When is a TV channel like a bar? When it's gay.
Logo, America's first gay TV channel, is transitioning. When it launched in 2005, Logo aired news segments, sketch-comedy shows and original scripted dramas focused on the lives of gay people. Now, in the age of openly gay talk-show hosts, news anchors and actors, Logo has embraced the slogan "Beyond labels" and is shifting away from shows about gays to programming for gays (and the people who love them).
Just as that venerable institution the gay bar has undergone a fundamental transformation now that gays and lesbians have more places, real or virtual, where they can socialize, Logo, too, is moving away from separatism and toward integration. "A lot has changed in seven years in terms of this community being accepted and more fully integrated into the world," said Lisa Sherman, Logo's executive vice president and general manager. "We feel that if we're going to be true to our audience, we have to have programming that reflects their lives today."
That means reruns of series including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Reno 911! Sherman says they're a good fit for Logo because, in the case of Buffy, "the show is not about being gay, but it has a gay character and a gay sensibility." Then there are the series Absolutely Fabulous, Nip/Tuck and Golden Girls, which Logo will start airing next spring. They don't necessarily have gay characters or story lines, but, Sherman said, they're "a little outrageous and they've got a lot of heart." They're camp, in other words.
The most surprising part of the new Logo lineup is the imports from sister channel MTV. What appeal do the shows 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and True Life have for gay viewers? Sherman said, "They give you a peek at situations where underdogs have struggled to rise up against a society that's condemning their circumstances. That's a theme all gay people can relate to."
This new attitude is on display in one of Logo's own shows, RuPaul's Drag U, now in its third season. Earlier seasons felt like filler programming intended mostly to remind viewers about the fabulous queens who had won their hearts in RuPaul's Drag Race — the warmest, sweetest, bitchiest reality contest on television — and Logo's biggest hit.
Drag Race favorites became Drag U "faculty" members, tasked with teaching biological women how to get in touch with their inner divas. The contestants were given drag names, donned over-the-top outfits, strutted their stuff on the catwalk and lip-synched to boost their Drag Point Average.
This year, the focus is more down to earth. The women are offered makeup tips they can use in everyday life. They're even given clothes they can wear on the streets in addition to their extravagant "dragulation" gowns.
Of course, there's a practical reason for these decisions. Logo doesn't have a monopoly on gay TV programming anymore. Every weekday morning, AfterEllen.com and AfterElton.com (both owned by Logo) publish recaps highlighting same-sex subtext and generally draw attention to "lesbianish" or "gayish" television, most of which, these days, airs elsewhere on the dial.
If the rest of television has become more gay-friendly, is it any surprise that Logo should become more straight-friendly?
When asked whether Logo would ever bring back the gay newscasts that were once part of the lineup, Sherman said the channel would do some specials — around the presidential election, for instance — but "gay news is on CNN and CNBC now. Gay people are consuming their news elsewhere. I just don't think that's something we could do as well as those other 24/7 networks."
Logo is like a gay bar. You might not patronize them much, but you can be grateful they've survived. They provide a much-needed refuge in tough times or when a gay man or a lesbian simply wants to be with his or her own people. Logo is prospering by providing programming that gay people can connect with, but sometimes we want to see shows that are for, by, and about the community.