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Sense and Sensibility

The arrival of gay-focused networks has been a long time coming for the estimated 7 million gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals in the U.S., many of whom do not live in gay-friendly urban markets.

“I consumed everything there was to see watching Logo one month,” says John Nash, president of Moon City Productions, a full-service New York advertising agency that specializes in creating brand messages for companies seeking to target the gay and lesbian community. “I turn it on in the morning and at night, and it often stays on while I’m doing other things in the house. It feels like a home to me. It paints a positive picture of me for others who don’t know who I am.”

What people think of as gay programming today are such shows as NBC’s Will & Grace and Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, shows that entertain a mass-media audience but aren’t really directed at the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community. In fact, many gays feel that characters in those shows—Sean Hayes’ flamboyant Jack on Will & Grace and quippy Carson Kressley on Queer Eye—are over-the-top stereotypes that don’t represent them.

More gay-friendly is HBO’s Six Feet Under, which recently completed its five-season run. It showed gay relationships in a more-realistic light. So does FX’s Nip/Tuck, which explores sexuality in all its combinations and permutations.

The programming challenge that new gay networks Logo and Here! face is tapping into top-notch producers who aren’t necessarily gay themselves but understand the gay community and what this highly educated, media-savvy demographic wants to watch.

“The gay community does feel like they need a network targeted at them, and they do appreciate these efforts,” says Larry Kennar, executive producer of Showtime’s The L Word, about a tight-knit group of lesbian friends and lovers. “So many lesbians have come up to me and said, 'Thank you so much.’ And that has been so powerful. I do think there are a lot of [gay] people out there who aren’t living their lives openly or freely or without a lot of judgment.”

And while the networks would expect to be popular in gay-friendly urban areas, such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, viewers in the country’s less populated areas also are tuning in.

“People in the non-urban areas are the people who need this all the more,” says Here! General Manager Karen Flischel. “It’s counterintuitive for about five seconds, but when you really think about it, it makes sense that these are the people who are really watching.”

Kennar admits that the gay community can be tough to please: “We’re going to be super-critical about the programming on these networks. That’s going to be the hard part for them.”

As a top gay producer, Kennar currently is pitching shows at Viacom’s Logo, Regent’s Here! and HBO.

“I just want my shows to be really funny and really smart and to tell stories that anyone can identify with, not just gay,” he says. “As a gay producer, I have a responsibility to deliver something that’s good first, true second and gay third. If it’s just gay, then who cares?”

Programmers say they understand that concern and are working to develop top-notch shows with complex themes and characters.

“Our view is that we need to provide authentic media images of ourselves to build self-esteem for our community,” says Here! CEO Paul Colichman. “We don’t want to dumb down, desexualize or make fun of anyone. The mainstream media is doing a dismal job of providing positive images to the GLBT community.”