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Here looks for
crossover audience with John Waters film series

Here looks for
crossover audience with John Waters film series

At the movies, there are the lovelorn sheep ranchers of Brokeback Mountain. On television, there's Ellen, Rosie, and Will & Grace. Now cult movie director John Waters has a televised film series he hopes will cross over from gay viewers to a broader straight audience. Drawing heterosexuals to movies or TV shows with gay themes or characters has never been easy for Hollywood, which for years depicted married straight couples as sleeping in separate twin beds. Experts say Brokeback Mountain is the first film with an overtly gay love story to achieve mainstream success and Oscar recognition, having garnered a leading eight Oscar nominations on Tuesday, including one for best picture.

Waters's series John Waters Presents: Movies That Will Corrupt You debuts on Friday as a programming centerpiece on Here TV, the fledgling gay-oriented cable network. But marketing and advertising executives say connecting with heterosexuals will require a quality program and a cultural buzz among gay audiences that spreads to their straight brethren. That one-two punch worked well with Brokeback Mountain and made Will & Grace an award-winning TV sensation as gay culture has increasingly come out of the closet in the United States.

"John is our kind of guy--provocative, interesting, comfortable with his sexuality," said Here chief executive officer Paul Colichman. "He not only appeals to gay audiences, but to some very good, cool, straight people too." For his part, Waters told Reuters he does not like "100% gay anything," and Here never asked him to program movies that are only for gay audiences. They wanted him to bring his own sense of the offbeat and outrageous to their network in a low-budget TV movie series.

Waters, 59, is a film provocateur whose work includes the gender-bending Pink Flamingos and Polyester, with its scratch-n-sniff aroma cards, and he has built a cult following among art-house and independent film lovers. In the late 1980s, he registered a bona fide hit with the film Hairspray. With Movies That Will Corrupt You, Waters acts as a sort of curator of campy films that will air on Here TV. He introduces each film from his Baltimore home and follows each one with his own personal commentary.

The movies include 1994's Clean, Shaven, about a schizophrenic who interrupts a murder investigation, and 1996's Freeway, in which a then-unknown Reese Witherspoon played a teen runaway picked up by the "I-5 killer." "They are like no other movies, and I mean that in a good way," Waters said.

Marketing executives say any media product with a gay theme--and by extension Here TV--that wants to lure crossover audiences must appeal to viewers in a way that transcends homosexuality. Commercial success also hinges on positive word-of-mouth publicity within the gay community that spreads to culturally aware straight consumers. That happened with Midnight Cowboy and Philadelphia. But by contrast, TV stars Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell built mainstream fan bases before going public as lesbians, while Will & Grace quickly developed a mass audience because what happens on the weekly sitcom can happen to anyone, not just gays.

Bob Witeck of Washington, D.C.-based Witeck-Combs Communications, whose clients include gay TV network Logo, said he believes U.S. cultural acceptance of gay life and lifestyles has moved ahead much more rapidly than political acceptance. "We know it because of the arts," he said. "The public has voted with TV dials and with motion picture dollars.... They are saying, 'If it's original and quality, I want to see it."' (Bob Tourtellotte, Reuters)

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