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Showtime Makes Pitch to Gays, Lesbians

Showtime Networks Inc. last week announced a multi-million dollar promotional campaign for the Dec. 3 launch of
Queer as Folk
, a new series that portrays a segment of gay life more honestly than any other series in U.S. television history, according to the network.

The programmer hopes to gain new subscribers from the gay and lesbian community through targeted media and direct-mail efforts, especially in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Showtime has activated a special toll-free number, 1-800-COMING-OUT, to sign up new subscribers.

The direct-mail piece, which highlights
Queer as Folk

and other Showtime programming, will be sent to roughly 1 million consumers who said they are open to receiving information on gay and lesbian issues and are likely to respond well to pitches from premium-movie services.

Showtime will advertise the new series in gay-targeted magazines such as
The Advocate, Genre


It will also drum up interest through grass-roots efforts at venues like gay film festivals, college parties for gay and lesbian student organizations and a show premiere party with the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York, said Showtime vice president of advertising Stephanie Gibbons.

The ads will feature a tightly cropped photo of the series'two lead characters, the title of the show and endorsements from television critics.

"It's meant to create curiosity and interest in the show, to get people talking," Gibbons said. "It's going to shock some people and thrill others."

Showtime's efforts to create a community-based buzz for the new show date back to the 2000 Millenium March on Washington this past April, and have continued at other gay-pride events across the country.

"Our goal was to start out with a little buzz, build to a hum and then by the time it premieres, go to a crescendo," Gibbons said. Buzz surrounding the U.K. television series of the same name has created a strong appetite for the Showtime series, she noted.

"It will change the face of American television," Gibbons said. "It's not like anything else out there, and that's amazing in itself in this cluttered television environment."

Showtime is not limiting its marketing efforts to the gay and lesbian community. The network plans to run ads in mainstream publications such as
People, Vanity Fair

TV Guide

Gibbons called the promotional efforts for
Queer as Folk

"top-level support" on the scale the network reserves for to its key programming, such as
Soul Food

Resurrection Blvd.
, which premiered earlier this year.

Showtime has committed to 22 episodes of
Queer as Folk,

which will air Sundays at 10 p.m. A companion Web site will launch in early December.