Queer Eye Confidential

The firings! The budgets! The filthy bathtub! Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s Fab 5 and their two equally fab producers spill the beans on how reality TV’s queerest twist turned into the hottest show of the summer

BY Michael Giltz

August 18 2003 12:00 AM ET

Have you ever
wondered what it’s like to live in a whirlwind? Just
spend the afternoon in New York’s Chelsea
district with the stars of the summer’s biggest
hit show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

It debuted to
record numbers on Bravo (where it airs Tuesdays at 10
p.m.), was immediately picked up by NBC to air in a special
edition in the plum Thursday night lineup, and quickly
received an order for seven more episodes to go with
the initial 12.

E! Entertainment
Television is sending a crew to follow the show’s Fab
5 around for a special. They’re scheduled to
make over Jay Leno and The Tonight Show. And
the New York Post ran a huge Sunday feature on
the quip-ready fashion guru Carson Kressley that called him
the “Queen of Mean.” And Clinique called
interior design expert Thom Filicia to basically say
it wanted to send grooming guy Kyan Douglas every product
it has ever made or ever will make in hopes he’ll use
some of them on the air.

Their phones
never stop ringing; some of them have day jobs to attend to.
And of course, with the five of them together at the
restaurant Elmo, it’s no surprise that people
on Seventh Avenue stare and smile, sometimes walking
over to offer kudos. Three diners even recognize the
show’s cultural expert, Jai Rodriguez, from his
other identity as an actor whose starring roles
include the recently closed off-Broadway musical Zanna, Don’t!

As they all share
stories about being stopped on the street or on Fire
Island by well-wishers, food-and-wine guy Ted Allen spills a
little something on his shirt. A waiter quickly whips
off his periwinkle-blue polo so Ted—the only
coupled man among the Fab 5, marking 10 years with his
partner—can be properly attired for the photographer.
And this, by the way, is their day off. Welcome to
their world.

CASTING CONUNDRUMS

Casting the Fab
5, admits executive producer David Collins, “was a
very long event.” He and fellow executive
producer David Metzler looked at “300 to 400
guys, maybe 500,” says Collins, who is 36 and has
been in a relationship for 14 years with the man he
met on the set of Little Man Tate.

“It felt
like we’d met every gay man in New York,” adds
Metzler, who is 31, single, and straight.

“The
sensibility for it was finding credible professionals who
had amazing personalities and could work
together,” says Collins. “We were
putting together groups of five and putting them together
and pulling them apart again.”

One person who
got pulled was original cast member Blair Boone, who
appears in two early episodes as the “guest culture
expert” in place of Jai. “It was
Jai’s energy that we really needed for the culture
category in terms of being a performer,” says
Metzler. “We sort of found him in the middle of
the first episode.”

The switch was a
shock to the remaining cast members. “We had
absolutely no clue up until the moment,” says
Thom, who like everyone else speaks warmly about
Blair.

Their initial
reaction, adds Ted, was “We could be fired at any
moment!”

“It could
easily have been me,” Thom insists.

MAKEOVER SECRETS

So, truth be
told, do the Fab 5 really work all that magic on the
straight guys in one day?

“No,
that’s gay time,” Collins quips.

“It takes
four days to shoot an episode,” Metzler says.

Thom—who
has the most labor-intensive job—has a small staff
that helps him with the painting, carpeting, tiling,
or whatever else needs doing. “After
we’re done with our initial de-straightening,”
he says, “which is when we go into
someone’s home and rip everything apart, I have a big
meeting with them in the space and we pick the colors and
really fine-tune exactly what it is we’re going
to do, what it is we’re going to keep, what we
put in storage for them. We don’t really throw
anything out.”

As Carson says,
“We don’t throw it away; we tuck it
away.”

Unlike other
makeover shows, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy never
discloses its budgets. “It’s not about what
you can do with an amount of money,” says
Metzler. “It’s about giving the straight guy a
starter kit he can move on from. A really nice starter
kit.”

The Fab
5’s endorsement of particular brands is genuine: No
company can pay for placement on the show without
their approval. “We will not work with a
company or a line we don’t feel is right,”
says Kyan.

Carson cuts in:
“Remember when they wanted to use K-Y jelly as a hair
product?” he jokes.

Getting products
wasn’t easy at first. With just a concept and the
daring title Collins had selected, companies were not
clamoring to participate.

“My
wardrobe person and I really had to call in a lot of
favors,” says Carson. “Nobody knew what
the show was about, and nobody had seen anything, and
people like Marc Jacobs and Roberto Cavalli and Etro really
went out on a limb. They just opened their doors and said,
‘Take what you want. Shoot it and bring it
back. We appreciate the PR.’”

Admittedly, the
show’s title may have put off the timid. When trying
to win over an advertiser before the show debuted, Jai
says, “our product placement person would save
the title until after she had explained the whole
show.”

“There are
a lot of people in the rest of the world that aren’t
even familiar with the word queer being a
positive word for us now,” Ted says.
“And being an inclusive word. We’ve had to
explain that to so many straight reporters.”

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