France launching first gay channel

PARIS — French TV was slow to latch on to reality programming and the same goes for gay shows, which are practically non-existent on terrestrial webs.

Take “Queer as Folk,” which could only been seen by paying viewers of cable and satellite channel Canal Jimmy.

But all that’s about to change.

TF1, France’s leading web, and smaller rival M6, are racing to be the first to air gay-themed programs, much as they competed for reality supremacy a few seasons ago.

And in another homosexual first for Gaul, Pink TV, France’s first gay thematic channel is readying to launch in April.

Its shareholders include Canal Plus, TF1and M6, as well as Francois Pinault’s Artemis Group and the entrepreneur and Yves Saint Laurent founder Pierre Berge.

The web is planning to air series including the BBC’s “Tipping the Velvet,” talk shows hosted by high profile French personalities, news, current affairs and culture programming — along with a few hours of gay porn.

“It’s cultural high-end entertainment aimed at all those who share the values of liberty and tolerance, whatever their sexual orientation,” says the web’s marketing director Pierre Garnier. “Three or four years ago, a channel like this wouldn’t have been possible but today gay culture has entered the mainstream.”

The web must recruit 180,000 subscribers in its first three years to break even.

As for terrestrial TV’s gay programming race, it looks as though M6 will pip TF1 to the post.

Having introduced reality TV to France with the hugely successful Big Brother spin-off “Loft Story,” the RTL-owned web will come out of the closet early February with variety show “Follement Gay.” “Folle” (crazy) is the equivalent of “fairy” when used to describe gays, as in “La Cage aux Folles.”

Magloire, one of the frontmen of cult breakfast show “Morning Live,” and hot young presenter Virginie will host the show.

TF1 won’t go gay until May at the earliest.

But on the face of it, the market leader does potentially have a more sure-fire hit on its hands with the French adaptation by in-house producer Glem of makeover show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

The question remains, does your average immaculately turned-out French man really need homosexuals telling him how to dress?

Thomas Doustaly, editor of Gaul’s monthly gay mag Tetu, believes the wave of gay TV is a sign of changing times in broadcasting, even if pubcaster France Televisions has tended to restrict homosexuality to the occasional tasteful telefilm.

“The TV business is traditionally very conservative in France, and TV bosses are a bit afraid of homosexuality, even though there are lots of gays in the industry,” says Doustaly. “These new programs and the creation of Pink TV show that France is catching up with countries like Britain and America.

“It’s a sign of the times that ‘Queer Eye’ will be seen on TF1, which reaches more viewers than any other channel in France.” Last year, its audience share stood at 31.6%.

As for suitable candidates for the show, Doustaly insists ” there is no shortage of badly dressed, uncultured Frenchmen” ready for a makeover.

“Here in France, it’s like everywhere else. Straight people believe that gays have superior dress sense and overall better taste than the rest of the population.”

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