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L Word fans take to the Web

L Word fans take to the Web

Sometime around the middle of January, The L Word became a digital media success story for Showtime. With the start of its third season in January, the ensemble drama series following a group of lesbian friends in Los Angeles began generating more than a third of all the traffic on the Showtime Web site. Clips from L Word episodes make up the top 10 video clips streamed on the site. Downloads of the show`s podcasts have increased by triple digits, Showtime says.

Yahoo noted a 26% spike in online traffic related to the show in its Buzz Log last week. (Funnily enough, Showtime joined Apple`s iPod revolution last week in unveiling a licensing pact with iTunes for three shows, but The L Word wasn't one of them.) The show also is rising by double digits in the old-fashioned measure of Nielsen Media Research ratings.

This hive of activity, coupled with the creative development of the show, persuaded Showtime Networks entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt to give the network's sprawling sapphic soap, whose cast includes Mia Kirshner, Jennifer Beals, and Laurel Holloman, an early pickup for next year. "When we have this much equity in a show and the audience responds as rabidly as they did this year, it's a big success for us," Greenblatt says. "This is and will remain one of our signature shows. A pickup was a no-brainer."

In the eyes of series creator-executive producer Ilene Chaiken, the increased attention to TheL Word should be credited to the universal appeal and freshness of its storytelling. The show offers a look at the lives of 21st century American women that is different from other shows on TV--and not just because these characters wind up in bed with other women, Chaiken says. "Putting aside that it's the lesbian show," says Chaiken, a former executive at Spelling Television and Quincy Jones Entertainment, "I always believed that when a good show finally came around that told stories about people who were lesbian, it would reach a wide audience because people are interested in our stories. They haven't been told as often in movies and TV. People are yearning for that."

Indeed, Greenblatt notes the disconnect between the nation's political climate and pop-culture landscape at a time when anti-same-sex marriage and other restrictive legislative initiatives are popping up around the country, and yet moviegoers and TV viewers are by and large accepting of queer and transgender characters in films and series too numerous to name. "These characters are becoming more accepted once audiences see that they live, love, yearn, get hurt, struggle with family and love and their work in the same ways as everyone else," Greenblatt says.

Chaiken says she has heard anecdotally that men start out watching the show with their wives or girlfriends for the titillation factor but stick with it because of the melodrama (and the sexy cast). Yahoo! noted in its report that women generated about 85% of the online traffic on L Word. Chaiken, a former TV executive turned screenwriter, recalls pitching Showtime on a lesbian ensemble drama series more than five years ago, long before Queer Eye for the Straight Guy became a mainstream hit and before the CBS-owned pay-TV network took the leap with Queer as Folk.

"Representation [on television] is so important to people," Chaiken says. "Lesbians have never had a show of our own before, so I understand all of the [fan] ranting and raving out there about it. Even more so than with other shows, the fans own this show. It's not my show; it's theirs." (Cynthia Littleton, Reuters)

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