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TV Notes: Showtime's 'Queer' to be set in Pittsburgh

Friday, May 12, 2000

By Rob Owen Post-Gazette TV Editor

Pittsburgh-set TV series have included "Hill Street Blues," "Hope & Gloria," "Remember WENN" and coming soon, "Queer as Folk."

Based on a controversial British series, premium cable network Showtime will begin airing a one-hour American version late this year or early in 2001.

"Queer as Folk" stirred up controversy in England due to explicit sex scenes and graphic language among gay men, including a 29-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old boy in the first episode.

Showtime's original press release stated "Queer as Folk" would be set in a "working-class eastern U.S. City to reflect its British origins," but executive producers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman (creators of NBC's "Sisters") confirmed the show will be set in Pittsburgh. Like most Showtime series, it will be shot in Canada (specifically, Toronto).

"The original 'Queer as Folk' was set in Manchester, England, and we're trying to approximate that in American terms," Cowen said. "We started thinking about cities that might equate to that and we thought of Pittsburgh."

Cowen and Lipman said they didn't want to set the show in New York's Greenwich Village or Los Angeles' West Hollywood because Cowen said they wanted "a place that was very American."

"We wanted to have a real accessibility," Lipman said. "West Hollywood is very exotic to a lot of people. In middle American cities that aren't that exotic there's an accessibility to the characters. They have normal professions."

One is a manager at a discount store, another works in advertising and a third is an accountant.

When Cowen and Lipman began work on the show they typed "gay Pittsburgh" into a search engine and came up with the name Liberty Avenue, which will be one of the settings. There will also be a Liberty Diner.

"That word, 'liberty,' works well for the message of our show," Lipman said.

Cowen said there will be some Pittsburgh references in the show, but "we're not laying into it heavily."

Cowen and Lipman have both been to Pittsburgh (Lipman, once an actor, spent three months performing in "Godspell" at the old Nixon Theater) and say they might visit again as production on the two-hour premiere episode nears a start.

The British series, which only ran for eight episodes, focused on three main characters. The American version will be more of an ensemble. The nudity, language and sexuality of the original will be retained, but the British 15-year-old will be an American boy about to turn 18.

"We're told the age of sexual consent in England is 16," Cowen said. "Here it is 18, so we tried to create a parallel situation where the young man will be close to the age of sexual consent. I don't think anybody will pass out when they hear that a 17 1/2-year-old high school senior is sexually active."

Cowen and Lipman said the language and sexual material in the series will be frank and the characters, like their British counterparts, will be unapologetic about their lives. Lipman promised the show will also mirror the wit and charm of the British original.

"There will be no judgments being made," Cowen said. "And it will be every bit as bold [as the British version]. This is definitely a show you would never see on any other network."

They wouldn't hazard a guess about what the audience reaction will be.

"It will be very interesting, culturally, to see how the American culture responds to it," Lipman said. "The complexity of this project is part of what attracted us to it. It's a show like no other and there probably will never be another show like this."

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