Gays bow to their comedy queen, Kathy Griffin. Transgendered people celebrate the new All-American Spouse. Lesbians kick ass as Supergirl Superheroes. A lot of straight women just love Jackie Warner. And straight guys are tuning in to Tim Gunn.
“Work Out” (Bravo), “Project Runway” (Bravo), “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” (Bravo), “Trading Spouses” (Fox) and “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” (Sci Fi) are this year’s GLAAD nominees for reality programming — programs that present their gay and lesbian characters as just another slice of life.
“We love our gays,” says Andy Cohen, Bravo’s senior vice president, programming and development. “We develop shows that are about food, fashion, beauty and design, and within those areas happen to be a lot of incredibly talented and dynamic gays and lesbians. We tell our stories through their points of view.”
“Work Out” executive producer Amy Shpall says: “The issues that we deal with on the show in relation to Jackie are the exact same issues that we’d be dealing with any heterosexual person. It just has a slight bent to it.”
A major issue: Jackie’s love life. Over the course of three seasons, Jackie’s business has flourished. Not her personal life. She’s still looking. “That is the reality of many people — gay or straight,” Shpall explains. “We’d love to tackle the marriage issue, but it’s just not where Jackie’s ready to be at the moment. Neither is having a child and not being in a heterosexual relationship. We’d love to be able to explore these issues when she’s ready.”
Bravo likes to spread it around. “On our competitive reality shows … it’s not only the contestants that happen to be gay — most of our authority figures like Michael Kors and Tim Gunn are gay guys,” Cohen says. “And then we have our docu series where a lot of our stars happen to be gay men and women — like Jackie.”
The docu-style reality show “Trading Spouses” gives an unflinching picture of today’s family structure in America. “The show brings the awareness to the fact that regardless of your sexual preferences, when you come to the family structure, there are certain things that are just always going to be there,” says Rick Walls, segment producer and director.
“Trading Spouses” does not manufacture or push agendas. “We had four cameras on these families and just followed them around. You see the interactions on all levels. This is the 21st century,” Walls explains. “We need to be more interested in the dynamics as opposed to defining the rules of what constitutes a family and what doesn’t.”
Superheroes can be underdogs. That’s the credo behind “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” The producers feel the show is the perfect vehicle for their gays and lesbians contestants. “We embraced people who are different,” producer Yuka Kobayashi says. “If you look at superheroes like X-Men, they’re the outcasts. I think a lot of people identify with these superheroes.”
Comedian Griffin loves what she lovingly calls “her gays.” She identifies with them. Griffin is a woman in a man’s world.
“Comedy is a sexist industry,” says Lisa Tucker, executive producer of “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List.” “And Kathy feels that the gay community is marginalized by society.”
Griffin does not consciously cast gay men in her show, but the gay world is a large part of her life. “One of the funny things that’s happening this season is Kathy introduced her mom to one of her gays,” Tucker reveals. “This group of guys reached out to her widowed mother. They took her to acupuncture, to dinner. That’s what family does.”
Tucker has a point when she adds, “I don’t think you’d get a group of straight guys taking out an 87-year-old woman and enjoying her company and having fun with her.”