It’s hard to imagine when you meet the ebullient, perfectly coiffed, fresh-faced couple, but Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman are coming up on their 15th anniversary as Canada’s gay-lifestyle TV guru couple. Starting in 1999 with Designer Guys, then So Chic, Design Rivals and their current hit CBC show Steven & Chris, now in its seventh season, Sabados and Hyndman have arguably been the face of Canadian domestic gay bliss for nearly a decade and a half.
And though they’re loath to call themselves role models — “I wouldn’t look up to me,” Hyndman says with a laugh — and they don’t think about Steven & Chris as a “gay show,” to them it’s important that they’re honest about who they are in every episode.
“We don’t hide it at all. We haven’t for years,” Hyndman says. “A lifestyle show lends itself to talking about your own personal situation. I couldn’t say, ‘In my house, I like to . . .’ when we live together, so we have to say, ‘In our house, we clean like this, or he cooks like this.’”
“We have to be authentic because we ask our guests to be authentic,” Sabados agrees. “Otherwise it wouldn’t work.”
Despite Sabados and Hyndman’s success on their earlier design shows, launching Steven & Chris was still a risk, says executive producer Rick Matthews.
“I don’t know about another show in North America that has a gay couple going out and talking about their lives like anybody else would,” Matthews says.
That risk has paid off. Steven & Chris is a bona fide hit for CBC, and it’s finding success in syndication in the US and overseas. South of the border, the show airs in more than 70 percent of the market on ABC’s Live Well Network.
Hyndman and Sabados are proud to deal with queer issues when they come up, as when their parenting panel deals with bullying. Both men were bullied as kids.
“When I was a little kid living in St John’s, Newfoundland, suicide was on my mind a lot because I had nowhere to go when I was 12, 13, 14, to talk about it,” Hyndman says. “There was no Will & Grace. The ones that were role models for us were caricatures of being gay. That wasn’t really what you really wanted to represent yourself. I ended up being one, but I didn’t necessarily want to be at the time.”
Despite their own ambivalence about being role models, Matthews is quick to point out that teenaged gay boys in their studio audience really do admire them.
“They’re being humble, but they really do touch people’s lives,” he says.
But it hasn’t all been sunshine. In their early days on television, Hyndman says, he was tormented daily by hate mail. The worst part? Much of it came from the gay community.
“The gay community can be pretty cold, and it’s pretty hard on you if people turn on you that you expect to really accept you because you’re a screaming queen,” Hyndman says. “Well, a lot of us are, but when a gay person says you’re a screaming queen, that’s pretty insulting because then you’re, like, Oh my god, you’re a queen to the queens.”
“You would take them personally,” Sabados chides. Ignoring the hate came more naturally to him.
“It just rolled off my back because I don’t really care. You can’t hurt me. I’m just doing the best I can do, and if you don’t like it, then I don’t care,” he says.
While the couple is quick to name guests they’ve loved, like Nelly Furtado, Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart — “That woman is a machine,” Hyndman squeals — they’re even quicker to agree on the single worst guest they’ve had on the show.
“Gordon Ramsay,” Hyndman shouts, adding “Worst!” nine times for effect. The British chef was rude and insulted the couple repeatedly during his visit.
“I’m just shocked by the success of a person like that. He’s a very mean man,” Hyndman says.
Coming up in 2014, Steven & Chris are looking forward to showcasing more field reports (“He’s going to jump out of a plane and feed a shark; I’m going to go for a massage and a facial,” Hyndman jokes) and interviewing Olympic athletes and families in the run-up to the Sochi Games.
But they won’t be going to Russia themselves, fully aware of the country’s dangerous climate for LGBT people.
“Can you imagine me prancing into Russia?” Hyndman asks with a dramatic skip.
“The shit we would cause,” Sabados adds.