‘Queer Eye’ is TV’s diamond in the rough

Elissa Vallano

We live in a day and age of entertainment where new television shows and their up and coming stars disappear almost as soon as they appear. How many times has a new sitcom debuted on NBC’s highly desirable “must-see TV” line-up only to vanish without a trace?

If a show can’t pick up viewership during the most-watched two hours of television, what hope does it have in succeeding anywhere else? One show has single-handedly broken the mold of what people want to see and where they are willing to go to see it.

“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” is the Cinderella story of television. It seems like an unlikely premise. Five gay men (appropriately titled “The Fab 5”) with their own specific areas of expertise make over a clueless straight guy all in an hour’s time. But not only does this premise work, it has also generated a broad audience spanning the full range of age, race and sexual orientation.

The “Queer Eye’s” premiere on the less-than-popular cable network Bravo attracted an astounding 1.17 million viewers, making it the No. 2 most watched network that night. And its popularity is growing rapidly. Their last episode, in which they made over a Port Authority police officer from Staten Island, culminated in 2.9 million viewers.

As if it wasn’t impressive enough to achieve such ratings on a network that is best known for “Inside the Actor’s Studio with John Lipton,” they recently took over “ER’s” top spot on the Thursday night line-up and appeared on Jay Leno for a special two-day event where they adopted the late-night host himself as their new project.

With all the makeover television shows on the tube right now, what sets “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” apart from the rest are the dynamic and lovable leading men.

The Fab 5 aren’t a group of aspiring actors desperate to break into Hollywood. Each is successful in his own profession, and the show is more of a side project for them than their big break. Every guy brings his own unique flair to the group, and the cast has such perfect chemistry and comedic timing that it makes you think they have all been friends for years.

Kyan Douglas is the 27-year-old grooming guru who has been sent to save the world from bad beauty choices. He is a specialist in men’s skin care with a certification in cosmetology from the Aveda Institute in New York. Douglas has had extensive training and professional experience in the hair, spa and retail industries, and has also worked as a colorist at the upscale Arrojo Studio in Soho. Douglas adds his good looks, sweet temperament and grooming expertise to the show’s eclectic group.

Ted Allen is the food and wine connoisseur sent to teach the straight guys that fine dining doesn’t mean hot wings and beer. He was a senior editor and restaurant critic with “Chicago” magazine. He then went on to become a contributing editor to “Esquire” magazine where he is co-author of the “Things a Man Should Know” column, which is a quintessential guide for men on such issues as fashion, sex, business etiquette and cocktails, and co-authored four books that stemmed from that series. With Allen’s monotone voice and razor-sharp sarcasm, he maintains the group’s necessary balance between craziness and professionalism.

Carson Kressley is the fashion genius whose mission is to enlighten the straight men of the need for color, flocking, and most importantly, the destruction of boxers. He graduated with honors from Gettysburg College with degrees in finance and fine art. He is an independent stylist who worked for Polo Ralph Lauren in New York City. He specialized in the design aspect of the men’s sportswear division and supervised fashion styling for the company’s national retail advertising campaigns. Kressley is the firecracker of the group, providing essential fashion advice as well as witty and just plain goofy humor.

Jai Rodriguez is the culture expert of the group. He is a talented actor, singer and dancer who is currently starring in the lead role in the off-Broadway musical hit “Zanna, Don’t!” He joined the production after a long stint on Broadway as Angel in the Tony Award-winning musical “Rent.” He also regularly performs his solo act in the newest and hottest nightspots in New York City. Rodriguez’s duties on the show have ranged from singing lessons to how to work a room at a social gathering, making him the only member of the Fab 5 with performing experience.

Thom Filicia is the interior design specialist full of constructive criticism. He earned his bachelor’s degree in interior design from Syracuse University’s school of art and design. He is the founder of his own interior design company, Thom Filicia Inc., where he has established a strong reputation as one of the top 100 American designers. Filicia gives a heavy dose of tough love to all of the straight men, which only adds to the humor of the show.

The surprise success of “Queer Eye,” it has become obvious to network bigwigs that they have a real demand for a market they have been ignoring. While most consider homosexuality a sensitive and controversial issue, shows like “Will and Grace,” “Queer as Folk” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” have shown that it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, gay or straight. Good television is undeniable, and so is the natural talent and lovability of the five stars.

People don’t want to see another sitcom about a clueless father and his annoyed wife taking care of their rambunctious kids. In an entertainment world where star salaries are skyrocketing into the millions, and copycat shows are trying to capitalize on the popularity of “ER” and “CSI,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” is a breath of fresh air that we all so desperately needed.

All biographical information credited to Bravo.