Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

attack of the fab 5

Queer Eye smash ratings hit for Bravo ( Entertainment, 07/19/03-07/22/03): The premiere episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which five gay men with expertise in fashion, food, grooming, culture, and design remake a straight man, set ratings records for cable channel Bravo, the network said on Wednesday. Citing data from Nielsen Media Research, Bravo said the show's Tuesday debut at 10 p.m. Eastern time set records for the NBC-owned network among total viewers, households, audiences aged 18-49, and audiences aged 25-54. Bravo said the show attracted 1.64 million total viewers, which made it the number 2 ad-supported cable network during the hour.

You know, I'm convinced that, given any of several options to advertise a show, these days Bravo is likely to choose the most offensive and thoroughly inappropriate method possible. Curiously, offensive and inappropriate frequently works.

Having finally seen the show, one suspects -- just suspects -- that the brainstorming meeting went something like this:

- You know, we should do a home improvement show of some sort. That Trading Spaces, While You Were Out ... all those shows on TLC and Discovery are really popular these days.
- Yeah, but then people would say we were just copying them.
- Oh, yeah .... well, what about maybe a makeover show? Like that What Not To Wear on TLC and the Brit version on BBC America?
- Well, then they'd say we were copying that show.
- Oh, yeah ... hey, what about a show that combines both a home and personal makeover?That'd be different!
- Maybe ... but it needs a gimmick, something to get people to watch.
- Well, maybe we could aim it at guys.
- Oh, get real. How would you get men to watch? Even if you only do makeovers on single guys and their apartments, how do you get the men to watch?
- Hmmm ... hey, I know what'll work!

And, one must confess, work it did. On a large portion of the country, apparently.

The show itself is a truly bizarre combination of "What Not To Wear", TLC/Discovery's "Surprise by Design" and the Food Network's "Food 911", covering personal makeovers, home improvement and how to prepare food for a special event. Two of the designers seriously dominate proceedings. Carson -- easily the most flamboyant, and the target of a stunning amount of many commentators' ire -- has made not-particularly-serious yet fairly annoying passes at every single man. (Actually, I think he was trying very hard to be annoying with Tom on the third show, he was so utterly disgusted by his apartment. Tom did manage to get his own back, just a little. A very little, because Carson is not a man to be outdone. Also, one suspects that Carson might have had something of a thing for him, even through the disgust. But one digresses.) Carson is easily the most memorable and also easily the most offensive. (If I'd been third-show Tom, Carson would have lost his hands either the first time he touched my crotch or the first time he touched my ass. Neither one was remotely appropriate, and Tom took it with a lot more equanimity than I would have.)

After that, Kyan gets somewhat more screen time than the others because (1) he's conventionally prettier, and (2) with Carson, he's responsible for the personal makeover, and watching a person being made over is more interesting than watching an apartment being made over. Other than that, frankly, the others give the impression of being naturally more quiet people, so it's fairly understandable that they would be overshadowed by Carson and Kyan; the show, in some ways, really doesn't have a good balance of personalities. (That said, I do like food guy Ted's periodic deadpan one-liners, especially in the little teaching segment at the end. "Whether you want to brown or crisp or just burn down your house, a kitchen blowtorch comes in very handy.")

The approach of this show is strikingly different from other home improvement and makeover shows. For one thing, it's clear that unlike other home improvement shows, "Queer Eye" either has no set budget, or the budget is set very high indeed and they're not going to tell us what it is. In the first show, they make over a small apartment; in the second, they do a fairly large house; in the third, a moderately sized apartment. In all three cases, they not only paint and/or paper walls, but sometimes redo floors and purchase a surprisng amount of new furniture. For all three of the men to date, they purchased complete new wardrobes from very fashionable stores. The makeovers and home improvements are generally aimed at getting the guy ready for A Big Event at the end of the show: to date, an art exhibition, the wife's birthday and a proposal of sorts. (The fourth show apparently involves an actual "Will you marry me?" proposal at the end.)

Their approach to these makeovers would probably get them dismissed from other such shows. Those try to work with the individual's personal style, to make them comforable with the concept and work within their tastes when possible, while "Queer Eye's" approach is to say, basically, "Your style sucks. Hers's what you shoud do instead." (That said ... sometimes, the straight guy's approach really does suck. Second-show Adam's house and third-show Tom's apartment really were utter and absolute disasters at the beginning. However, actually telling people "You suck" at the beginning of an undertaking guarantees that it will take a long time before they're comfortable with you and willing to accept your advice. Which may, in fact, be part of the point of this approach; establish resistance to make a more interesting dramatic situation.)

The consultants are, at the least, sincere -- if, as mentioned, frequently extraordinarily offensive -- in their approach. They truly do seem to want to help their subjects, giving them advice for the future, working to help the subjects understand why they're doing what they're doing. That said ... the comments in the last section of the show, where they watch their subject go out on their own to put the teachings into action are extraordinarily catty. SPECTACULARLY catty. They clearly want the men to succeed at whatever the big event at the end of the show is, but the comments are truly nasty sometimes. (Of third-show Tom's girlfriend's attire, Carson said, "Hello, a hooker in Trenton wants her shoes back.")

