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'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' a surprise summer hit

Thursday, August 14, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- Prior to Bravo's premiere of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," fashion guru Carson Kressley predicted that makeover candidates wouldn't be intimidated by the show or its "Fab Five" stars. This despite a few chuckles at the expense of the straight guys featured.

The "Fab Five" stars of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" are, from left, Ted Allen, Jai Rodriguez, Carson Kressley, Thom Filicia and Kyan Douglas. (Craig Blankenhorn, Bravo via AP)
Click photo for larger image.

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"Those things that we have some laughs with might be a little embarrassing," Kressley admitted at a Bravo press conference last month, "but in the end, the result is so great and the guys are so grateful that I think when the guys see the show they're going to want to be a part of it."

Indeed they have.

Even before "Queer Eye" set record-high ratings for Bravo, aired on sister-network NBC and landed on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, creator/executive producer David Collins said the show's concept alone generated many "What?" and "Huh?" responses. After it premiered, not so much.

"The pot's a lot bigger from which to choose," he said by phone from Los Angeles earlier this week. "Now, obviously, people understand what the show is and are a lot more open" to having the Fab Five pay a visit.

"People never had an overwhelming hesitation, but the popularity and success of the show now is opening doors and making it easier."

In the show, experts in fashion, food/wine, grooming, design and culture are called in by the friends or loved ones of a heterosexual male who's in need of a makeover. The Fab Five prefer to call it a "make better," but the concept is similar: Slobs are transformed into princes.

"Queer Eye," which drew almost 3 million viewers for a late July episode on Bravo and almost 7 million viewers when it first aired on NBC, airs for a second time on NBC at 10 tonight. And the "Queer Eye" stars give Jay Leno a makeover on "The Tonight Show" tonight and tomorrow.

Despite having five gay men as its stars, "Queer Eye" has caused little uproar. When NBC first aired a cut-down, half-hour edition of "Queer Eye" in prime-time last month -- at 9:30 p.m. following the gay-themed "Will & Grace" -- only stations in Augusta, Ga., and Washington, N.C., refused to air it in prime-time, choosing to run "Queer Eye" instead in late-night slots. An NBC spokeswoman said only the North Carolina station has opted to air tonight's broadcast on a delayed basis.

Another NBC spokeswoman said the "ER" slot at 10 p.m. on the network's highest-rated night of the week was the best place to air the complete, one-hour version of the show. It also puts "Queer Eye" in closer proximity to "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m.), which will feature the cast.

At WPXI, Pittsburgh's NBC affiliate, program director Mark Barash said the station received no calls of complaint after the first NBC airing.

"I thought, at most, there would be a couple to maybe five," he said, "but I was not expecting any outpouring of negative reaction."

Collins said he's heard some criticism that "Queer Eye" enforces existing stereotypes, but he's encountered no homophobic reactions to the program.

"We're not about stereotypes. We're about gay guys and straight guys -- guys helping guys," he said. "We all want to feel good about ourselves."

Although "Queer Eye" makes it look as if each episode is filmed in a 24-hour whirlwind, it actually takes three days to film an episode, "soup to nuts," Collins said. It all begins with the Fab Five getting to know the guy they're making over.

"We get a lot of information, friends and family information, and we spend a lot of time talking to him, kind of drilling him about his life, what his goals are, how to raise the bar, where he wants to go," said culture vulture Jai Rodriguez.

Food and wine expert Ted Allen said by getting to know the subject as a person, particularly his goals, producers are able to fashion a narrative story in each episode.

"There's a constant dialogue when we're working with the straight guys about what feels comfortable, how do they like what we're doing," said grooming guy Kyan Douglas. "I would never cut somebody's hair off just for the sake of cutting their hair off. But if there's someplace they're trying to get to, and a haircut makes sense for them and who they're evolving and becoming, then we go for it."

Design doctor Thom Filicia takes a similar approach to the living space, which often seems to resemble a pigsty.

"They had all these things that they didn't even know that they had," Filicia said. "I was actually unwrapping some of their wedding presents, and they were so thrilled to actually see them."

And where does all the junk adorning these homes end up?

"There's the world's largest straight guy facility filled with crap from all these straight guys," Collins said, teasing. Sometimes, the scattered contents of a home end up in storage. Other times, after consulting with the owners, items are tossed.

The Fab Five say what's most surprising to them is the "staggering amount" of pornography they find.

"Badly hidden porn," Filicia said.

"You'd think they would hide embarrassing stuff," Allen said. "They don't."

The Fab Five are aided in their work by three unseen minions, but Collins said they do the bulk of the makeover work themselves, which Kressley compares to an intervention.

"We're kind of that crazy group of people that brings a totally new perspective and a fresh face to their life, and says, 'Hey, wake-up call. You better straighten up and fly right.' "

The wardrobes of the straight guys often come in for the most severe chastisement.

"A lot of guys are scared of clothes and of fashion," Kressley said. "They don't like to go shopping. They haven't tried it, and my motto is always, it's the Saks logo, live a little, go out there, see what's out there, shop around. If you find it boring, find other ways to make it fun. Maybe bring a six-pack along or a friend."

Twelve episodes of "Queer Eye" are in the can, and Bravo quickly ordered a second season of an additional 13 episodes. Collins said the show may even go on the road next year, reaching out beyond greater New York, where the first season was shot.

"Maybe we'll follow a 'Queer Eye' bus as it goes across the country," Collins joked. "We definitely could have some fun with that."

Collins said the show's status as breakout buzz hit of the summer hasn't gone to the heads of the stars.

"They're grounded guys, but they're definitely enjoying it," Collins said. "To be on the Jay Leno show is mammoth. That's a huge, huge, huge thrill. They are riding that high right now."

For Collins, who's worked in TV and movies for years (he was location manager for "Hoffa" when it filmed in Pittsburgh in 1992), confirmation of the show's success came earlier this week while he was dining at a restaurant in West Hollywood. "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett and producer Ben Silverman ("Coupling," "The Restaurant") came up to his table to congratulate him.

"It doesn't get better than that when you have the king of reality there himself," Collins said. "I'm very excited to be having conversations with these people let alone to be hearing their compliments."


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to TV Forum.

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