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How ‘Queer’ Was Cast

Aug 11, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The selection of the congenial ensemble of hosts who star on the cult hit “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” came about because of an approach to casting akin to bringing a family together.
Creator and executive producer David Collins, developer and co-executive producer David Metzler and casting executive Barbara Barna knew what they wanted: a quintet that was “professional first, gay second”; who could play well together (“We did not want individual divas. The `Queer Eye’ was a collective whole,” Mr. Collins said); and who walked and talked “style, taste and class.”
They posted notices on Mediabistro.com and interior design Web sites and at “every single grooming and fashion outlet.” Then they spent three months paring down nearly 500 hopefuls to the fewer than 50 candidates who would spend a long day in a Manhattan office building, auditioning for the pilot in mix-and-match groups and staging food fights in the holding room. There also were dinners and shopping trips.
Hard as it was to tell people they’d “completely fallen in love with” that they didn’t click with the group chemistry, Mr. Collins said, “We had an amazing, amazing time. We built a family during that process.”
Of the pilot’s original on-air family, only two, fashion savant and team captain Carson Kressley and food and wine connoisseur Ted Allen, remain in the “Fab Five.” What did in the other three was, essentially, a disconnect between on- and off-air personae.
Mr. Kressley and Mr. Allen also were the first two officially (and simultaneously) cast. But it is Mr. Kressley’s first entrance that is most vividly etched in what Mr. Collins calls “the early mythology of the Fab Five.”
He swept in wearing an “unbelievably loud equestrian print shirt” bearing the label of former employer Polo Ralph Lauren, his blond hair going in all those now-familiar directions, and uttering the opening line: “Well hello, people. How are you?”
“Then he settled right in and just simply played off what everyone else said. He actually helped lift every person in that room up to another level,” Mr. Collins said. The producer still marvels at that display of “generosity” that now suffuses the show and has so charmed critics and exponentially increased the number of viewers so that it will get a second outing on NBC’s “Must-See TV” lineup this week. NBC also has already begun licensing the show’s episodes and format abroad.