Overall ... it's OK. Seriously, it's OK. Periodically amusing. Periodically weirdly fun. Frankly, in terms of personal makeovers, "What Not To Wear" can be much more fun (and nastier, for that matter, although it's also to date a bit more uneven in its approach). In terms of home makeover, all of the TLC/Discovery shows are more interesting, because they try to do as much with far fewer resources. Food 911 is more interesting on the food-event front. Basically, pulling snippets of each type of show somewhat shortchanges and compromises each part.

The reactions to the show, from both straights and gays, have been remarkably polar. People are saying either ,"My god, that's so stereotypical and condescending that I can't stand it," or "Oh, lighten up! It's fun!" There seem to be very few people in the "Eh, it's OK entertainment, and it's not THAT offensive," camp. On the one hand, there's a certain rough justice to the rather savage attacks the show's been getting hit with. After all, we're not all like the guys on the show. We're not all skinny arbiters of haute couture. We don't all care to be skinny arbiters of haute couture. That said ... consider this.

Once Bravo had decided to do a home/personal makeover show featuring male victims ... er, that is, male subjects and (at least theoretically) aimed at men, they would need male consultants, because dramatically, it doesn't quite work to have men being told what to do with all these aspects of their lives by women. Unless they're married or in relationships with them, many men will simply not trust women's advice in these areas. This is not to say that the subjects would have had that many problems with it -- after all, if someone is giving you a home makeover, new furniture, new wardrobe and interesting food, you'll put up with a lot more than a woman giving you personal advice. (Obviously.) The problem would have been that women giving men that sort of personal advice would alienate male viewers -- might not have done much for the women, either. Once you allow the need for male consultants to make the show work for the viewers, you're stuck. These fields, in this country, have traditionally been havens for gay men; places where esthetically inclined men could express their esthetic sense and not be pilloried for it. The plain fact is, you're just not likely to find dramatically macho men in those fields. It may well be that the staff came before the concept, that Bravo decided to do a makeover show for guys, and then during staffing realized that they were seeing nothing but gay lifestyle consultants, and what on earth were they going to do with that?

Unfortunately, when you're going from invisibility to a noticeable presence in mass media, minorities always want only the paragons to be shown. And, for whatever reason, gay men have always hated that the swishy, flamboyant man is the one that seems to make it onto television. Largely because the swishy, flamboyant man has been the only one to make it on television regularly, and he's always been seen as an object of derision and distaste. (From both straights and gays, unfortunately.) Sothe desire for other facets to be seen, and seen in a good light, is understandable. However ... these are real people, and not characters played by actors. That's just the way they are; they're not (presumably) faking it.

In any event, nothing succeeds like excess:

"Queer Eye" Spies NBC Slot by Lia Haberman (E!Online), July 21, 2003, 11:30 AM PT: The Peacock is giving its Thursday night lineup a little preening this week. NBC plans to air a condensed version of Bravo's lifestyle makeover series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy July 24, following Will & Grace. [...] "After as much media attention and a breakout premiere on Bravo, we want to offer this unusual series a bigger platform," said NBC entertainment prez Jeff Zucker in a statement released Friday. However, the crossover is described as a onetime only event to boost Queer Eye's exposure. But Industry watchers speculate that Bravo, which is part of the NBC family, could be used as a testing ground for new programs that could later wind up on the Peacock.

Somehow, I just can't see Queer Eye actually winding up on NBC. Not unless the condensed version pulls monster ratings, in any event.

Interestingly, actual progress (if that's quite the right word) was made by the ads in Queer Eye, of all things:

Commercial Closet: Travel Site Reaches to Gays on Cable TV: In a unique effort to reach gays on TV, travel site Orbitz has customized its mainstream commercial to add a gay twist that will air on cable TV networks with gay-themed shows throughout the summer. The ad features marionettes as characters, with a man and woman enjoying a South Beach hotel terrace overlooking the pool. In the mainstream version, the guy comments on the great view from their room and the woman agrees -- while she admires the pool boy through binoculars. In the gay twist, the man eyes a sun-bathing stud through his binoculars. Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola, directed the spot from Young & Rubicam, Chicago.
     For viewers old enough to remember, the commercials are really a nod to the children's action show from the 1960s, "Thunderbirds," which featured square-jawed marionettes in exciting "space-age" adventures.
     It is the first-ever customized commercial meant to speak directly to a gay audience alone, and it will air on gay-themed programs on Bravo Network and BBC America through the summer.

Actually, the first thing I thought when I saw the ad was, "There were gay Thunderbirds?"

Interestingly, using Thunderbirds-like characters means that the ads were targeted not only at gay men, but at gay men who were 40 and above. The Thunderbirds hasn't been much repeated over the years, and hasn't endured well when it was. Peculiar approach for an industry that seems to think that nobody over 35 is really worth noticing. Peculiar for a social segment that frequently acts as though "30 equals death". Who knows? Maybe all sorts of progress is represented by that commercial.

Posted by iain at 12:06 AM in category



Interesting stuff here:

Posted by SDM at July 24, 2003 06:30 PM

I am a strictly heterosexual female who happened to stumble across their show one night on Bravo. I am completely hooked now! I love those guys and I think they definitely add the spice to life that's missing for a lot of our men! I wish to God that I could one day meet them and just simply hang out. I'm sure they can give me some tips on men, fashion, food and culture, all while giving me ( a very happily straight woman) the best of both worlds! CONTACT ME YOU GUYS... I THINK YOU'RE GREAT!

Posted by MsStuff at July 26, 2003 07:09 PM

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