New LGBT TV programming down from last year

Returning shows, too, had rough roads. NBC’s “Smash” started quickly but burned out and ABC’s “Happy Endings,” which had a quirky gay character, fell victim to mediocre ratings.

The number of LGBT characters and programs is a lot lower for the 2013 television season, yet there are still some signs of LGBT life, says Matt Kane, GLAAD’s associate director of entertainment media.

Perhaps the most prominent new gay-themed show is “Sean Saves the World,” which stars openly gay Sean Hayes of “Will and Grace” fame. Here he returns to NBC to play a single gay dad trying to raise a teenage daughter.

“It doesn’t seem to be about his character being gay,” says Kane. “That is not a defining feature.” It premieres Thursday, Oct. 3, at 9 p.m. and co-stars Linda Lavin and Megan Hilty of “Smash.”

Fox will air the new cop comedy show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” starring Andy Samberg as a detective and Andre Branaugh as a gay, by-the-book police captain. It bows Sept. 17 at 8:30 p.m.

The current “Under the Dome” (airing Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS) is based on Stephen King’s novel about a small town sealed off by a dome. Not only is it highly rated ― it was the nation’s most watched program for the week of Sept. 1 ― but it features a lesbian couple, Carolyn (Aisha Hinds) and Alice (Samantha Mathis), who were not present in King’s book, says Kane.

While CBS has been very gay-inclusive in its reality shows such as “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” (with the Beekman Boys winning “Race” last season), CBS has never been overly progressive in LGBT fare, according to Kane. Thus he is pleased with “Dome’s” lesbian inclusion as well as more racial diversity of LGBT characters this year, including the African-American ones in “Dome” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

The producers of ABC’s upcoming “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” (a spin-off of “Once Upon a Time,” debuting Oct. 10 at 10 p.m.) have promised they will feature a gay character, although at press time it’s unclear who or where in the season that will be.

Perhaps more than any other network, the premium cable network HBO will have a healthy share of LGBT programming. Although dates have not been released, the network, never afraid of gay or controversial material, will air “Looking,” directed by Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”) and starring out gay actor Jonathan Groff (“Glee”) and out British actor Russell Tovey. It’s about a group of gay friends in San Francisco. One of the issues producers will deal with is the difference between how the older generation and younger generation view HIV/AIDS.

Ryan Murphy, creator of “Glee” and “American Horror Story,” continues to be the busiest man working in TV. His “Open” series on HBO will star Jennifer Jason Leigh and Anna Torv (“Fringe”) as a lesbian couple. Leigh’s character is a high-powered actress in a long-term relationship with Torv until adultery threatens them.

And finally, sometime late this year or early next, HBO will air a star-studded version of the AIDS-themed “The Normal Heart” with the likes of Julia Roberts, Taylor Kitsch and Mark Ruffalo.

It hasn’t escaped Kane or GLAAD’s attention that many LGBT characters on TV died last season. The canceled “Southland” killed off gay character John Cooper in the final episode, while “Degrassi: The Next Generation’s” trans character, Adam Torres, passed away too.

“There is a history of LGBT characters dying,” Kane says, lamenting the loss of both those two landmark characters.

On the positive side, Fox’s “Glee” will increase the role of Alex Newell’s Unique, as the series returns Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. with a two-part Beatles episode. Unique is now the only significant trans character on television.

Here is a look at some other veteran shows:

• “Modern Family” (returns Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. on ABC): The Emmy darling returns for its fifth season. Out actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet as male couple Mitchell and Cameron are part of TV’s funniest ensemble.

• “Grey’s Anatomy” (returns Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. on ABC): “Grey’s” has featured the lesbian relationship between Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) for several years now; when season 10 begins, an affair will threaten their wedding vows.

• “Two and a Half Men” (returns . 26 at 9:30 p.m. on CBS): Not known for its LGBT inclusivity or any kind of hip factor, the sitcom’s eleventh seasons will include Amber Tamblyn as the illegitmate daughter of Charlie Sheen’s character ― and she’s into women.

• “The Good Wife” (returns Sept. 29 at 9 p.m. on CBS): Now in its fifth season, the show features the bisexual character of Kalinda Sharma, played by Emmy winner Archie Panjabi.

• “American Horror Story” (returns Oct. 9 at 10 p.m. on FX): The third season, titled “Coven,” features out performers Sarah Paulson and Denis O’Hare, plenty of guest stars and lots of witches for the fall.

Photo: ‘Sean Saves the World,’ which stars openly gay Sean Hayes of ‘Will and Grace’ fame. He returns to NBC to play a single gay dad trying to raise a teenage daughter. (Publicity photo)