Tuesday, April 19, 2005

It's here! It's Queer!
Do We Care?

With three new gay-themed cable channels prepared to fight for the pink dollar, it's time to play Econ 101. Will the competition force the 'nets to provide more options and higher quality ... or will the programmers saturate the market with low-quality, low-cost goods and services?

My best bet: door number two. We may have to prepare for an overdose of makeover and dating shows that do little more than build upon the lame minstrel formula established by shows like Will & Grace and Queer Eye.

Last week, an interesting column on After Elton compared the proposed onslaught of gay-programming to the lack of originality at BET and Telemundo. BET has faults of it's own, and some of the comparisons made me cringe. Brent & Michael noted that BET was "an endless stream of videos and sitcoms featuring the crudest of African American stereotypes: gangstas, pimps, and whores." NBC-owned Telemundo was described as "oversexed latinos ripping off their clothes and falling into bed with each other."

But try this: substitute "Latinos" for "queers or queens", and that's Queer As Folk, currently on life support. And the BET comparison had some merit, considering that much of their programming are music videos. That content is cheap and readily available .. just like gay makeover and lifestyle shows. Harsh as their words were, Brent & Michael had a point: Prepare for more stereoypes, a buffet of "Cher concerts and lots of talk shows with Carson Kressley wannabes being bitchy."

here! offers the best choice not to fall into that trap, but their formula is expensive and higher risk. The execs offer an ambitious development slate of scripted programming. It includes original series, movies and specials like a feature-length biopic on Bayard Rustin, the black gay civil rights leader. "We do things that are not appropriate for basic cable," CEO Paul Colichman says. Theirs is a multi-platform distribution strategy—video on demand, pay per view and premium subscriptions. You can buy programming over multi-hour or a 24-hour period. They've also amassed a library of over 1k LGBT titles.

Unfortunately the buzz isn't on that network. Because of its backing and cache', everyone is talking about Viacom's LOGO. The much-hyped and oft-delayed 'net will roll-out June 30, and offers two original series: Noah's Arc, the country's first black gay series and My Fabulous Gay Wedding, a comic makeover show.

As eagerly as everyone is awaiting the Arc, something tells me that LOGO may overdose on reality shows. Although some documentaries on gay sports are planned, the service will be advertising supported and "programmed to the sensitivity of a basic cable audience," notes Nicole Browning, president of MTV affiliate sales and marketing. In other words, it's unlikely that you will see two men kissing ... unless they're air kissing and giving high-fives after re-decorating some poor schmuck's apartment.