Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
March 19, 2002

Gay enough for you?
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

In a universe that gives us Mysteries & Scandals, Queer as Folk, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Will & Grace, decorating tips from Christopher Lowell, Martha Stewart Living, and k.d. lang in Makeover Monday on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, you'd hardly think we would need something called "gay TV."

Yet we're getting it. Thirty-four is the latest count GLAAD has on the number of gay characters in prime-time series. Interesting gay people pop up everywhere, from Andrew Sullivan on Nightline to Barney Frank on Meet the Press to Anne Heche giving Barbara Walters the lowdown in celestial gloop-gloop speak.

If you are a well-known dead showbiz homo like Rock Hudson, Sal Mineo, or Paul Lynde, you're almost certain to be gushed over in an A&E Biography. And if you're a spunky lesbian couple with a swell B&B on the Russian River, the Home & Garden network is trampling your roses and beating a path to your door. So it's difficult for some of us to understand exactly why an entire channel needs to be devoted to our tastes when our tastes seem to be informing just about every channel there is, including ESPN, at least when Dinah Shore weekend is on.

"I think it's a bad idea," an activist friend of mine opined when the news broke that two of Viacom's networks, Showtime and MTV, were putting their pistils and stamens together to grow a gay channel. "They'll stop developing gay themes for network TV because they'll assume the gay audience has its own channel now, so why bother? Plus, the gay channel will be under constant fire from the fundamentalists, so it will wind up being as mild and inoffensive as possible. It won't be able to represent our diversity because that will be too scary. It will probably scare even the people running it." So I guess that means gay bookstores are in for a bonanza decade, what with all of us reaching for a good gay book every time the gay channel shows a rerun, because there's nothing else to watch. Saying that advertisers will assume every gay person in America is tuned exclusively to the gay channel is like saying that if you open a kosher deli, all the Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood will close.

There's room for everything to thrive. Black Entertainment Television has been around for a few years now, and so have Moesha and her bald sister Propecia and The Hughleys and Bernie Mac and Soul Train, none of which is on BET. Lifetime bills itself as television for women, but I don't see CBS's The Young and the Restless becoming The Old and the Canceled. Advertisers are looking for new ways to tap into the gay market, not abandon it. The fact that mainstream companies place ads on these very pages doesn't mean they stop buying space in Entertainment Weekly.

In addition to being advertiser supported, the new gay channel will be a subscription affair, tacking five or six bucks onto your cable bill. (It will be scrambled so that the easily offended can't stumble onto it accidentally--although I am convinced a lot of those people stare at test patterns trying to find the phallic symbol.)

Channels like HBO and Showtime answer only to their subscribers, which is why everyone on Queer as Folk except poor Sharon Gless can get their naked ashes raked every week in new and exciting poses. That also means a gay channel would be free to do pretty much what it wanted, from locker-room interviews at the gay Olympics to fly-fishing trannies. Rather than inhibit diversity, it would encourage it, or at least let the market dictate just how far it could go.

Of course, the key to a really successful channel would depend on how many of us wanted to commit to it. Smaller communities might even have a problem with broadcasters not wanting to make the channel available. If you live in one of those towns, this might be your golden opportunity to ease yourself out of your closet, stand on your hind legs and belt, "I want my GTV--only because the cooking shows are so fabulous!"