On the night of the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Logo network’s most popular program ever, Logo celebrated with a party at the Out Hotel’s XL club. The drag-queen competitors posed for photos with guests—and sat for interviews with the national media; the clientele was almost entirely gay men. (As one friend emailed me: “EVERYONE IS THERE. EVERYONE. EVERYONE BUT ME.”) Even the contestant-villain of the season was inundated with admirers.
While Logo was once a gay enclave—the Out Hotel of the airwaves—the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race has been a breakthrough for the network among straight and gay audiences alike. It’s the kind of hit that defines a network. Or, in Logo’s case, helps to redefine it.
In April, the channel’s general manager, Lisa Sherman, wrote an op-ed on the Huffington Post wherein she indicated that the network’s programming was to follow gay interests, but that “quite often those interests are now the same as those of their friends and family, whether they’re gay or straight. It’s not just programming about gays, it’s programming that gays will enjoy.” The channel’s new branding hinges on the slogan “Beyond Labels.” In other words, Logo is going gay-ish.
This means less reality programming like The A-List—a real-life soap opera starring gay socialites—and more like like Eden’s World, a currently-airing series about a seven-year-old beauty queen, or The Baby Wait, an upcoming series about couples (both straight and gay) trying to adopt. “It seemed almost too on-the-nose for Logo,” said Baby Wait executive producer Tony DiSanto, of The Hills fame, who said the show was initially pitched out as a gay-centric series influenced by the portrayal of gay adoptive parents on ABC’s hit Modern Family.
A conversation with Logo’s recently installed senior vice-president of original programming, Brent Zacky, changed the angle slightly. “Brent called us and said, ‘This is great. Let’s take it a step further and feature all different sorts of couples.’ It’s such an obvious way to make this a more broadly appealing show. We hadn’t even thought of it.”
The success of cable networks with a gay sensibility but whose programming grid is not an all-gay agenda—think of Bravo or E!—is indicative of what Logo, a division of Viacom, stands to gain with its shift in sensibility.
As the gay movement has seen substantial gains in political and cultural capital, and as gay political groups (like the Empire State Pride Agenda, which recently fired its executive director) and gay media (like Out, which recently laid off its entire editorial staff) struggle to define their reason to exist, gay-ish culture is booming like never before. The success of Bravo is emblematic: the network that came to prominence in 2003 with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is by now largely about straight, married women, the winking visage of Andy Cohen the only reminder of its history.
“I don’t think Logo thinks gay men and lesbians need a network all their own,” said Dan Savage, the sex columnist who collaborated with Logo on a TV special about his “It Gets Better” campaign for bullied teens and who spoke at the network’s upfront presentation. “Some people in gay-land are a little upset that Logo is abandoning the gay market, and I don’t think that’s true.
“It reminds me of gay people bitching about straight people in gay bars. ‘These are supposed to be our exclusive preserves, our wildlife preserves.’ In the same way that gay people are in the mainstream now, a lot of straight people are in what used to be our little parallel universe.”