'Queer Eye' Reboot Gets Political

Feb 10, 2018

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy ran on the Bravo TV network from 2003 to 2007. The show focused on a group of five chatty, personable gay men, called the "Fab Five," as they gave a make over to a straight man who needed help getting his life back on track. Each member of the Fab Five specialized in one of the essential elements of style: design, personal grooming, fashion, food and pop culture.

The show was a surprise hit as it aired in a country that was still working on bringing LGBTQ culture and issues into the public's consciousness.

Fifteen years later, LGBTQ acceptance and rights have come a long way. Now, Queer Eye is back with a new cast, mission and platform — now streaming on Netflix.

Queer Eye creator and producer David Collins spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about how the reboot of this TV show is different from the 2003 original.

Interview highlights contain extended Web-only content.


On what gave him the inspiration for the show

Well, 15 years ago in Boston, Massachusetts, I was at an art gallery with Michael Williams, my business partner and husband, at the time. And we walked into an art gallery where everyone was looking at art and drinking their wine and eating their cheese, and there was this kind of hush that came over the room. A woman in the middle of the room just started laying into her husband, literally, like, berating him: "Look at you! Why can't you look like these guys?"

And she kept pointing across the way. And, just like out of a movie, everyone got really quiet and she started talking louder. And these gentleman from the corner, dressed and looking great with their wine, came across the room, surrounded him and said, "Hey! Woah, woah, woah!" And they started fixing his hair and tucking in his shirt and fixing his belt and his pants and was like, "No, doing great! He just needs a little help! A little zhush, a little this, a little that."

And I turned to Michael and I said, "Did you see that? That was like queer eye for the straight guy!" And as the title came out of my mouth, I realized I gotta go home and figure this out.

On the criticism of stereotyping gay men as naturally stylish people

Sure, we definitely ... early on, we're like, "Oh, you're playing into the stereotypes. You know, not all gay men know how to cut hair and do flowers, and decorate." And the reality is, we were playing into the stereotypes because these five men were experts in their field, each one of them. And it just so happens that if fashion, grooming, interior design, culture, food, and wine happens to have a serious influx of gay men, it's the truth if it did! And it was a great way to, kind of, bring those two worlds together.

So, Ted Allen, our original food OG fabber, used to address it all the time, saying, "Indeed, these stereotypes were real and we stepped into them and embraced them and also, kind of, empowered the word 'queer' at the time as well"-- took that back from the negative lexicon and brought it back to the world with new eyes, a new perspective.

On why the show was brought back during this political climate

It wasn't necessarily the impetus for it, it happened to be that we stepped into this time where, indeed, this conversation needs to move forward again and definitely be much more aggressive. As far as the actual moment of why now, we did it because there's a whole new audience. A lot of folks didn't know it from 15 years ago, and we get to show it to a lot of people. It's a great show, it's fun!

You have fun going on these journeys with each one of our heroes and now, the conversations are deeper. You know, our Fab Five — we get to see them as wholes and they're having dialogue with these guys that are ... it's quite interesting, you know? We have policemen — a Trump-supporting policeman — we have a self-proclaimed kind of, you know, "country boy," an amazing African-American who's coming out to his family.

On what's different about this reboot

Definitely, getting out of New York was a big part of the decision because, you know, 15 years ago, it was one thing to walk into a fancy store on Madison Avenue and redo someone — you can do that. But we wanted to come down South, come into the red states and know where we're going to meet very different guys, right?

I'm from Ohio, from Cincinnati, Ohio, and I know what it's like, you know ... we don't live on the coast. When you're down in the South or in the Midwest, dialogue and conversations are a little more iffy and intense about this, so we decided to head down to Atlanta and each one of our guys comes from a different small town in Georgia and those towns, we get to see as each part of the stories as well.

NPR's Liz Baker produced this interview for broadcast. NPR's Adhiti Bandlamudi produced this story for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Remember "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy"? For those who may have missed its four-year run on the Bravo TV network beginning in 2003, the premise was this - a group of chatty, personable gay guys descended on their straight-guy subject and transformed his life with their expertise in fashion, grooming, design, food and pop culture. To the surprise of many, the show was a hit and not just in the U.S. It eventually aired in more than 120 countries, and all this at a time when LGBTQ figures and issues were just becoming a part of public consciousness. Fast forward 15 years, it's a different world, but there's always room for a makeover.

