Nice gays finishing 1st on TV

It was the year of the man, and the woman, on TV in 2003. It just happens that it was man with man, and woman with woman.

While NBC's "Will & Grace," HBO's "Six Feet Under" and Showtime's "Queer as Folk" continue to attract audiences, a new set of shows about or featuring gay and lesbian characters exploded onto the broadcast and cable networks, giving gays their most prominent presence yet in the TV mainstream.

This year's biggest splash on the gay front was made by "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Bravo's comedic makeover series that gained almost instant water cooler status. The show not only heightened Bravo's profile in the cable world, but also drew viewers when it aired as a series of specials on parent NBC.

"Boy Meets Boy," which also premiered on Bravo, became the first unscripted gay dating show. ABC unveiled its new comedic twist on gay families and parenting, "It's All Relative." "Angels in America," HBO's epic adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play set against the 1985 spread of AIDS in major urban centers, had an A-list cast and is sure to be a front-runner at next year's Emmys. Ellen DeGeneres, whose viability as a TV star came into question when her first sitcom failed soon after she announced she was a lesbian, became a successful daytime talk show host.

"I'm actually surprised all of this didn't happen sooner," said Robert Greenblatt, Showtime's president of entertainment, of the high-profile gay presence. " 'Will & Grace' really opened the door, even though some folks at the network thought it was risky and shocking at the time. There is a whole generation that has grown up being comfortable with alternative lifestyles. People see Ellen DeGeneres on her new show not as a gay person, but just as a real person. It's just not as shocking as it might have seemed before. The stereotypes are gone."

Added Jeff Gaspin, president of Bravo, about the success of "Queer Eye" and "Boy Meets Boy": "TV audiences are constantly looking for areas that they haven't seen explored before. We had had some success with our shows on gay weddings, and we saw an opportunity to put on programming that might seem controversial but were actually harmless and fun."

The trend is likely to continue next year. Showtime in a few weeks will premiere "The 'L' Word," about the lives and loves of a group of female friends, many of whom are lesbian.

The network also will launch a new season of "Queer as Folk."

photo

AP File Photo

Michael C. Hall, left, and Peter Krause appear in a scene from HBO's "Six Feet Under," an award-winning cable series in which Hall plays a gay man. "Six Feet Under," "Will & Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" have propelled gay lifestyles to Americans' television sets.

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