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American Television, Reality Shows  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

Still, Boy Meets Boy offered gay viewers an opportunity to test their "gaydar" while observing a bevy of handsome men competing for the affections of another handsome man, a rarity on television.

As reality television entered fully in to the new millennium, the format of these shows changed once again, and yet another sub-genre was spawned: the "make-over" or "make-better" show. The viewing public, seemingly growing tired of variations on the competitive elimination reality game shows, turned increasingly to shows that provided an entertaining and learning experience. Thus was ushered in the era of the Queer Eye.

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All Things Just Keep Getting Better: Queer Eyes and Gay Guys

The legend started innocently enough. According to television producer David Collins, as quoted in The Advocate, a Boston woman was berating her husband for his slovenly appearance. Pointing at four smartly dressed, groomed, and mannered gay men, she complained that her husband did not look like them. As Collins notes wryly, "What she needed was a queer eye for her straight guy." Collins then related this story to his straight producing partner, David Metzler, and the two began the creation of an unscripted lifestyle-makeover show. Thus was born Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Queer Eye debuted on the Bravo Network in the summer of 2003 and featured "The Fab Five," a team of gay experts who performed emergency transformations on hapless straight men who, somewhat surprisingly, eagerly submitted themselves for an appearance on the show. Armed with rubber gloves, natural fabrics, pre-shave oils, and witty remarks, the Fab Five--Kyan Douglas (hair and grooming), Thom Filicia (interior design), Jai Rodriguez (culture), Ted Allen (food and wine), and Carson Kressley (fashion)--swept down on a chosen straight man's dwelling and, in the space of a 60-minute episode, enacted a total (mind, body, and soul) transformation of said straight man.

Quite often the transformations were so successful that the straight participants did not want the Fab Five to leave. Openly gay show creator David Collins summarized the show's premise by explaining that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is ultimately you, only better. Furthermore, he observed, during the show the straight man would bond with the Fab Five, and this bonding generated a broader awareness of who gay men are and what it means to be straight and cool with themselves.

The Fab Five's expert knowledge, along with their broadly suggestive humor, made the gap between straight and gay bridgeable; and, according to Kylo-Patrick R. Hart, the humorous exchanges made it clear to the straight subjects, as well to straight viewers at home, that gay men do not really pose threats to their sexuality or well-being. This is an important point and one that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy exploited at every turn during its four year run from 2003 to 2007: gay men were eager to build bridges with straight men, and they really could help straight men lead better lives.

Rodger Streitmatter noted that after its debut on Bravo, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy quickly became not only a cultural phenomenon but also a program recognized for its quality, which resulted in an Emmy Award for Best Reality Show in 2004. Queer Eye also received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004 and 2005, before losing out to yet another gay-friendly competition show.

The show that eventually supplanted Queer Eye in popularity was not, however, a competition involving athleticism or outdoor survival skills. Instead, Project Runway, which debuted in 2004 on Bravo and moved to the mainstream cable network Lifetime in 2006, pitted budding fashion designers against each other in a fierce competition to see whose designs would (literally) make the cut.

Hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum and starring out fashion designer Tim Gunn--whose "Make It Work" injunction to contestants became an iconic addition to the American lexicon--Project Runway has consistently showcased openly gay competitors, although the show has come under some criticism for its dearth of lesbian designers.

However, the CW's popular show America's Next Top Model (hereafter, ANTM), which debuted in 2003, has counted several lesbians or bisexuals among its competitor lineups. In Cycle 11 (2008), ANTM also featured Isis King, the show's first contestant. King (nee Darrell Walls, b. October 1, 1985) began hormone replacement therapy in summer 2007 and underwent sex reassignment surgery in 2009. The show made her one of the most visible transgender people in the United States.

Writing in New York magazine, James Lim observed in 2008 that King was one of the few transgender models to rise to prominence, and noted that although "becoming a mainstream tranny model is more unlikely than becoming any old supermodel (which is hard enough), King showed that "it's not impossible." Indeed, King returned to ANTM as part of its All-Star retinue in Cycle 17 (2011).

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