A prestige television brand for decades, HBO traveled the long, two-lane road to the tip of Cape Cod, Mass., to settle in at a pop-up space in the LGBTQ mecca of Provincetown. For seven weeks this summer, HBO hosted a space it dubbed The Studio on legendary Commercial Street, where writers, creators, and influencers, and even Cookie Monster and Grover, mingled with visitors to Provincetown for Family Week, Bear Week, Women’s Week, and more. While the cable network could have sat down for the summer in just about any pro-LGBTQ destination in the country, Provincetown provided diversity within the community and a certain historical allure.
“[Provincetown is] renowned for being an artist’s colony. There’s a really long history of writers coming up here and making some of their best work,” HBO’s director of Multicultural Marketing Cameron Leel told The Advocate about the decision to sit down in Provincetown for the summer, as opposed to say something closer to New York or L.A., like Fire Island or Palm Springs.
“It’s national. Everybody comes to Provincetown from across the country and you’re getting a good cross-section of the community,” he added, noting Provincetown’s diversity in terms of both queer women and men who make it a destination spot.
The cable juggernaut responsible for some of television’s most enduring series, including The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, and Game of Thrones, shone a spotlight on a different aspect of its programming each week to coincide with various specialty weeks Provincetown hosts over the summer.
Harmonica Sunbeam reads to kids during Family Week
The pop-up kicked off around the Fourth of July with a focus on HBO’s documentaries that featured Believer, about Imagine Dragons' lead singer Dan Reynolds' work highlighting the plight of LGBTQ Mormon youth. The new series High Maintenance, about a bike-riding weed delivery salesman, coincided with Bear Week, while Sesame Street was the draw for Family Week. Parents and kids dropped by the space to hang out with beloved plush characters or to hear Harmonica Sunbeam read aloud for Drag Queen Story Hour.
“Those families were over the moon to have their kids come in and meet Cookie Monster and Grover,” Leel said of parents and kids who dropped in for Sesame Street at The Studio.
"As a member of the LGTBQ parent community who was in P-Town for Family Equality Council's Family Week, and as an individual who watched shows like Sesame Street as a kid, seeing HBO's presence in P- Town speaks volumes for their support of families like mine,” Family Equality Council chief development officer Matthew Ramsey said. “When my husband and I make choices about what to allow our 7- and 8-year-old children to watch on TV, we are very intentional about finding appropriate programming and channels that support our family and our community. HBO's The Studio and its innovative and fun atmosphere showcases a warm and welcoming environment for children of all ages and families of all shapes and sizes."
But HBO didn't just set up shop in the middle of the country’s queerest hamlet and leave it at that. The brand worked with the Provincetown Business Guild to give back to the community and to local establishments as often as possible.
"The HBO Studio team embraced our business and artist community from the moment they hit town and then just kept adding new ideas, creative talent and a place for all to meet and have dialogue. HBO has been a great partner to the Provincetown business and creative community for years, and it was really exciting to get to build further partnerships with the team living and working here in our community for the summer,” Provincetown Business Guild executive director Robin Lapidus said. “HBO worked with many of our local vendors to make the Studio a reality and we appreciate their commitment to our town, its residents, our visitors and to our LGBTQ Community.”
From offering gift cards to local businesses as trivia prizes (Sex and the City trivia was a big deal) to working with local vendors on the more behind-the-scenes aspects of producing the space, HBO partnered with members of the community, Leel said. The cable network even worked with the local business East End Yoga for the duration of the event, a relationship that came in particularly handy during Healing Week.
“This is part of their economy. It’s important for us to remember as a big brand that when you have the opportunity and the privilege to spend your money in that way that you’re spending it responsibly,” Leel said.
The company was also sure to incorporate Provincetown’s history as a writers’ sanctuary into its programming. An inspiration for gay writers and artists, including Tennessee Williams, Michael Cunningham, and filmmaker John Waters throughout the years, HBO hosted panels where writers like Insecure’s Ben Cory Jones and Amy Aniobi addressed the importance of diversity in the writers’ room.
Judy Gold, Matteo Lane, Travon Free, and Cameron Esposito on the "New Queer Comedy."
Additionally, writer Travon Free from the upcoming HBO series Camping, comedian Cameron Esposito, and illustrator Matteo Lane joined GLAAD for a panel on “New Queer Comedy,” which Judy Gold moderated.
“We wanted to create this narrative within the space of LGBTQ storytellers so it was important to us to make sure we had people who have direct impact in the writers’ rooms up here talking about what that’s like,” Leel said.
The Studio featured 92 events over the summer, gave away more than 4,600 pieces of HBO swag, and pulled in an average of 1,500 visitors per week, with the most topping out at about 2,000, according to stats from the event. But the most enduring takeaway from The Studio is HBO’s commitment to LGBTQ representation while supporting local business and what that could mean in a larger scale.
“I hope that as a part of the community and an LGBTQ consumer I hope that our presence here signals to other brands that this is a place where they can come and reach community,” Leel said.