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Interviews With Douglas Ross, Stuart Elliott

Aired May 28, 2003 - 20:40   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The show "Boy Meets Boy," certainly a very interesting concept, and a controversial one, I suppose. It hasn't even aired yet, it's already drawing fire from some quarters. Let's bring in its creator, Douglas Ross from Los Angeles. Douglas, thanks for being with us.

COOPER: How did you come up with the idea?

ROSS: Well, when Bravo and NBC came to us saying that they wanted to do a gay dating show, we pitched a bunch of ideas, and the one that they sparked to was this one, the one that had a twist in it.

COOPER: So that's interesting, they actually...

ROSS: A twist where part of the suitors would be straight.

COOPER: They actually came to you with the overall concept. The twist idea, where did that come from? Why did you feel you needed that?

ROSS: We wanted to add this particular twist in there, because we thought it was a great opportunity to attract a broader audience. We thought that if it was just a straight gay dating show, no pun intended, that it would attract a gay audience, but we wanted to add in the twist to attract a broader audience.

COOPER: Because the idea of more straight people would sort of be drawn in to want to watch a straight person kind of going through -- how's it going to be -- I guess you started shooting this thing. Let's talk about how you cast it. How'd you find the people?

ROSS: We cast it similar to the way we do all of our other reality shows. We actually had two different thrusts in casting, one for the straight contestants and one for the gay contestants. The straight contestants...

COOPER: Go ahead.

ROSS: I'm sorry. The straight contestants were initially told that it was just a reality game show, and the gay contestants knew that it was a gay dating show. We went through several litmus tests with the straight contestants to find guys who were into it for the experience. Our overall goal with the show is to break down the stereotypes that exist and push the boundaries of what's out there on television.

COOPER: We should...

ROSS: In terms of how we look at gays and straights.

COOPER: I should say normally we'd be trying to show some video from the program, but it's still being shot, my understanding, so there is no video that we can show at this point. Now, my understanding is a lot of these shows sort of push their contestants or sort of hope that their characters are going to, you know, develop love interests and fool around on camera. Certainly we've seen that in "The Bachelor" and "Joe Millionaire," they were snogging off in the forest. My understanding is, though, is you actually told your people to kind of limit the physical interaction. Why?

ROSS: That's true. We limited the physical interaction to kissing only. We really wanted the show to be about sexual politics and not necessarily about sex. We're trying to explore broader issues about what it's like if we could create a completely gay world where the straight guys were actually the ones in the closet and what it's like for them to walk a mile in a gay man's shoes.

COOPER: Now, obviously, you know, this is going to court some controversy. We were in communication with the group, the Traditional Values Coalition. They had this to say. We're going to put it on the screen. They said: "'Boy Meets Boy' is a program for homosexuals, produced by homosexuals. It's just another effort to alter the cultural landscape to suggest that homosexuality is normal if we will just accept television's twisted view of normal." I suppose you knew you were going to be coming under this sort of criticism. What do you make of it?

ROSS: Well, I feel that those critics are really pushing old stereotypes and fear and ignorance to divide people, and really the goal of our show is to bring people from different groups, different walks of life together to explore each other's cultures and each other's communities, and we're trying to bring people together.

COOPER: This is going to go onto Bravo in July. Do you have a date yet?

ROSS: That's right. I don't know the date. It's Bravo in July sometime.

COOPER: All right. Douglas Ross, appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

ROSS: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, how do shows with gay themes or gay characters go over with advertisers? We wanted to know some more. The question, are companies drawn to the ratings or could they back away from the criticism? Joining me here on the set is Stuart Elliott, advertising columnist for the "New York Times." Stewart, thanks for being with us.


COOPER: Over the years we've certainly seen a change in advertiser interest in the gay community.

ELLIOTT: Yes, it for a long time obviously it was something that advertisers shied away from to the point where the "Ellen" episode, the coming out episode, many national advertisers that normally were on her show pulled out of the episode. Since "Will & Grace" and since some of the programs on cable TV that may not have advertising but are generating critical commentary and buzz, a lot of advertisers are deciding that this is a market that they may -- that they're interested in targeting.

COOPER: Is it that they feel gay people are more accepted sort of nationwide in society at large, or just that the gay audience is more willing to watch and more willing to support advertisers?

ELLIOTT: Well, I think it's both because you have -- people are trying to reach the gay consumer through gay media and they're also trying to reach gay consumers through their mainstream media like, for instance, watching "Will & Grace" or watching "The Bachelor."

COOPER: In the kind of ads, though, it's interesting because there's really sort of three categories. There are ads which run anywhere which also would run on a show with a gay theme. But there are also ads which are sort of tailored both -- I mean, I suppose there are some ads tailored toward the gay community. I think we have some ads from various magazines from beer companies and Verizon which are actually sort of targeting gay viewers, gay readers, but then there are also more ambiguous ads. Volkswagen has one that I think we have a clip of.

ELLIOTT: Yes, the idea there is just sort of appeal to everybody across the board in a way that whoever you are, you can read into it what you want. This commercial, which a lot of people were commenting on because it debuted during the "Ellen" coming out episode. So the idea that these two guys were just driving around doing nothing one day, the question became in a lot of people's minds, what is the relationship between these two guys? And Volkswagen benefited from all the buzz that that ambiguity generated.

COOPER: Are advertisers going to get nervous, though? You heard the statement from this group opposing this reality show. Do you think -- is that the kind of thing that sends fear into advertisers' hearts?

ELLIOTT: I think in some cases there are certain mainstream companies that will shy away from controversy of any kind. But more recently big advertisers like Procter & Gamble have actually embraced programs that have been under criticism and are actually telling the groups like the ones that you referenced earlier that they will not boycott shows with either gay content or shows that have hosts or content that's considered to be anti-homosexual.

COOPER: All right. Stuart Elliott of "The Times." Thanks for being with us. ELLIOTT: You're welcome.


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