Showtime's Queer as Folk is set to debut its third season beginning this Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern. "I think in certain ways it's the year of the couple," said Ron Cowen, who developed the series with partner Daniel Lipman. While the sexy, promiscuous Brian (Gale Harold) has yet to change his ways, he's being squeezed on all sides by pairings that began or were hinted at last season. Brian's ex-flame Justin (Randy Harrison) has fallen for a music student (Fabrizio Filippo), whose unbridled romanticism is in sharp contrast to Brian's cynicism. Comic book store owner Michael (Hal Sparks) is still an item with hunky professor Ben (Robert Gant), while happily committed Melanie and Lindsay (Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill) are contemplating having a second child. Even buddies Emmett (Peter Paige) and Ted (Scott Lowell) are taking the leap into love--a friends-to-lovers shift that's worked more than once on Friends.
This season's action takes place on a compressed stage. There are 14 Queer as Folk episodes, compared with 22 in the first year and 20 the second. Showtime has committed to another 14 episodes next year. Although the drama has proved a success for the channel, attracting both a straight and gay audience, Showtime is following the common cable practice of shorter runs. The gay-inclusive HBO drama Six Feet Under, which also returns Sunday, has a 13-episode order, as did The Sopranos. Cable channels have more flexibility in marketing and production because they aren't locked into broadcasting's 22-episode seasons, a Showtime spokesman said. Lipman and Cowen say they are comfortable making fewer episodes. The two, along with Tony Jonas, serve as executive producers for Queer as Folk. "For everyone--cast, crew, and us--emotionally and psychologically it has been a little easier. Fourteen hours still is a lot to do, and you can get a lot accomplished," Lipman said. Cowen concurred: "I think we can create a shape to the season that with a longer order is harder to do. The story arc plays out nicely in 14 episodes."