Logo, the new Viacom cable venture that launched in late June in about 13 million homes nationwide, isn't the first gay cable channel ever, but it's the first one to appear as part of the basic cable lineup (the other gay-themed channel, the Q Network, is a premium digital satellite channel with a relatively limited subscription base, while Here! is a video on-demand service for the gay market).
With the advent of Logo, gays take another step toward being sought out not only as the subject matter, but as the consumer base for mass entertainment—just another niche demographic, as African-Americans are for BET and UPN, or jocks for the Outdoor Life Network. Because of its greater market reach (not to mention sponsorship by companies like Miller Lite, Motorola, and Orbitz), Logo represents a new kind of cable programming -- and, to those made uncomfortable by the presence of "alternative lifestyles" on television, a new kind of threat.
Days before the June 30 launch of Logo, a group called the Concerned Women for America posted a press release calling the network "an assault on our children's innocence," and the Traditional Values Coalition has lobbied to boycott all Logo's advertisers, saying that the channel would offer little more than "moral anarchy for a very seriously dysfunctional lifestyle."
If only. After a week and a half of serious Logo viewing, the dirtiest single moment I've witnessed so far was pretty mild indeed. It occurred on the travel show Round Trip Ticket, when the perky blond host gave the name of an Amsterdam hotel designed specifically for gay men interested in bondage, then asked naughtily, "How do you say 'ouch' in Dutch?" Logo is so wholesome, so middle-of-the-road, it's practically apple-cheeked. The new network's president, Brian Graden, has made a point of specifying that the channel will steer clear of highly sexualized content: "When you tell a story about gay rodeo or gay surfers, it's not a story about sex nor does it need to be," he told the New York Times last month.
That depends on which cowboys and surfers you talk to, I guess. But Logo's main problem may be not that it ghettoizes itself with overly sexy programming that offends audiences and advertisers, but that, on the contrary, it tries to please so broad and diverse an audience (from bull dykes and leather daddies to middle-class gay families and curious straights) that it never emerges with a clear voice of its own. So far, the network's slate seems to consist largely of earnest gay-themed movies like The Brandon Teena Story (a documentary about the real-life murder case on which Boys Don't Cry was based), Heavenly Creatures, and The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story, in which Glenn Close plays a lesbian colonel who sued the military after being discharged for her sexual orientation.
Logo has acquired the rights to over 200 feature films, as well as documentaries and series imported from other networks. The Evolution Will Be Televised, an original documentary that chronicled the gay-rights movement since Stonewall, kicked off the network's launch in late June. A documentary debuting this Saturday, Ruthie and Connie, will tell the story of a Jewish lesbian couple, both grandmothers, who lived together for years as "roommates" before finally daring to come out to their friends and family.
My favorite show on Logo so far is, without question, First Comes Love, an adaptation of a Canadian reality show titled My Fabulous Gay Wedding in which a team of event planners, led by Kids in the Hall alumnus Scott Thompson, puts together dream marriage ceremonies for gay couples. Though the show is never overtly political in tone, even a casual viewing reveals how wide a gap still separates gay and straight couples, and how charged the topic of homosexual marriage remains. In a recent episode involving the nuptials of two divorced lesbians, the obstacles that still loomed on the eve of wedding day were of a different order than those on a straight-themed wedding show like, say, Bridezillas. Rather than fretting about the flower arrangements or the tulle bags of Jordan almonds, one of the brides was struggling with the question of whether her own children would be allowed to attend the ceremony by her disapproving ex-husband (who the host referred to as "Captain Custody"). In the end, the kids did attend, but their faces were blurred out at their father's insistence. In this week's episode, two men who'd been living together for seven years finally had the opportunity to make it legal. As Rob and Greg bawled their way through their wedding vows while dressed in matching Scottish kilts, it was hard to imagine even Anita Bryant not getting a little choked up.
If there's one element of Logo's programming that will convince the remaining queasy homophobes out there that gay people are just as boring as the rest of us, it's the commercials. No matter what you like to do in between the sheets at night, your dog still needs a flea collar, your carpet needs shampooing (preferably with a Robo-Maid), and nothing personal, but your bathroom could probably use scenting with a mail-order Ionic Breeze from Sharper Image. The viewers targeted by Logo's advertisers (like most of the lesbians and gays portrayed in the network's programming) are neither the gorgeous misfits of Queer as Folk or The L Word, nor the crowd-pleasing minstrels of Will & Grace. They're just regular schlubs who want to come home, flip on the tube, and space out for a while to images that reflect back something of their own lives. Can't gays be couch potatoes, too?