Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Straight Guys Love the Queer Eye

Believe it or not, Patrick, Fleming, and I apparently never learned how to correctly tie a tie. Not that we're in an industry that demands much in the way of neckwear, but it's something that we took for granted. In the first episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" that we watched, Carson Kressley, fashion savant, demonstrated how to tie a tie for his hopeless subject in Great Neck. Our collective jaws dropped. We'd been doing it wrong for 26+ years and not a single straight soul had ever corrected us. We were sold. Five episodes later, we're still learning.

Two years ago, in Boston's South End, a woman condemned her husband for his unkempt appearance. “Why can’t you look like them?” she asked, indicating several well dressed, groomed, and mannered gay men. The gay men, instead of lampooning the man, came to his rescue – complimenting some of his fashion and suggesting improvements. “What she needed was a queer eye for her straight guy,” observed David Collins, who witnessed the incident, as he relayed the story to his partner, straight producer David Metzler.

"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was born.

"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" premiered on July 15 on Bravo, a small basic-cable network best known (previously) for "Inside the Actor's Studio". "Queer Eye," a hilarious unscripted lifestyle-makeover show features the “Fab Five,” a super-hero styled team of gay experts who transform one straight man in need of serious help in each 60-minute episode. The fashion victims, by the way, mostly submit themselves to the Fab Five's scrutiny, though straight subjects are occasionally submitted by girlfriends and wives. Straight slobs in the greater New York area beware.

The show's cast, selected first and foremost because they were experts, not just because they were gay, is an exceptional team of professionals. Ted Allen, the show’s food and wine connoisseur, is a contributing editor to Esquire magazine, and coauthors the "Things a Man Should Know" column. Kyan Douglas, the show's grooming expert, has lent his expertise to TLC’s "What Not to Wear" and "While You Were Out". Thom Filicia, who manages his own sizable interior design firm in NY, has been noted as one of the top 100 American interior designers. Jai Rodriguez, the culture guru, stared in Rent and is a fixture on NY's club circuit. Finally, fashion elite Carson Kressley, the team's one-line dealing leader, has lent his design expertise to the likes of Ralph Lauren.

Of course, the success and instant popularity of the show can not be attributed solely to their "queer eye". The show's greatest assets are its good sprit, its hilarity, and its constructive methodology. They don't destroy the straight guy or rebuild him "gay". And Bravo spends $1,500 to $10,000 an episode for the makeover (depending on the income of the straight subject – they're trying to create a lifestyle the straight guy can maintain). What's more, the miracle transformation is somewhat of an illusion. While the show appears to take place over the course of only one day, the actual makeover lasts as long as three days, during which time the straight guy is put up in a hotel.

NBC, which owns a controlling share of Bravo, is milking the show's instant success for everything it's worth. While committed to keeping the show on Bravo, NBC has aired three complete "Queer Eye" episodes in primetime. The Fab Five had a two-night stint on The Tonight Show – including the opportunity to remake Leno and his set. They've been on MSNBC's new programs and are set to guest-star as themselves on the second episode of NBC's sitcom "Good Morning Miami" this fall.

You can catch new episodes of "Queer Eye" on Bravo, Tuesday Nights at 10pm. You probably didn't even know you had Bravo, eh? We didn't. You can also catch reruns throughout the week. Finally, a reality improvement show that is fun, well-mannered, and done first in the US (Damn the British and their "Changing Spaces!")

Give "Queer Eye" a chance. You'll love it, straight or no. fb

The Gay Scare

Maybe I'm missing something.

In this era of terrorism, economic recovery, foreign war and occupation, democratic trial in California, region-wide infrastructure failures, and political disillusionment, doesn't it seem folly to focus so much on the crippling social impact of a bishop and a TV show?

Perhaps folly to focus on it it so much that you might consider amending the Constitution?

Here's my point: Last time I checked, the gay community wasn't forcing itself on anyone. Watching "Queer Eye" or "Will and Grace" won't make you gay. No one is being forced to have sex against their will. But to consider revising our most revered national document in an effort to limit the personal rights of a minority population is one of the most offensive ideas I've heard come out of government in decades.

And as for the moral argument against homosexuality...well, lets all remember to take our scripture with a pinch of salt, shall we. The Bible, which vaguely condemns homosexuality and specifically condemns sodomy, also reminds us that woman are inferior to men, that we should keep slaves and treat them kindly, and that certain Levantine enemies of the Jewish people should be held in bondage forever and all of their cities should be burned to the ground and never permitted to prosper. Hell...the Bible doesn't allow bank loans. Banks!

I'm saying it's a hair out of date on some points. That's all.

Maybe it's because I have gay friends that I can't understand the heterosexual panic. It's true, there are some terrifying gay insurgents out there. Take this one for example:

Gene Robinson, Hew Hampshire's new Episcopal bishop, is a 56-year-old divorced father of two. He has lived with his partner, Mark Andrew, for 13 years in a committed monogamous relationship. Terrifying.

