When is a TV channel like a bar? When it's gay.
Logo, America's first gay TV channel, is transitioning. When it was launched in 2005, Logo aired news segments, sketch-comedy shows and original scripted dramas focused on the lives of gay people. Now, in the age of openly gay -- and whom you might call openly closeted -- talk-show hosts, news anchors and actors, Logo has embraced the slogan "Beyond Labels" and is shifting away from shows about gays to programming for gays (and the people who love them).
Just as the venerable institution of the gay bar has undergone a fundamental transformation now that gays and lesbians have more places, real or virtual, where they can socialize, Logo, too, is evolving from separatism toward integration.
"A lot has changed in seven years in terms of this community being accepted and more fully integrated into the world," said Lisa Sherman, Logo's executive vice president and general manager. "We feel that if we're going to be true to our audience, we have to have programming that reflects their lives today."
That means reruns of series such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Reno 911!" Sherman says they're a good fit for Logo because, in the case of "Buffy," "the show is not about being gay, but it has a gay character and a gay sensibility."
Then there are series such as "Absolutely Fabulous," "Nip/Tuck," or "Golden Girls," which Logo will air starting in spring. They don't necessarily have gay characters or gay story lines, but as Sherman put it, they're "a little outrageous, and they've got a lot of heart." They're camp, in other words.
The most surprising part of the new Logo lineup is the imports from sister channel MTV. What appeal do shows such as "16 and Pregnant," "Teen Mom" and "True Life" have for gay viewers?
According to Sherman, "They give you a peek at situations where underdogs have struggled to rise up against a society that's condemning their circumstances. That's a theme all gay people can relate to."
This new attitude is also on display in one of Logo's own shows, "RuPaul's Drag U," now in its third season. Earlier seasons felt like filler programming intended mostly to remind viewers about the fabulous queens who had won their hearts in "RuPaul's Drag Race" -- the warmest and sweetest reality contest on television -- which is Logo's biggest hit.
"Drag Race" favorites became "Drag U" faculty members, tasked with teaching biological women how to get in touch with their inner divas. The contestants were given drag names, donned over-the-top outfits, strutted their stuff on the catwalk and lip-synced to boost their Drag Point Average. This year, the focus is more down-to-earth. The women are offered makeup tips they can use in real life. They're even given clothes they can wear on the streets, as well as their extravagant "dragulation" gowns.
Of course, there's a practical reason for these decisions. Logo doesn't have a monopoly on gay TV programming anymore. Every weekday morning, "After Ellen" and "After Elton" (both of which are owned by Logo) publish recaps highlighting same-sex subtext and generally draw attention to "lesbianish" or "gayish" television, most of which, these days, airs elsewhere on the dial.
If the rest of television has become more gay-friendly, is it any surprise that Logo should become more straight-friendly?
Asked if Logo would ever bring back the gay newscasts that were once part of the lineup, Sherman said that while the channel will do specials -- around the presidential election, for instance -- "Gay news is on CNN and CNBC now. Gay people are consuming their news elsewhere. I just don't think that's something we could do as well as those other 24/7 networks."