Saved My Life. Now, It’s Killing Me.

Updated: May 9

I grew up in a household where being parked in front of the television was my only safe place. Whenever things got to be too much, the stories I saw on screen comforted me, and when I wasn’t watching television, I’d be playing with the characters in my imagination. And in my very dark moments, the shows and the characters I loved were quite truly the only bright spots. They were my friends, my chosen family. I would not be where I am today without them; I am grateful they kept me alive.


Despite my love and admiration for the stories shown on the smaller screen, there was always a sense of detachment because they never shared my past, my present, or my future, and they certainly did not look like me. They were merely avenues of escape where I could live lives other than my own, and not be in the skin I was so uncomfortable with. But as I grew, so did my awareness, and the lack of representation was startling. First, it was the lack of Asian-American characters, then the lack of Asian-American characters with good stories, then as I explored my own sexuality and gender identity, the lack of queer representation. I saw the holes in the fabric of television everywhere, especially because at this point, I had been set to make a career in the industry.


It’s 2024 now and I can say with pride that the lack of representation is far less than it was. The stories of my myriad communities are now being shown and told in its truest forms. It’s a really lovely feeling to see someone that looks like you, feels the way you do about your own skin, or loves the way you do being mirrored on the screen. But as always with progress, there has been a backlash in recent years and cancellations of characters and storylines or whole shows en masse. They mostly effect shows with people of color, female leads, and sapphic storylines, and it is extremely egregious for the last one.


I have already written about this sappho-phobic phenomenon you can read that here – and will not go into much of that in this piece. What I do want to write about is how the very thing that kept me alive is now killing me; my love for television is not enough to sustain stories of the way I love, and ultimately, with these cancellations, I am being told that the way I love is not a story worth telling at all. It is maddening, and so I fight. I fight for the characters I love and the way we love. But now, I have been a part of too many fandoms ripped apart by cancellations and seen too many of my stories be systematically erased that I don’t know if I have the energy for one more.


As I’m writing this, just hours ago, NCIS: Hawaii was cancelled abruptly. The show, part of the renowned and legacy series, NCIS, boasted not only an Asian female lead, but also a wlw (woman loving woman) couple another Asian character as well - as the show’s primary relationship. When the show first aired, roughly four years ago, these facets were a HUGE deal, and gave the beaten down sapphic tv fanbase some hope because this wasn’t just a new show – this was a new show on network television that was part of an already established series. This meant the possibility of #killyourgays or #cancelyourgays was so minute. Yet here we are. What is even more maddening, however, is that NCIS: Hawaii is being cancelled in part because CBS and Paramount+ are readying two more NCIS spinoffs (one with a known on-set abuser as the lead) as well as trying to uplift its newest addition in NCIS: Sydney. What this tells a dedicated fanbase is that their show and their stories – one with diverse representation and already tried and true doesn’t matter so much as the newer, untested shows with yet another white male storyline at its respective centers. It is being increasingly clear that showing sapphic love in its purity without the male gaze is deemed unworthy and something that these companies are scared of. Nevermind this season is also noticeably missing a big chunk of presence in its wlw storyline, being replaced by a “new” character’s storyline that we had to endure through, and now won’t even see the fruit of that labor. Further, because of extreme backlash, CBS Entertainment’s president, Amy Reisenbach, has stated that the cancellation was due to “financials and overall performance.” Yet, the show has consistently brought in huge ratings, making it #17 overall in primetime television and #10 in CBS’ primetime lineup (and shows with lower ratings were renewed). The president of CBS Entertainment has also said, “It is incumbent on us to always keep the schedule fresh [and] keep momentum going,” NCIS: Hawaii is arguably their most diverse show on air and one of the most, if not the most, diverse show on primetime television the show is female-led; half of its cast is AAPI; has two of the very few MENA (Middle Eastern/North African) characters on television; and of course, has a wlw couple as its main romantic relationship. It doesn’t get fresher than that, Amy.



It is exhausting to continuously fight to show and prove that our stories matter. This is just another reminder of how much it has drained everything I have.


Sense 8. Stitchers. Stumptown. Teenage Bounty Hunters. Everything Sucks!. I Am Not Okay With This. Atypical. ynonna Earp Feel Good. All Rise. The Wilds. Fate: The Winx Saga. Legends of Tomorrow. Warrior Nun. A League of Their Own. Willow. Station 19.

And this is just my list.


And now I’ll have to add NCIS: Hawaii to this list as well.


I’m exhausted. But one thing is crystal clear: current institutions don’t care and won’t care about our stories, and it is foolish to think they ever will. So, maybe it’s up to us to change the game - to create our own entities and institutions that are centered around inclusivity and our collective humanity. That is the modicum of hope I have left. So, I’m done placing my hopes in their hands and giving them power. And if you are too, then maybe you can help us at Sapphire Society enact the change we want to see, or make a stand yourself to help turn around this decrepit industry.


 

Here are some ways you can help:

  • - Sign the petition to #SaveNCISHawaii and tweet with the hashtag (alongside #BringBackNCISHawaii).

  • - We're also battling cancellations on multiple fronts. You can sign more petitions here and here.

  • Sign this open letter I wrote to the industry regarding these cancellations.

  • - This is an account that hopes to act as a central hub for all things sapphic fandom cancellation-related, which you can follow here.

Thank you for reading and for your time. I really appreciate it. 


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