If you like your TV screenhopping with homos then you may already be familiar with OutTV, Canada’s national gay and lesbian television network (of which Xtra West’s parent company, Pink Triangle Press, owns a minority share).
Although the network has struggled since its 2001 inception with insolvency, multiple owners and protracted battles with Shaw over cable carriage and packaging, OutTV has not only survived but is finally beginning to thrive, according to the new team in charge.
Brad Danks, the network’s Chief Operating Officer, believes the key to success is creating a personal connection with viewers and programming brand new shows to which the audience can relate.
“Where I think we’ve really begun to shine and find our way is by featuring real people with real stories,” Danks says. “I am especially excited about the new programs.”
This season saw two new West Coast-based series debut on OutTV. Danks is particularly enthusiastic about Don’t Quit Your Gay Job (airing Mondays at 7:30 pm).
The premise of the show is simple enough: two gay men get trained in a variety of different professions then compete to see who performs better in each profession. The winner gets bragging rights.
“That show just hit the right buttons,” says Danks. “Rob [Easton] and Sean [Horlor] have a natural likability. I was sitting in a room with 10 people and five of them were cheering for Rob and five were cheering for Sean. They are smart and interesting people, there’s a lot of depth to them.”
Horlor, who also writes Xtra West’s Cocked & Loaded column and Xtra.ca’s Up Your Alley blog, is still blown away that he got to host a TV show with his best friend.
This season found them trying out professions ranging from equestrian rider to runway model to dominatrix to stripper.
Filming the stripper episode definitely ranked up there among Horlor’s favourite moments.
“I wanted to strip like nobody’s business,” he laughs. “It was something I always wanted to try and here was my chance to do it in a bar in front of a crowd of 300-400 people.” The stripper episode is both laugh-out-loud funny and charming, especially watching porn star Reese Rideout teach them key moves.
Horlor’s enthusiasm is evident when talking about the show and OutTV’s decision to produce it. “How awesome is it that we have a Cinderella thing? It is our first time out of the gate, our first pitch, we gave them a pitch, they did six episodes.”
OutTV’s second new West Coast series is entitled Tops & Bottoms (airing Sundays at 7:30 pm).
It may sound like a kink reality show, but in fact it’s a sketch comedy series with a twist, says host David C Jones, a man well known to West Coast sketch comedy fans.
The twist, says Jones, is that the troupe of improv artists, many of whom were culled from his Bob Loblaw Comedy Troupe (now called the Bobbers), actually bring pre-arranged characters — gay archetypes — to their scenes.
“All the actors are playing gay stereotypes,” he explains. “I wanna break those stereotypes. There’s the burly guys, the femme-y guys, the diesel dykes. We like to think that we are busting guts while busting stereotypes.
“Each week, I release five characters from the comedy closet, they entertain me and use comedy sketches based on my whim. The audience and I then choose which are the top and which one gets sent to the bottom.”
Jones says he’s especially excited to bring a broader range of diversity to OutTV.
“I want to bring an older perspective to some of those shows. There are a lot of gym bunnies and lipstick lesbians. Surely there is room for a middle-aged guy on that channel. I should say, however, that we do have hot, young things on there as well!”
Danks encourages more people to send pitches through the show’s website.
“This is one of the true success stories of Canadian broadcasting. At a time when the rest of the business is in the shitter, our subscribers have gone from 180,000 — when we got involved in the summer of 2006 — to about 600,000 now.”
Horlor echoes Danks’ enthusiasm. “I know it sounds corny but I try to tell everyone: ‘If you have a dream and really want to get involved in film and television, OutTV is really idea-hungry. Follow your dream. Don’t let go of your dream. If you want to do something like this make it happen — because you can.”