2 min

When orientation doesn’t matter

From So Gay TV to Ellen

COSMOPOLITAN. Producer Zev Shalev has stopped counting minorities. Credit: Xtra files

Leading up to its first broadcast tomorrow, Craig Media’s Toronto One has made a lot of fuss about bringing diversity to this city’s TV screens.

From its successful snatching of Ben Chin from CBC news to a nightly talk show taking place at so-hip-it’s-not bar YYZ, the station has its heart set on cosmopolitan Torontonians between 18 and 49. How do queers fit into this cultural and racial diversity?

Zev Shalev, Toronto One’s executive producer of current affairs, says they’ll be part of the mix.

“It’s an incredibly cosmopolitan station,” says Shalev. “I think it will talk to their sensibilities in terms of culture, education.”

There are some places where it looks like gay and lesbian people won’t fit in. The show Hooking Up, a reality romance show featuring 10 women and 10 men sent to the Canadian Rockies to pair off, presumably in girl-boy groups. And there are places it looks like they will. Exchanging Vows features engaged couples competing to plan the best possible wedding day for each other; producers are actively seeking same-sex couples.

Perhaps the most obviously queer programming is the Ellen DeGeneres Show, a Warner Brothers talk show promising music, opinions and hilarity.

Shalev argues, however, that DeGeneres’ show demonstrates the type of diversity and acceptance the station embraces.

“It’s not a lesbian show. It’s almost like gay has become so mainstream that you can now be an out lesbian on television and not have to mention it.”

Shalev is best known to Toronto queers through his work at the defunct U8TV, an Internet broadcast station he founded and headed with Fiorella Grossi and his sister Lili Shalev. He produced So Gay TV, which was eventually picked up by PrideVision TV, and The Lofters, a daily queer-infested reality show that was broadcast live on-line, with edited versions appearing on the Life Network.

Shalev attributes So Gay TV’s success, on a very small budget, to its ability to laugh at itself.

“I don’t think people had a show that was that frivolous about the gay community,” says Shalev, 31. “It dealt with serious issues, but in a more fun, gay way. I try to make television that is real to people, that people can relate to. If you’re honest about how people are, they appreciate it.”

Shalev, like most of the Toronto One staff, has had a varied career. Born in Israel and raised in South Africa, Shalev cut his teeth in radio before he even cut his teeth. When he was a baby, his mother put a radio in his crib to keep him company and, “somehow, it programmed me to think in 30-second soundbites with sign-offs.”

Shalev moved to Toronto about seven years ago, and has led a number of media start-ups, as well as working on Canada AM, where he was nominated for a Gemini, along with openly gay journalist Michael Serapio (who just left CTV in Vancouver to join Shalev at Toronto One). He’s enjoying the different group at Toronto One.

“I haven’t yet in my life worked with a team that is so excited, and so talented. It makes for a very fun experience,” he says. “I haven’t seen a newsroom that is that diverse. And along with that come different sexual orientations, different religions, different upbringings. When you stop counting [minorities on staff] you know you’re doing it right, and we’ve stopped counting.”

* Toronto One starts broadcasting on channel 15 on Fri, Sep 19.