Arts & Ideas: All gay, all the time
When the Fab Five waltzed onto Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy two years ago, they were heralded as gay ambassadors to heterosexual America, capable of closing the cultural divide with superior hairstyling products and hip party tips. On The O.C. last season, Marisa briefly flirted with a lesbian love affair before pairing up with Ryan again, and on Desperate Housewives Bree reached out to her sexually confused teenage son by telling him, "I'd love you even if you were a murderer."
What do all of these portrayals of gay life have in common?
"They were for straight people," says Damon Romine, the media director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
After decades of glimpsing homosexual characters as cameos during "very special" episodes or in mostly asexual contexts on the shows Ellen and Will & Grace, gay and lesbian viewers now have three networks devoted entirely to them. On June 30, Logo rolled out to 13 million homes, becoming the first ad-supported gay network and joining two existing premium networks: Here!, available to 44 million viewers, and Q, accessible to just 1 million homes.
Now it's up to the trio to figure out what exactly those queer eyes want to watch. Logo debuted with "The Evolution Will Be Televised," a documentary about homosexuality in America. Stephen Tropiano, author of Primetime Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV and one of the experts interviewed in the program, thinks the kickoff was a bold one.
"[The documentary] tied the politics of the time with the culture much more than I expected, especially with the AIDS crisis," he says. Still, Logo is shying away from controversy by maintaining a low profile in these early weeks, airing innocuous fare like Can't Stop the Music, the Steve Guttenberg flick about the rise of the Village People, and a Melissa Etheridge music special. The network plans to roll out more-substantial original programming soon, including the series "Noah's Arc," about a black screenwriter in L.A.; comedian Scott Thompson's same-sex wedding show; documentaries on issues like being gay and Hispanic; and special programs, including GLAAD's media awards show.
Like Logo, Here! is balancing its catalogue of gay-themed films with a wide variety of its own shows, including movies and scripted programming. Boasting about the $50 million Here! has spent in the past year on such projects, network chief Paul Colichman says viewers will soon be able to tune into the submarine thriller Tides of War ("It's the gay Das Boot.") and Dante's Cove, a Dawson's Creek-meets-Buffy the Vampire Slayer teen drama that follows what happens when a young man breaks the curse a witch had placed on her gay husband. Q has found its niche covering events, like the Gay Games.
Which of these programs will be a hit? Paul Lindstrom, vice president of national custom research for Nielsen ratings, has been trying to measure gay television viewing habits for more than 10 years. So far, it looks like differences in gay and straight viewers are significant, particularly when it comes to shows featuring gay and lesbian characters. Although Nielsen hasn't released numbers, the OpusComm research group has found that the top five programs among gay viewers are Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Six Feet Under, and Law & Order no Everybody Loves Raymond in sight.