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Queer Eye Confidential

The firings! The budgets! The filthy bathtub! Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s Fab 5 and their two equally fab producers spill the beans on how reality TV’s queerest twist turned into the hottest show of the summer
From The Advocate  September 2, 2003

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in a whirlwind? Just spend the afternoon in New York’s Chelsea district with the stars of the summer’s biggest hit show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

It debuted to record numbers on Bravo (where it airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m.), was immediately picked up by NBC to air in a special edition in the plum Thursday night lineup, and quickly received an order for seven more episodes to go with the initial 12.

E! Entertainment Television is sending a crew to follow the show’s Fab 5 around for a special. They’re scheduled to make over Jay Leno and The Tonight Show. And the New York Post ran a huge Sunday feature on the quip-ready fashion guru Carson Kressley that called him the “Queen of Mean.” And Clinique called interior design expert Thom Filicia to basically say it wanted to send grooming guy Kyan Douglas every product it has ever made or ever will make in hopes he’ll use some of them on the air.

Their phones never stop ringing; some of them have day jobs to attend to. And of course, with the five of them together at the restaurant Elmo, it’s no surprise that people on Seventh Avenue stare and smile, sometimes walking over to offer kudos. Three diners even recognize the show’s cultural expert, Jai Rodriguez, from his other identity as an actor whose starring roles include the recently closed off-Broadway musical Zanna, Don’t!

As they all share stories about being stopped on the street or on Fire Island by well-wishers, food-and-wine guy Ted Allen spills a little something on his shirt. A waiter quickly whips off his periwinkle-blue polo so Ted—the only coupled man among the Fab 5, marking 10 years with his partner—can be properly attired for the photographer. And this, by the way, is their day off. Welcome to their world. 

CASTING CONUNDRUMS 

Casting the Fab 5, admits executive producer David Collins, “was a very long event.” He and fellow executive producer David Metzler looked at “300 to 400 guys, maybe 500,” says Collins, who is 36 and has been in a relationship for 14 years with the man he met on the set of Little Man Tate.

“It felt like we’d met every gay man in New York,” adds Metzler, who is 31, single, and straight.

“The sensibility for it was finding credible professionals who had amazing personalities and could work together,” says Collins. “We were putting together groups of five and putting them together and pulling them apart again.”

One person who got pulled was original cast member Blair Boone, who appears in two early episodes as the “guest culture expert” in place of Jai. “It was Jai’s energy that we really needed for the culture category in terms of being a performer,” says Metzler. “We sort of found him in the middle of the first episode.”

The switch was a shock to the remaining cast members. “We had absolutely no clue up until the moment,” says Thom, who like everyone else speaks warmly about Blair.

Their initial reaction, adds Ted, was “We could be fired at any moment!”

“It could easily have been me,” Thom insists. 

MAKEOVER SECRETS 

So, truth be told, do the Fab 5 really work all that magic on the straight guys in one day?

“No, that’s gay time,” Collins quips.

“It takes four days to shoot an episode,” Metzler says.

Thom—who has the most labor-intensive job—has a small staff that helps him with the painting, carpeting, tiling, or whatever else needs doing. “After we’re done with our initial de-straightening,” he says, “which is when we go into someone’s home and rip everything apart, I have a big meeting with them in the space and we pick the colors and really fine-tune exactly what it is we’re going to do, what it is we’re going to keep, what we put in storage for them. We don’t really throw anything out.”

As Carson says, “We don’t throw it away; we tuck it away.”

Unlike other makeover shows, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy never discloses its budgets. “It’s not about what you can do with an amount of money,” says Metzler. “It’s about giving the straight guy a starter kit he can move on from. A really nice starter kit.”

The Fab 5’s endorsement of particular brands is genuine: No company can pay for placement on the show without their approval. “We will not work with a company or a line we don’t feel is right,” says Kyan.

Carson cuts in: “Remember when they wanted to use K-Y jelly as a hair product?” he jokes.

Getting products wasn’t easy at first. With just a concept and the daring title Collins had selected, companies were not clamoring to participate.

“My wardrobe person and I really had to call in a lot of favors,” says Carson. “Nobody knew what the show was about, and nobody had seen anything, and people like Marc Jacobs and Roberto Cavalli and Etro really went out on a limb. They just opened their doors and said, ‘Take what you want. Shoot it and bring it back. We appreciate the PR.’”

Admittedly, the show’s title may have put off the timid. When trying to win over an advertiser before the show debuted, Jai says, “our product placement person would save the title until after she had explained the whole show.”

“There are a lot of people in the rest of the world that aren’t even familiar with the word queer being a positive word for us now,” Ted says. “And being an inclusive word. We’ve had to explain that to so many straight reporters.”

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