Cable television blockbusters MTV Networks and Showtime Networks Inc., both subsidiaries of Viacom Inc., recently announced the possibility of a collaborative new channel entirely focused on one subject: homosexuality.
Few concrete plans have been made concerning the channel. It is expected to be a premium channel, but unlike other premium channels, it would also get financial support from advertisements aimed toward the network”s audience. Customers would likely be charged $5 or $6 a month.
The unnamed channel is in development stages and it is unknown if and when the channel will be offered to cable customers. Also at issue is whether cable providers would even offer the new channel.
Whether the channel would be offered depends on a variety of factors, said Jeff Wack, the marketing manager for Comcast, Ann Arbor”s largest cable provider.
Wack said it would depend on Comcast”s channel capacity at the time of introduction, the well-roundedness of programming and the kind of cable the network would require. If anything, the channel would most likely be added first to the company”s digital cable network, which has the capacity to offer more channels, he added.
Despite the controversial nature of the subject, Wack said Comcast would give the network the same thought other channels are given before they are offered.
“It would be given consideration. There”s a lot of factors that go into how we launch a channel,” he said. “It”s something that we would keep our eyes open for.”
The type and variation of possible programs featured on the channel is still in discussion.
Frederic MacDonald-Dennis, director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, said he had his own idea for what he”d like to see in the channel, including news programs taking events from an LGBT perspective and talk shows focusing on specific LGBT-related topics such as gender identity inclusion.
MacDonald-Dennis said that, to him, the most important aspect of the new channel is that it should be “comprehensive.”
He added that LGBT characters currently portrayed on television such as Will from NBC”s “Will and Grace,” the cast of Showtime”s “Queer as Folk,” and cast members of the reality shows “Survivor” and “Real World” are not able to show all facets of the gay community.
“One character can”t possibly represent the community as a whole. There”s much more of an opportunity with a whole network to show much more of what the community is about,” MacDonald-Dennis said.
Though MTV officials told The New York Times that the idea has been tossed around for years, the announcement of the idea comes at a time of heightened support for the LGBT community.
“My guess would be that, in the last five years especially, there”s been more and more support. Frankly, (gay programming) is better received now than it has been in the past,” MacDonald-Dennis said, adding that networks have discovered the LGBT community is “a viable market, and we may tune in.”
MacDonald-Dennis added there is one reason why he wouldn”t watch the channel. “If it”s just one perspective, as if we all look and act and think the same, then I may not tune in,” he said.
The support can be seen locally as well as within the television industry.
At the University, attendance at last year”s annual LGBT Kiss-in Rally broke records even as the family of anti-gay activist Fred Phelps and other members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas came to Ann Arbor to protest homosexuality. In November 2000, Chris Kolb became the first openly gay Michigan state legislator when he was elected to the House of Representatives.
Nationally, “Will and Grace” and Showtime”s original series “Queer as Folk,” about a group of gay and lesbian friends living in Pittsburgh, both have loyal fan bases.
“(“Queer as Folk”) has twice as high a rating as anything else in prime time on Showtime,” Mark Greenberg, the executive vice president for business development at Showtime, told The New York Times.
“Will and Grace,” aired Thursdays at 8:30 and 9:00 p.m., ranked 10th and 11th on last week”s Nielsen Media Research Top 20 chart.