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

SCARY STRAIGHT GUYS

Wondering where
Queer Eye gets its straight guys? Fliers went up
in New York City. Casting directors put out a call for
straight men who could “stand up to the
transformation,” says Scout Productions spokesman
Ron Hofmann.

“Each
[guy] is a total surprise,” says Ted. “We do
get a little bit of a dossier on what he’s
like. But they want our reaction to be real. So we
don’t get to see the inside of the apartment until
the first day of shooting. And it’s a fresh
hell each time.”

“Week
before last,” Kyan says with a shudder, “I
actually carved the guy’s name in the bottom of
his tub with a knife. That was an all-time low for
me.”

Everyone agrees
that a big key to the show’s success is that the Fab
5 don’t mock or belittle the clueless schlub.
“From the beginning, when we pitched it to
Bravo,” Metzler says, “the story of the
friendship of the Fab 5 and the straight guy was at
the heart of the pitch.”

“We
started with not being mean-spirited,” adds Collins.

As they began
shooting, “it’s something that
evolved,” says Ted, who worked on the
unbroadcast pilot with Carson—making them the two
“oldest” Queer Eyes. “But I think
it was probably important to Dave and Dave all along
that the show had a heart to it. It just sort of came
naturally. When you ask us to come into
somebody’s life and try to help them out,
we’re going to sincerely do that. I think
that’s why the show appeals to such a cross
section of people.”

“Certainly, that [casting] process was about finding
people who weren’t catty and jaded and
bitchy,” Jai says.

“Some of
my best friends are straight,” Ted offers.
“And there’s nothing wrong with
them.”

“As long
as they act gay in public,” Carson snaps,
“I’m fine with it.”

“I enjoy
my relationship with straight men,” Kyan says.
“It’s very nurturing. It’s very
validating to hang out with straight guys and be
accepted. So many of us, we were not accepted when we were
younger by straight persons in high
school.”

SELLING THE STEREOTYPES

Bravo loved the
Queer Eye concept from the get-go. “When
we threw out this idea and the straight guys were more
excited than the gay guys,” Collins says,
“you knew the timing was right.”

The cable channel
received the pilot in September 2002, and the show
tested well. Then NBC suddenly purchased the channel, which
meant winning over a whole new bevy of bosses.
“We thought for sure it was all over,”
Collins says. “We thought, OK, that was fun. We
got to make a pilot, and it’s going to stay
on the shelf.

Instead, a
gracious executive intervened, he recalls: “Frances
Berwick at Bravo really did something quite
remarkable. She laid Bravo’s baby down at
NBC’s feet and said, ‘Here’s something
that we really believe in.’ She really took a
chance. The folks at NBC completely grabbed on as well.
They ordered 12 shows right off the bat at
Christmas.”

With NBC’s
muscle behind them, a massive PR campaign began, featuring a
shot of the Fab 5 in black suits that played like a cross
between Reservoir Dogs and Charlie’s
Angels.
Huge ad spreads ran in magazines like
Rolling Stone, and billboards popped up in Times
Square and on Sunset Boulevard.

“That was
a wow,” says Thom.

And never did
anyone suggest the Fab 5 were too gay. “The
stereotype is a tricky thing, because I think we might
start with stereotypes,” says Metzler.
“But as you watch the show, it goes way past that. I
think Dave and I were equally concerned from the
beginning to make sure that what we did on the show
was true to the real people that we cast. Carson is
really Carson, and Ted is really Ted, and Jai is really
Jai.”

And how did they
achieve that level of reality? Was there coaching?
“They didn’t help us at all!”
laughs Thom.

Agrees Ted:
“No help. They threw us right into the pool and let
us freeze.”

As a result, the
show is doing swimmingly. The Fab 5 are overwhelmed and
thrilled about how many nongay people the show appeals to.

Carson tells a
favorite story: “We were shooting, and this little
12-year-old fashion plate comes up and says, ‘Carson,
I just wanted to meet you. I really enjoy your work.
You’re inspirational.’ He’s telling
me everything he has on. The designers. He had a yarmulke
on, and I said, ‘You go! Baruch Atah Adonai!
Keep stylin’.’ It was so cute.”

“The other
amazing thing is the mother and father—who
don’t mind, who are allowing them,” says
Thom. “I never thought of myself as being someone
who would be able to do that for a kid.”

Indeed, Thom says
he resisted being an interior designer because he
thought it would embarrass his parents, while Carson avoided
fashion because it seemed too gay. They’re all
excited that a new generation of kids, both gay and
straight, can grow up seeing their careers celebrated
on a hit show and making a positive difference in
someone’s life.

As for the
endless debate about whether they’re magnifying gay
stereotypes: “Hi, it’s a reality show!”
says Carson. “We’re not cartoonish, and
we’re not pretending to be supergay or superstraight
or whatever. We’re just being ourselves.
I’m not going to make any excuses for who I am,
and I don’t think any of these guys are
either.”

Such discussions
are flat-out “rude,” says Jai, “because
you’re commenting on who we are as people.
We’re not playing a role.”

“Just to
play devil’s advocate,” adds Kyan,
“even if we are embracing a stereotype that gay
guys are effeminate or whatever, so what? I’m all for
guys being butch and guys being men. I identify with that
and appreciate that. But if I’m going to stab
my gay brother in the back who isn’t butch and
who maybe acts a little bit more effeminate, what good is
that? A gay guy can be effeminate. It’s OK. If
somebody has a problem with it, they need to lighten
up, and they need to open up their mind.”

Anyway, so far
such opinions have been drowned out by the
“staggeringly positive” response to the
show, Ted says. “If a couple of people don’t
like the show, whatever. That’s fine. You’re
entitled to your opinion. As far as backlash, you know
what? Bring it on. We’re OK; we can take it.
We’re not going to be worried about negativity.
We’re going to keep doing our thing and doing
the best job.”

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