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2002 - June

"Queer" Swings Another Two Years
by Josh Grossberg
Jun 4, 2002, 11:00 AM PT

The Wonderful World of Disney it's not--but Showtime's Queer as Folk has proven to be such a hit that the cable network announced Tuesday it was ordering up two more seasons of the racy, controversial and groundbreaking drama, which follows the sex lives of five gay male Pittsburgh pals and their lesbian friends.

QAF--as it's known among the faithful--debuted in December of 2000 and has become Showtime's number-one rated show after two seasons on the network.

Pancho Mansfield, Showtime's senior vice president in charge of development and original programming, says the pick-up was a no-brainer.

"One, it's the most popular thing on the channel. And two, we like it a lot," says Mansfield, who points to the show's demographics.

"[Queer as Folk] obviously has considerable gay following and it's our understanding that over 40 percent of the audience is female, and a lot of that is straight females," he says. "We get a sense of this from the Website and the letters that have written in. And you do have straight women that watch and bring their husbands and boyfriends into the show."

For seasons three and four, the show will continue to air in its regular Sundays at 10 p.m. time slot. However, the network plans to reduce the number of episodes from 21 to 16 per season to free up the cast to pursue outside projects--something Showtime execs hope will give the actors and by extension the show more exposure.

Mansfield says the show-runners were okay with the reduced workload. "Creatively, the producers were pleased that there were slightly fewer episodes," he explains. They're also probably pleased that Showtime will spend nearly $1.5 million per episode, up from about $1 million last season. Showtime will pay for 80 percent of the production costs, with Warner Bros. Television, which distibutes the show abroad, picking up the balance.

Meanwhile, Showtime will continue to broadcast Queer as Folk reruns on sister digital cable networks like Showtime Showcase, as well as a new gay-themed channel it's hatching with MTV (both Showtime and MTV are owned by Viacom).

Queer as Folk has given Showtime a Viagra-like ratings lift. The show was the network's most-watched original series in April, swinging a 4.1 rating--nearly one full point better than second-place Stargate: SG-1, which scored a 3.2 rating. (By comparison, Showtime's other original productions, Jeremiah and The Chris Isaak Show, only managed a 2.6 and a 1.9 rating, respectively.)

Aside from the ratings boost, Showtime has learned that gay sex sells. The cable network released a DVD box set of the first season, and sales were so strong, Showtime now plans on launching a whole line of Queer as Folk merchandise--everything from kitchen magnets, coffee mugs and martini glasses to posters of the show's characters and T-shirts with slogans like "I Don't Like Fags...I Love 'Em!"

The second season of Queer as Folk draws to a close June 16, and the third season is scheduled to debut in March 2003.