Cable network offers slew of gay-friendly programming

Bravo’s “Queer Eye” and “Project Runway” have given birth to triplets, and the parents would probably be proud to say that their children are as gay-friendly as they were. “Shear Genius,” “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” and “Work Out” continue Bravo’s exploration of creative worlds that possess a LGBT tilt.

On the new “Shear Genius,” Sally Hershberger, Jose Eber and Frederick Fekkai are among the judges of a competitive reality show based on the snip-happy world of hairdressing.

“There are half a million licensed hair dressers, and they are such a colorful, electric group of characters. They’re larger than life,” says Mark Koops, one of the show’s executive producers.

“The show really turns the microscope on the world of hair dressing, from bridal hair to hair art to runway hair to coloring,” he continues. “Everyone in the name of hair will participate in the show, from Rene Fris to the godfather of hair, Vidal Sassoon.

“There’s competition. There’s bitchiness. Across the pool of 12 contestants we have the full range, from straight to bi to gay. Probably (an even) split. A much higher pool than you would see on traditional network television.”

Hairdressing is such a ubiquitous, multicultural profession that there will be no shortage of colorful contestants from Beverly Hills to the Black Hills. The show has already signed a 22-year-old straight ingenue from Miami and her counterpart, a 22-year-old gay man from Iowa.

“Just as in the worlds of design and fashion, in the world of hairdressing, you have a lot of gay professionals,” says Ben Silverman, also an exec producer of “Shear Genius.” “That immediately builds a community of people that these shows are highlighting.

“It’s the first time that these kinds of jobs have been showcased. I think that the professions are really celebrating being represented on TV. They are applauding Bravo. Bravo has really identified and taken ownership of a smart, intelligent niche, but they have also gone inside industries that happen to have a larger representation of the gay population.”

“Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” airs later this year, taking the concept of “Queer Eye” to the next level by making under, as well as over, some fashion victims.

Bravo’s exec VP Frances Berwick is one of the prime movers behind Bravo’s trend to spotlight the workday lives and loves in the gay world. Whether it is “Top Chef” and “Top Design” or one of the cable network’s newer shows, “The common thread is very much about the creative process,” she says, rather than issues.

Given the style professions that it profiles, especially with regard to haircutters, Bravo shows it like it is. “With the high volume of gay men and lesbians working in that industry, we’re going to cast it that way,” Berwick says. “We want it to be representative.”

Until recently, the network has pretty much avoided any kind of gay angst, or, as the New York Times puts it, “Bravo is best known for lighthearted, gay-oriented shows that also have wider appeal.”

That fun-fun attitude, however, changes a bit with “Workout,” now in its second season, which profiles the lesbian owner-operator of a high-end gym in Beverly Hills. In addition to all sorts of business and staff problems, Jackie Warner visits a therapist, breaks up with an unruly girlfriend and fights with her extremely homophobic mother.

“Jackie spends an episode back in Ohio visiting her mother, and they reach a new place in their relationship,” exec producer Bruce Thoms reveals. “One of our trainers died this season — that becomes a major story arc. You get the good, the bad, the ugly, the happy, the sad and a huge range of relevant gay issues. This season, we kept it real.”

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