By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
While GLAAD’s own survey indicates the number of gay or lesbian characters on regular broadcast television series is diminishing, the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender programming on the small screen is rising. That increase is attributable to the advent of premium channels such as here! and Q Television Network, as well as the expected June 30 launch of Logo, the first advertiser-supported cable network targeting a gay audience.
Logo joins the roster of Viacom-owned MTV networks as a 24-hour cable channel. Brian Graden, president of entertainment, MTV Networks Music Group and president of Logo, said the channel will position itself as “a home base” for the LGBT audience.
“The gay audience has never felt they had a home, a destination for them,” he said. “Working at MTV Networks, we have a long history of catering to people, of creating networks that fill a niche.”
Logo was announced several years ago, but is only now preparing for launch. Mr. Graden said there was never a doubt there would be a network.
He said it will debut with a reach of 10 million homes, and he expects that number to grow rapidly. MSO signings include Time Warner, Adelphia and RCN, with negotiations in progress for Comcast. Adelphia is considered a particular coup, as its Southern California territory includes West Hollywood, a city that estimates its LGBT population at one-third of its almost 40,000 residents.
Advertisers on Board
Orbitz, the travel service, Paramount Pictures (whose parent company, Viacom, is the same as Logo’s) and Subaru already have been announced as advertisers. Mr. Graden said there was no discernable hesitancy among the sponsors to be identified with LGBT content.
Programming at the outset will come from a large film library, as well as series, many of which will be documentary-based “because this is an audience that wants to see itself,” Mr. Graden said.
One of the network’s key acquisitions is “Angels in America,” the TV miniseries based on Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The miniseries originally ran on HBO, where it won a host of awards, including 11 Emmys.
Logo’s original series will premiere one at a time, with the plan being to roll out a new one every five or six weeks, he said.
The first scripted series is “Noah’s Arc,” a dramedy created by Patrik-Ian Polk that follows a struggling screenwriter and his friends. Bunim-Murray Productions, which kick-started the current reality genre with “The Real World” for MTV, is supplying the unscripted series “Cruise,” which follows LGBT participants on a cruise ship. Scott Thompson, formerly of “Kids in the Hall,” will host another nonfiction series, “My Fabulous Gay Wedding.”
In cooperation with CBS News, Logo will also offer current affairs programming of interest to the LGBT community. Executives also are negotiating with the LGBT-themed publication The Advocate to do a news and current events program.
With an almost two-year jump on Logo, here! is already available in 40 million homes, founder and CEO Paul Colichman said, but he declined to specify how many of those actual subscribe. The network has established itself as a brand, he said, available via subscription, video-on-demand and pay per view. In addition, here! is financing and distributing LGBT-oriented films for theatrical release before moving them to the TV window.
“As a premium service we’re doing something very specific,” Mr. Colichman said. “Our research showed that with the target audience, the word ‘authentic’ came up most often. That’s what we give them.
“At the same time, cable operators did not want another digital tier network. As a premium channel we make money for our partners every time one of our subscribers buys a program.”
Original films from here! include “Tides of War,” a war-action thriller starring Adrian Paul (“The Highlander”), and “Callas Forever,” a picture directed by Franco Zeffirelli about the legendary opera diva Maria Callas. Also completed is “Merci Docteur Rey,” from the prestigious Merchant-Ivory Productions team.
Based in Palm Springs, Calif., the Q Television Network is also subscription-based. In March, the channel disclosed a bid for PrideVision, the Canadian LGBT network. If the bid is successful it would give Q a broader audience reach.
As more of these services continue to roll out, the question remains how to verify that the LGBT audience is watching. Last fall, through a GLAAD initiative, Nielsen Media Research created a panel that will work toward finding a model through which LGBT viewers can be counted.
That Nielsen is receptive to exploring a way to count the LGBT audience is confirmed by both Joan Garry, GLAAD’s outgoing executive director, and Susan D. Whiting, president and CEO of Nielsen Media Research. “The day Nielsen begins to count gay and lesbian audience and families in its ratings is coming,” Ms. Garry said. “This will have an impact and further define the niche market for which these new networks are programming.”