Lou Maletta, who gave visibility and voice to the AIDS crisis and gay and lesbian issues as the founder of the Gay Cable Network, died of liver cancer on Nov. 2. He was 74.
A mix of talkshows, news and cultural programming and sex-themed fare, his network had a 20-year run of original programming, which “demonstrated enormous staying power in an adverse commercial and social climate for gay content,” wrote Andy Humm, the host of the show “Gay USA,” the successor to weekly series that started on Gay Cable Network in 1985.
Humm wrote in Gay City News that “long before ‘Ellen,’ Logo, out gay news anchors and the rise of the Internet, Maletta was reaching hundreds of thousands of LGBT people hungry for representations of themselves and news about the burgeoning movement.”
As cable TV expanded throughout the country, Maletta capitalized on the availability of leased-access channels. He started a show in upstate New York called “Men and Films,” in which he edited pornographic films for a wider audience. His ambitions soon expanded into other programming, much of it centered in Manhattan but distributed to 20 other cities, as AIDS became an epidemic.
What motivated Maletta, Humm said in an interview, was watching a 30-year-old friend turn into someone who looked 90 after being diagnosed, Maletta told Gay City News in 2009. “No one had seen a KS lesion on TV until we put it on cable.”
By 1984 the network was covering politics, not just in New York but nationwide, and sent crews to the political conventions of both parties that year.
Humm remembers he and others trekking to the conventions and interviewing any politician they could, asking questions about the AIDS epidemic and gay and lesbian issues that were not getting play in the mainstream media. Among those who were queried were George W. Bush, Strom Thurmond, Ann Richards and Bob Dole. Dole was asked whether there was “a place for gay people in the Republican party,” Humm recalled. He responded, “Maybe somewhere.”
Maletta “had this philosophy that we could do something important for the community if we were on TV,” Humm said. “That is still very important, even with the Internet.”
Maletta didn’t fulfill a goal of creating a 24-hour gay cable network, but in 2005, Viacom launched Logo, aimed at a gay and lesbian audience. In his later years, after he retired in 2001 and closed the network, Maletta sought a home for the extensive archive of 6,000 hours of programming, which eventually landed at NYU’s Fales Library.
Maletta is survived by his partner of 37 years, Luke Valenti, and a daughter by a previous marriage.