Between the Lines

I Want My Gay TV

Richard Burnett
Many mainstream media pundits have asked me what I think of PrideVision TV and I usually crack it’s a drag not being able to fast forward through a boring porn scene. But PrideVision Canada, and the world’s first all-gay TV network, is ultimately like every other network: There’s a variety of programming to suit most tastes and I’m particularly partial to the Brit sitcom Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, the talk show So Graham Norton, the TV newsmagazine Shout! and the all-sports Locker Room with host Paul DeBoy (yes, DeBoy), hands-down one of my new favourite TV shows of the year, period. With one eye on PrideVision and another on the even bigger U.S. market, Viacom subsidiaries MTV and Showtime in January announced plans for their own gay TV network which, like PrideVision, will be offered to subscribers for a nominal fee.

Within a week a second gay TV venture was announced by MDC Entertainment who expect their ad-based Alt1-TV should be up and running by the first quarter of 2003. Not to mention PrideVision itself has hired consultants to examine PrideVision’s possible expansion into the American market.

While much-respected cultural critics like Michael Bronski of The Boston Phoenix have trashed gay networks for further commercializing gay life and promulgating glitzy and shallow lifestyles at the expense of other marginalized communities, such as people of colour and lesbians, other critics have hailed this as a profound change in television. And still others are looking to PrideVision as a model.

“As far as sex goes, PrideVision is fairly soaked in it,“ writes Michael Gross in the U.S.-based web mag Slate Magazine (Jan 17). “Hard-core erotica for both gay men and lesbians is broadcast at midnight. The women’s series features the “no-holes-barred“ action of Suburban Dykes. And a men’s soft-core porn feature at 10:30 pm called Steamy Knights is the chanel’s top-rated show...

“An emphasis on gay sex may limit the crossover subscription potential for this channel (which is planned as a premium offering, for about $5 a month). And yet if recent cable trends in cable TV are any indication, rigorous branding (that is, playing solely to your target audience and letting others come if they may) is the surest road to success. Lifetime, the top-rated cable channel [in the United States], didn’t reach the No. 1 spot until the network canned programs that were chosen for crossover appeal (such as reruns of Homicide) and stuck solely to providing “television for women“ as promised by the network’s tagline.“

Most important, as Gross notes, PrideVision and that network’s website are “disarmingly, exuberantly open. Looking at it brought back memories of the first time I walked into a gay bar with windows that looked directly out onto the sidewalk... So, even if some of their programming is over the top, in at least one respect, they’ve set an excellent example for their American counterparts. They have no shame.“

Shame is the operative word over at the usually fabulous Washington Post where staff writer Hank Stuever (Jan 15) took the piss out of the proposed new networks by proposing they air the following programs:
The Weakest Twink (game show): “Randomly selected nightclub patrons compete to answer incredibly easy questions to which the answer is usually “Stonewall“. Dismissive host Ian McKellan gets snippy when they don’t know the answer.“

That Early 90s Show (sitcom): “This week: Josh quits ACT UP and joins Queer Nation; Lucy tries to meet k.d. lang; Steve is outed by a hipster magazine.“

Bitchy Switches (lifestyle): Lesbian couples swap houses with male couples and each has just two days and $1,000 to completely redecorate a room in the other’s house. Pilot: Fur flies when Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie brown add wood paneling and Napa Valley style to Jann and Matt’s ultra-minimalist loft.“

Live to tell (reality): “Young contestants have just 60 minutes to come out to their parents, fight, reconcile and get back to college before the semester starts.“

The list goes on and on. It may be intended to be funny but it’s really a slap in the face. Trivializing gay TV networks just because they’re gay is a cheap shot. In fact, it’s downright homophobic.

The importance of gay TV was made clearer to me when I read a Winnipeg Free Press feature on drag kings which was headlined “The other side of the drag divide“ when it was reprinted in The Montreal Gazette (Jan 27).

The story surrounds the Winnipeg launch of the new international drag-king magazine Kingdom. But then the Free Press points out, “Singer k.d. lang, for instance, is not considered a drag king, nor is a woman who pretends to be a man at the shopping mall... Most of Winnipeg’s drag kings are lesbians. They are not to be confused with women who dress and act masculine.“

With such inciteful commentary no wonder rural kids need gay TV.

But even some media pundits in Canadian prairies get it - sort of.

Columnist Michael Jenkinson of The Edmonton Sun (Jan 28) writes about the Canadian Alliance leadership race, “After thinking it through carefully, I’m forced to conclude that the only person who can bring the whole Canadian Alliance-Tory dance of death to any kind of resolution is Enza “Supermodel“ Anderson. It will take the complete and utter humiliation of the Alliance by a cross-dresser winning the leadership to make the party wake up and realize that Canadians are sick and tired of their constant internal belly-aching and petty personal fueds.“
Jenkinson - who dubs himself a “bonafide Westerner“ who once supported Stockwell Day - than veers off the rails and lets his social conservative roots undermine his interesting rant: “At first I was upset at the fact Anderson was running for the Alliance leadership. He would turn the serious business of the leadership race into a mockery, I thought.“

Well, first of all Michael, Enza and drag queens are referred to as “she“.

Then Jenkinson writes, “I realized that the leadership race is already a mockery, and the party deserves a joke candidate like Anderson running it... A drag queen has inadvertently become Canada’s best hope of defeating the Liberals. That’s how sad this country has become.“

Someone tell Jenkinson that Enza is not a joke candidate and there was nothing inadvertent about her campaign. As Enza told me herself last month in my column Three Dollar Bill (Feb 1) before she pulled out of the Alliance leadership race, “Why is it when a drag queen runs for office it’s a big joke, but when a politician shows up at a press conference on a Seadoo dressed in a wetsuit [like Stockwell Day did], he’s taken seriously?“

So up yours, Jenkinson.

Finally, the quote of the month goes to columnist Paulo Murillo, writing in Los Angeles’ fab! magazine (Dec 21).
“Fat people that don’t know they’re fat people give me the salties,“ Murillo rants. “How do you wake up, look in the mirror, see marshmellow and cottage cheese bulging from all perimeters of your body, and still find the NERVE to hang with the Pretty Speedo People? It’s a gay crime I tell you!“

Don’t write me - write Murillo.

Richard Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine as well as on the web at and (click on the “issues“link and scroll down to Three Dollar Bill).