I understand the ecclesiastical argument his opponents have made. And I acknowledge the threat levied on the Episcopal church by the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, of which Episcopalians form the U.S. branch. They've threatened severing ties with the American church over Robinson. Sure they will. Just like they did when they threatened a schism over the US church's insistence on confirming women to the priesthood. I'll hold my breath. (In the event that I'm proven a complete jackass on this point, and they do sever relations, I will also breathe again)

Not convinced? Think I'm just ranting (which I am)? Try this one:

Critics of homosexual Americans are quick to site their apparent threat to the revered concepts of family and stable society. Family – a concept already sundered by the heterosexual world's inability to take marriage or child-rearing seriously – would likely benefit from the inclusion of a few more stable couples, regardless of their particular gender pairing. And society? You mean the ideal of Western Civilization? The crucible of culture founded in Greco-Roman tradition by men such as Plato and Aristotle, Socrates and Caeser – all men of fluid sexual preference living in model societies that embraced homosexual and bisexual behavior? My point.

I'm not endorsing homosexually. I just don't see why anyone should care. Maybe I'm in the minority of people who belive that a person's private life should remain private and unmolested by Federal decree. If a gay person flirts with you, don't be offended (would they be if the tables were reversed?). Be flattered. fb

Terry Tate: Office Linebacker

While working on last month's critique article, about the winners of the 2003 Cannes Advertising Festival, we stumbled across our new collective favorite advertising personality. Destined to be known with the greats – Joe Isuzu, the "Where's the Beef" lady, and that obnoxious kid from Dell – Terrible Terry Tate, Reebok's Office Linebacker, has crushed his way into our hearts.

Terry Tate, a fictitious football linebacker created by the Arnell Group for Reebok, made his debut during the 2003 Super Bowl. During an evening of fairly unimpressive super-budget commercials (oh, how we pine for the days when the Internet bubble filled football with great advertising – we miss you, Pets.com dog!) Reebok set themselves apart with an off-the-wall, and extremely violent, peek into corporate culture.

The original one minute spot (a Cannes Golden Lion winner, coincidentally, enough) features Terry Tate dishing out retribution on inconsiderate and lazy office workers through physical assault and verbal abuse. Doesn't sound funny? Oh...you have no idea how funny high-impact tackling and verbal berating can be in an office environment until you watch Terry in action. It's like watching Michelangelo paint – pure artistry.

Terry Tate was hugely popular with Super Bowl watchers, if you can call them that – TiVo reported that more of its viewers watched the ad than the game itself. In the week following the Super Bowl (January 26, 2003) Terry Tate was the subject of more Internet searches than the Dixie Chicks or Osama bin Laden. Reebok searches, not counting those for Terry Tate, went up 90 percent as well. Hits on the Reebok's Terry Tate site, designed by Los Angeles-based Hypnotic, shot up 308 percent on the day after the ad first aired. Since then over 700,000 people have voluntarily subscribed to Terry's mailing list, over 1.6 million Terry Tate films have been downloaded, and traffic to the online store has quadrupled.

And what's there for you to see? Following up on the success of the initial ad, Reebok launched a series of short films, all available on the site, and a spoof commercial targeting their primary rival, Nike. You can even send "Hit Mail" to friends – each message featuring a short film clip.

Our favorite film moment of Terry Tate? When Terry tackles the man playing solitaire at work. "You like playin' games, Gene? Well I got a game for ya. It's called, 'How much pain can Gene stand before Gene learns not to play games anymore.' That's my game. That's Terry's game. And when it's game time, it's pain time. Woo!"

Patrick does a terrifying rendition of that quote.

But don't think that Reebok has limited the Terry Tate advertising franchise to online and commercial film.

Actor Lester Speight, who plays Terry Tate, is currently a candidate for Governor of California. It couldn't have been too hard to dig up 65 signatures in a state disillusioned enough to support over 200 candidates – including cross-dressers, porn stars, a centenarian, and Gary Coleman – with Reebok paying the $3,500 entry fee.

The Arnell Group plans to keep Tate on the ballot for as long as he can milk the hype and then publicly withdraw from the race to reap even more publicity. The only snag: The candidate might become too popular and actually earn votes. Reebok has already been accused of disrespecting the democratic process. Really... how much more ridiculous can a Madison Avenue creation running for Governor be than some of the antics already perpetrated by California legitimate candidates – Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger among them.

The real magic of the Terry Tate advertising phenomena is that, despite the attention that it's focused on Reebok and the increase in sales – especially among the 18-34 demographic – it has generated, the Terry Tate ads and films feature no Reebok products in detail. He wears their vector logo around his neck and their cross-trainers on his feet...not that he sits still long enough for you to see either.

Turns out there might be more to branding than just keeping your logo in front of people. A 6'7" 300 pound linebacker can do the trick just fine. So watch out. (The pain train is comin'... The pain train is comin'... Woo Woo!) fb