'Queer' Merchandise Spins Onto the Web

Introducing what's being touted as the first gay-themed merchandise centered around a television series, Showtime Networks Inc. last week unveiled the licensing strategy for Queer as Folk.

In partnership with Los Angeles-based consumer-products company 10% Productions, Showtime launched the new merchandise online at http://queer.sho.com.

Video box sets of the series's first season — released on DVD and VHS earlier this year — were a great success for the network, said senior vice president of program enterprises and distribution Sallie Fraenkel. The merchandise initiative that followed demonstrated Showtime's "faith in the strength of the fan base" for the show, she said.

Initial products include calendars, posters, magnets, coffee mugs and gift bags. The show's costume designer, Patrick Antosh, has also created a line of exclusive T-shirts featuring sayings not likely to be seen on broadcast TV.

Later this year, the line could also add greeting cards, including Queer
-themed Christmas cards, Fraenkel said.

Showtime said the merchandise would also be sold through independent boutiques that cater to the gay and lesbian communities, as well as through national retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Borders Book Group and Calendar Club. Showtime and 10% displayed some of the products at a stationery trade show in New York last week.

The network plans to advertise the online shop through on-air spots, banner ads, electronic-mail messages and attendance at major gay pride events this summer.

Fraenkel said Showtime hopes the merchandise can become a profit center for the network, but for now, it is supporting the Queer as Folk

Actors from Queer as Folk
embarked on a seven-city tour earlier this year to help promote video and DVD sales.

"Seeing fans' reactions to the actors was absolutely overwhelming," Fraenkel said. "We've seen that people really want to own a piece of the show."