Bravo’s Gaspin Talks Content

Dec 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Since the debut of the groundbreaking “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” in July, Bravo has become one of the most buzzed-about networks on cable. Week after week, Bravo has shattered its own rating records while its median viewer age dropped from 50.8 to 45.3.
For a while, the network’s every decision was scrutinized. When word got out that the previously unknown “Queer Eye” cast was paid a mere $5,000 per episode, the subsequent negotiations were tracked with an intensity similar to the negotiations of James Gandolfini or Brad Garrett.
Lately, however, conversation about Bravo has shifted to whether the network can sustain its momentum.
Jeff Gaspin, president of Bravo and executive VP of alternative programming for NBC, was previously a programming executive at VH1. There he struggled to pull the network out from the shadow cast by his megahit “Behind the Music.” Mr. Gaspin is determined that Bravo will fare better. Two weeks ago, he announced a new programming slate that’s a mix of lifestyle reality shows and performance vehicles with a pop culture bent. Missing from the slate is a second season of the other Bravo reality series launched last summer, “Boy Meets Boy,” which performed well by previous Bravo standards, but also benefited enormously from its Tuesday night pairing with “Queer Eye.”
Mr. Gaspin talked with James Hibberd of TelevisionWeek about content swapping between his networks, the new slate and how “Queer Eye” mania has peaked.
TelevisionWeek: When you first took over Bravo, where did you think the network needed to go?
Jeff Gaspin: Up. We knew Bravo was a quality brand-it had `Inside the Actors Studio.’ But clearly Bravo needed more than one successful series and Bravo needed to become more relevant and current. The feeling was it was a little staid.
TVWeek: The `Queer Eye’ creators thought their show was sunk when NBC took over Bravo. Was `Queer Eye’ a tough sell inside NBC?
Mr. Gaspin: No. [Senior VP of programming and production Frances Berwick] showed me half a dozen pilots, and `Queer Eye’ is one I looked at and thought it might get us some attention. I showed it around to a few executives here and feedback was quite positive. Right from the start, it had a lot of support from NBC.
TVWeek: How did the success of the show affect the programming strategy for Bravo? Did you stop and say, `OK, new plan’?
Mr. Gaspin: The plan started before that. `Queer Eye’ looked like a show that could stand out and be different, it seemed like the first of its kind. That started to build the idea of the brand for Bravo-sort of a cutting-edge, groundbreaking basic cable service. It gave us a concept that would get us attention. And I wanted to get attention. I wanted people talking about the channel. So we greenlit `Boy Meets Boy’ to be a companion. We did `The Reality of Reality,’ thinking maybe we can get people talking if I try to bite my own hand-since I do reality programming at NBC.
Then, four months later, we go from No. 30 to No. 1, 2 or 3-depending upon what FX or MTV had on against `Queer Eye.’ Now `West Wing’ does much better than I expected it to. Movies that had been on the network many times prior are getting much better ratings. `Inside the Actors Studio’ has seen some of its highest ratings ever. It’s the halo effect.
TVWeek: How much urgency is there to get a companion hit to `Queer Eye’ at this point?
Mr. Gaspin: I think it’s important that we find other series beyond `Queer Eye.’ We don’t want to become the `Queer Eye’ network. At VH1, one problem we had is we became the `Behind the Music’ network.
TVWeek: What are you asking the creative community for?
Mr. Gaspin: I want Bravo to be for television what indie film is for movies-art for television. They kind of get what I’m talking about it; there’s got to be a nontraditional element.
TVWeek: What about gay-oriented material? One thing I heard is that Bravo is adamantly not interested in more gay programming at this point.
Mr. Gaspin: That’s not true. I do think it’s important that we have a mix of programming, and if we did another gay-themed show, then the accusations that were made against the channel six, seven months ago-that Bravo was a gay network-would resurface. At the time, I was trying to manage that. At the same time, I didn’t want to back off-it would counteract everything we were trying to do. By no means do we want to abandon the gay audience that’s coming to Bravo … but I do want to service a broader audience. [Also], I don’t think people think of `Queer Eye’ as a gay show. I think people think it’s a show with five gay leads.
TVWeek: Was advertiser response to `Queer Eye’ as high as you’d expect considering the publicity and popularity?
Mr. Gaspin: Advertisers are always slow to start when something is controversial. It was a little slower than what I would have wanted, but it’s starting to happen. Starting next week, Pepsi is on `Queer Eye’ and movie studios are coming in.
TVWeek: With all the magazine coverage, the spoofs, the references to `Queer Eye,’ are you worried about its popularity burning out?
Mr. Gaspin: It will and, frankly, already has. This peaked quickly and early. Do you want a slower build on the press and publicity? Sure. But that’s not the world we live in. I’d rather be the Next Big Thing one time than never. I was concerned what the reaction would be to the new episode after eight weeks of reruns, I was relieved to see it got the third-largest 25 to 54 audience in Bravo history.
TVWeek: It’s odd because you have one foot in NBC and one foot in Bravo. How’s that working out?
Mr. Gaspin: Actually it’s the best of both worlds. One of the reasons I could launch `Queer Eye’ is I was able to see both tables. [My working relationship] has become a model for what we hope future synergies with Universal might be like.
TVWeek: I recently wrote about how NBC developed the forthcoming unscripted comedy series `Significant Others,’ then gave it to Bravo. Are there limits on content swapping?
Mr. Gaspin: There’s no question it’s important to create two distinct brands. I don’t think anybody wants Bravo to be NBC 2. With `Significant Others,’ [NBC] paid for the cost of development. Our belief was if we could incubate it on Bravo, then, at some point, the network might have it. I think people were worried that Bravo would become a repurposing network for NBC; I don’t think anybody expected NBC to become a repurposing network for Bravo. So I think it’s great thing-if you’re careful.
TVWeek: Which upcoming shows do you have high hopes for?
Mr. Gaspin: `Celebrity Poker Showdown’ I think is a lot of fun. It’s got a little bit of a cultish sensibility. I’ve booked a lot of shows. I was amazed how good and fast we got the talent for this. We have Ben Affleck, David Schwimmer-these are not the B-level celebrities you tend to get when you do celebrity-reality shows.
Also, `Significant Others’ is a real risk, a challenge to produce. We’re getting something real creative here and something different.
TVWeek: Any plans for a new tagline and marketing campaign to back up the slate?
Mr. Gaspin: Not yet. One of the goals for ’04 is to package and design our channel. We want to come out next summer with a new look and help define who we are. That might include a tagline. The real trick now is to take a hit and turn it into a channel brand. It’s a challenge for all programmers. You have to become relevant. Only those brands that are relevant are going to survive.