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More Gays, More Often?

If over-the-air television is broadcasting, cable television increasingly is narrowcasting. Entire cable channels are devoted to news, or to weather, or to sports - even, in the case of the Golf Channel, just one sport. There are channels for old movies, for cartoons, for science fiction. In short, in the world of niche marketing, "specialty" cable networks are the rage.

How many viewers does it take to create a "market" demand for specialized programming? Apparently it's not just numbers that count. Political clout also matters to Hollywood.

Three weeks ago, TV Guide's J. Max Robins quoted an "insider" at the media behemoth Viacom as saying that MTV and Showtime, both Viacom-owned, were "giv[ing] real consideration" to starting a gay-oriented cable channel. Robins further reported that such networks also are under discussion at HBO, USA Networks, and "Rainbow Media, the programming arm of Cablevision, which runs Bravo and AMC."

Let's understand something here. This is not some kind of affirmative-action proposal to bring gays into Hollywood. They're there, at every level, already. This is a move to promote the homosexual lifestyle to the public.

The spin from some quarters is predictable. "It's about time somebody [went] after that audience with a network," media analyst Tom Wolzien told Robins. "It's an important segment of the audience that has traditionally been underserved."

What nonsense. Far from being "underserved," gays have been pampered and catered to. Seemingly everywhere you turn you find the gay character, the gay theme, the gay argument inserted, and so often for no reason other than to placate the gay community. As the pundit Camille Paglia put it a few years ago, "Entertainment, media, and the arts are nonstop advertisements for homosexuality these days."

If you seek proof, consider what may happen with one of the most prominent advertisements for homosexuality around, the libidinous NBC sitcom "Will & Grace."

Liane Bonin of Entertainment Weekly recently wrote that if "Friends" ends after this season, one scheduling possibility would be for NBC to move "Will & Grace," which currently airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays, to the time slot "Friends" would vacate - 8 o'clock that same evening. Bonin adds that "Will & Grace" "may be a little too edgy for the family-friendly 8 p.m. slot."

I don't know if Bonin suffered a brain cramp, or blanked out under deadline pressure, but the fact remains that the phrase "family-friendly 8 p.m. slot" is oxymoronic almost everywhere in prime time, especially on NBC. If 8 o'clock really were the family hour for NBC, the sex-crazed "Friends" wouldn't be there - nor would the even more sex-crazed "Will & Grace" be considered as a replacement for it.

But since NBC wants to be thought of as hip and innovative, "Will & Grace" is the only worthy, logical replacement. At this point, 8 p.m. shows featuring frisky heteros are dull. But "Will & Grace"? Now that would be a "family hour" breakthrough, what with its frequent raunchy jokes about promiscuous gay sex. That's hip, see.

So what might we expect from the proposed gay cable channels? In the online magazine Slate, Michael Joseph Gross looks at PrideVision TV, a nearly-five-month-old Canadian gay cable network. "Its programming schedule," Gross suggests, is "a useful guide to what our own [gay channels] could look like."

"PrideVision," relates Gross, "addresses the diversity issue with shows like 'You Don't Know Dick,' a documentary about female-to-male transsexuals...As far as sex goes, PrideVision is fairly soaked in it. 'Hard-core erotica' for both gay men and lesbians is [shown] at midnight...and a men's soft-core porn feature at 10:30 p.m. called 'Steamy Knights' is the channel's top-rated show. PrideVision also offers porn-dressed-as-documentary; [one] show, called 'Urinal,' explores 'the policing of washroom sex in Ontario.'"

Near the close of his story, Gross gets to the heart of the matter: "News programs, talk shows, and dramas [on any U.S. gay network] will have to be fearlessly candid about the centrality of sex in much of gay life" - my emphasis - "for gay viewers to take them seriously."

Gross's observation is on target. Think of all the gay men you've heard equate their sexual orientation with "who I am" or "what I am." Then try to remember if you've ever heard a straight man say such a thing. Sex is important to the typical heterosexual, but the difference between "important" and "central" is, undeniably, vast. So, too, is the difference between the way heterosexuality has always been discussed on television and how homosexuality will be portrayed on a gay channel.

Much regarding the gay cable network(s) hasn't been determined, but the fact that the concept itself is a news story is another step in homosexuality's long march through the institutions.