Open Letter to Showtime and MTV

TO: Gene Falk, Senior Vice President

Matt Farber, Consultant

FROM: Stephen Tropiano, PopMatters Columnist

RE: Gay TV Network

DATE: April 10, 2002

Dear Sirs:

I am pleased MTV and Showtime are joining forces to create a gay television network. Actually, I’m not surprised, because it’s clear you have not only been keeping your gay and lesbian viewers and subscribers in mind when making programming decisions, but you have also repeatedly shown a genuine commitment to social and political issues that are important to the gay community.

As you know, MTV produced Anatomy of a Hate Crime, the first of the three made-for-TV movies about Matthew Shepard. The film’s premiere back in 2000 launched the network’s year-long campaign against hate-crimes. In addition to breaking new ground with the first gay situation comedy (Brothers back in 1984), cable drama about AIDS (As Is, 1986), and dramatic series (Queer as Folk), Showtime has produced some quality gay-themed films, like Blind Faith (1998), Execution of Justice (1999), and Dirty Pictures (2000). But now, instead of being limited to a few hours of gay programming a month, we will soon be watching around the clock.

I’m excited about this, but I’m also very curious. I read in Daily Variety last week that you are still ironing out the details about the new channel. The one decision that you apparently have made is not to follow in the footsteps of Pridevision, Canada’s 24-hour gay station, and show porn during the late night hours. I’m sure the on-line gay porn industry is relieved.

So what, exactly, will I be watching on your new gay channel at 4AM? Or during prime time? I’d like to share a few ideas about what your gay viewers may want to watch. I apologize if my suggestions focus more on what not to do, as opposed to specific programming suggestions, but my fears of what may be produced far outweigh my ideas about what a gay channel could and should potentially offer.

1. Do not turn your channel into an outlet for bad gay and lesbian films that we already regret paying money to see in a theatre. The Next Best Thing, To Wong Fu, Three of Hearts, and Too Much Sun, were bad enough the first time around. We certainly do need yet another movie channel that will start rerunning these turkeys over and over again. Indeed, should I have a desire to sit through The Birdcage or its like again (which, I assure you, will not happen in this lifetime), I can go out and rent it. But please, don’t subject me to it on your channel.

If you wish to program gay and lesbian-themed features, there is an ample supply of great, independent films that have never been broadcast on television, let alone shown theatrically. There are gay and lesbian film festivals happening in major cities around the country that screen films all around the world. For example, in my hometown, Los Angeles, OUTFEST: The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this July. OUTFEST is the film capitol’s largest annual film festival. So instead of programming films we can rent any time in a video store, show us shorts and features that we otherwise may not have the opportunity to see.

If you decide to rerun those old, otherwise “bad” films that we all love, anyway, such as The Gay Deceivers, Norman, Is that You?, The Foxes (simply consult Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet for more ideas), please be sure to present these films within a context. It’s fun to watch old films, but it’s important to remember why we are watching them. Hire a host, like American Movie Classic’s Robert Osborne, to introduce the film and give us some insight into its historical significance in the gay film canon.

2. Please, do not turn your channel into another rerun station. Sure, there’s no easier way to fill a weekly time slot than to purchase 110 episodes of some sitcom. The concept of a show being rerun in syndication used to be reserved to programs that were worthy of being seen over and over again. I’m thinking of series like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and The Andy Griffith Show. I don’t believe those who thought of repeating old shows foresaw us being bombarded by reruns of every network sitcom that managed to last longer than 22 episodes; I made a conscious choice not to watch Family Matters, Step by Step, and Full House when they were on the first time.

Another question arises: what exactly constitutes a gay rerun? A repeat of Ellen? O.K. Will and Grace? Sure. Soap? Well, the latter does have a gay character, but so do hyper-hetero sitcoms like Mad About You and Anything But Love, neither of which belong on a gay channel.

If you really need additional programming to complete your schedule, I say go ahead and schedule The Golden Girls and Designing Women (for the guys) and Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman (for the gals). But why not do some research and dig up some old early gay episodes from the ’70s that have not been seen since they first aired, such as The Bob Crane Show, C.P.O. Sharkey, Carter Country, and The Baxters.

3. Finally, if you are going to start a gay channel, don’t make the mistake of turning it into a gay “male” channel. There is a disproportionate amount of programming for gay men. You will have to put some effort into developing some innovative, original programming for lesbians and the transgender members of your audience. For example, wouldn’t it be nice to look forward to Emma Thompson’s made-for-TV adaptation of The Well of Loneliness or see Megan Mullally play Katherine Forrest’s lesbian detective, Kate Delafield?

Very truly yours,