Gays Go Free on Cable TV

Gays Go Free on Cable TV

Viacom/MTV launch LOGO with diverse entertainment, news offerings

Say goodbye to gay for pay television. On June 30, Viacom’s MTV Networks Division will launch LOGO, a new cable station geared specifically to the gay and lesbian community. Unlike subscriber-based channels such as the Q Television Network or pay-on-demand channels such as here!, LOGO will be available on basic digital cable in about 10 million homes across the nation.

Under the tagline “Different. Together,” Logo will air both gay-themed movies and original programming, including reality television, documentaries, specials and even gay news.

“This channel is not for a straight audience. They are more than welcome to watch…but it is for us, by us and about us,” said David Bitler, a vice president at LOGO, with more than a little pride in his voice. “We’re talking directly to our community.”

Since the network was first announced in May 2004, MTV has pushed back the launch date twice, during which time additional cable subscribers in major cities including Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York have picked it up, though Bitler said that the initial 10 million homes will also include viewers in the South and the Midwest. The New York City metropolitan area will be covered by cable carriers including Warner, Adelphia, RCN and Atlantic Broadband.

Bitler added that LOGO is currently in final negotiations with CableVision, and is in talks with satellite television and Comcast.

“The fact that we’re going nationwide shows that people are interested in us from both a consumer and a business perspective,” said Bitler.

He said the market appeal of the idea is demonstrated by the fact that LOGO joins an industry segment pioneered by underdog network Q Television, available only on RCN; and Here!, established in 2002 by Regent Entertainment co-founders Paul Colichman and Stephen P. Jarchow, and currently available in more than 42 million households on a video-on-demand only basis.

“Because we’ve been invisible for so long, all of a sudden to have three gay networks is amazing,” Bitler said.

But unlike pay-per-view stations, LOGO will appear on the dial just like any other cable television channel—a fact conservative groups, including the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, have not overlooked. Bitler anticipates further backlash from the right wing over what they are certain to perceive as gay propaganda being pumped into their living rooms. He acknowledged this inevitability, but asserted that “we can not be concerned about controversy, because it would affect our programming, and we can’t let it.”

The station will focus on gay-themed rather than explicitly sexual content, but following standards that guide over-the-air broadcast outlets will still permit ample room for LOGO’s programming, which consists of a mix of original programming, movies, music programs, news, comedy, drama, documentaries and travel shows.

“Some of the originals are ‘Noah’s Arc,’ which is a comedy drama about four gay, African-American men living in Southern California,” said Bitler of one of the new programs produced specifically for LOGO. Series creator Patrik-Ian Polk garnered attention online and at gay film festivals across the nation after screening the 40-minute pilot for the show, which he made on his own dime. The gamble paid off when LOGO asked Polk to develop “Noah’s Arc” into a series.

Another promising show is “Open Bar,” which Bitler described as “a reality series about a man opening a gay bar at the same time he’s coming out… Because it’s not hard enough.”

Celebrities are clamoring to get a piece of the action.

“I’m interested in getting on the network, because I think I belong there, since I’ve been an openly gay presence on TV for a long time,” Michael Musto, the Village Voice columnist, told Gay City News. “I actually think I’m in the documentary they made to launch the channel, ‘The Road to LOGO.’”

And Scott Thompson, who played the hilariously fey Buddy in the sketch comedy show “The Kids in the Hall,” will serve as host to a new gay marriage reality show, “First Comes Love.” Though the show will hardly be “Bridezillas,” host Thompson “descends upon unwitting couples that want to get married, and gives them two weeks to get it together,” Bitler explained. The show’s original title, during development, was “My Fabulous Gay Wedding.”

“The Alan Cumming Experience” is a cabaret-style show with a downtown feel, and “Family Outing,” produced by Cher and daughter Chastity Bono, will profile celebrities’ coming-out stories. Performer Eve Ensler even rewrote a segment of her hit show “The Vagina Monologues” to be performed by a transgendered cast in the new LOGO original program, “Beautiful Daughters.”

“Gay Cops” follows the lives of out police officers in New York post-9/11, and “A Boy Named Sue” documents the pre- and post-operative process of a transgendered man. There are even gay cartoons—Glen Hanson and Allan Neuwirth’s strip, “Chelsea Boys,” has been turned into an animated series.

Sports has its turn in “Curl Girls,” a reality show about lesbian surfers in Southern California, and “The Ride,” which follows cyclists in the AIDS Ride between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Bitler said LOGO’s reality series “will not be the kind of reality shows they have on broadcast TV, where people are competing or being snarky. Our reality shows take a look at interesting gay people living interesting lives.”

“Momentum,” LOGO’s original documentary series, will profile the gay rodeo circuit, gay rugby, gay Muslims, gay life in Cuba and gay Latinos.

“My biggest fear would be that only one type of gay was being profiled, but it looks like they are going for a variety, with programming on transsexuals, lesbians—it seems to me the whole community will be represented,” said Musto.

The station will also have news programming, in partnership with CBS News. Bitler said this would consist of a combination of airing coverage from that network, and using the footage and resources of the network’s worldwide bureau to do original reporting on stories of interest to the gay community. The Advocate and Out magazine have both began producing specials for the channel, on news and fashion, respectively. And in addition to their travel series “Out and About,” LOGO is partnering up with Out Traveler magazine to develop another travel show. Several additional specials and original series are in the works.

And, as befits any good cable TV station, LOGO has a library of more than 200 movies, including “Mulholland Drive,” “High Art,” “Philadelphia,” “Bound,” “Billy Elliott,” “Far From Heaven,” “Birdcage” and “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

On July 24, the network will present the first-ever telecast of the GLAAD Media Awards, featuring Billy Crystal, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman, Margaret Cho, Liza Minnelli and John Stamos, among others. The broadcast will be preceded by a weeklong tribute to GLAAD’s past award winners, with footage of stars including Tom Hanks and Barbara Walters.

Between the original programming and the ever-growing selection of gay-themed movies, LOGO seems well positioned to be the summer’s hottest new niche market offering—one with good prospects for success over the long run.

“This is the one place on the dial where everything you might want to see that’s gay related is,” said Bitler.

“This will be like a one-stop shopping for gay entertainment programming,” Musto predicted. “It should be a safe haven for people out there who are desperate for a channel that reflects their lives. When I was growing up, all we had was Paul Lynde on ‘Bewitched,’ so to now have a 24-hour channel to cater to gay subjects is a revolution.”