So "Queer Eye" is back with a new Fab Five, a new mission and a new platform, streaming on Netflix. We're going to talk about all this, so we called David Collins. He is the creator and producer of "Queer Eye," and he's with us now from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. David Collins, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

DAVID COLLINS: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Can I just ask you to go back to the beginning? What gave you the idea for this to begin with?

COLLINS: Well, 15 years ago-plus, actually, I was at an art gallery with Michael Williams, my business partner and husband at the time. And a woman in the middle of the room just started laying into her husband, like, look at you. Why can't you look like these guys? And she kept pointing across the way. And these gentlemen from the corner, dressed and looking great with their wine, literally came across the room, surrounded him and said, hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And they started fixing his hair and tucking in his shirt and saying, no, he's doing great. He just needs a little help, a little zhush, a little this, a little that. And I turned to Michael. And I said, did you see that? That's "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy." And as the title came out of my mouth, I realized I've got to go home and figure this out.

MARTIN: That is crazy.

COLLINS: (Laughter) Isn't it? The whole show happened in front of my eyes, yeah.

MARTIN: That is wild. Well, one of the reasons that the show was so groundbreaking was that it was, first of all, unscripted, but it was also one of the few representations of gay men on TV just doing their thing, right? But it was also at the time, and I think this is fair to say, that there were always people who were a little bit - what's the word I'm looking for? - a little maybe uncomfortable with the premise that gay people have some special gift in that area. Do you want to speak to that?

COLLINS: Sure. You know, we definitely - early on, we're like, oh, you're playing into the stereotypes. Not all gay men know how to cut hair and do flowers and decorate. And the reality is these stereotypes were real, and we stepped into them and embraced them and also kind of empowered the word queer at the time as well, took that back from the negative lexicon and brought it out to the world with new eyes, new perspective.

MARTIN: So why is this the time to bring it back?

COLLINS: You know, it's a great question. The relevancy of it now, obviously 15 years ago, these guys kind of were superheroes that swooped in and fixed things and helped create a safe place for conversation. And that conversation 15 years ago was a place where families could talk and look at these men on TV. Well, here we are 15 years later, and gay rights have really moved forward amazingly in the past 15 years.

And here we are now with these new guys who, quite frankly, are real men. They're all different types of guys. There's dads. Two of them are married. And now the conversations are deeper. You know, our Fab Five, we get to see them as wholes. And they're having dialogue with these guys that are Trump-supporting policemen. We have a self-proclaimed country boy, an amazing African-American who's coming out.

MARTIN: Yeah. I wanted to mention that because one of the - there are a couple of things that are different with this new iteration in addition to the cast, the new Fab Five, as we said. The previous show was in New York. This one is in Georgia, based in Atlanta. And your subjects, your - the beneficiaries of the queer eyes are not all straight. I mean, there are also - some of your subjects are gay themselves or are kind of thinking about their identities. Why those two changes?

COLLINS: Well, we definitely - obviously, getting out of New York was a big part of the decision because, you know, 15 years ago, it was one thing to walk into a fancy store on Madison Avenue and redo someone. You can do that. But we wanted to come down South, come into the red states and meet very different guys. When you're down in the South or in the Midwest, dialogue and conversations are a little more iffy more intense about this. So we decided to head down to Atlanta. And each one of our guys comes from a different small town in Georgia. And those towns we get to see as part of each of the stories as well.

MARTIN: You mentioned one of the stories that the Fab Five are called out to small town Georgia to make over Corey (ph), who's a NASCAR-loving police officer. And I'm going to play a clip, and then we'll talk about it. To set it up, they're driving - the guys are driving on a two-lane highway on their way to meet the makeover subject who they don't know anything about yet. And Karamo - am I saying his name right? - Karamo Brown...

COLLINS: That's right, Karamo. Yeah, Karamo Brown.

MARTIN: ...Is driving. He is the only African-American member of the Fab Five. So let's play that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "QUEER EYE")

KARAMO BROWN: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: How are you doing? I'm Officer Forrester (ph). Can I see your license please?

BROWN: I don't have it.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: You don't have your license in your possession?

BROWN: No.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: OK. Why not?

BROWN: We're filming a show.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: OK. But it's state law, you have to have your license in your possession when you're operating a vehicle.

BROWN: Got it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: You mind stepping out of the vehicle for me?

BROWN: Why?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Because I asked you to. You're shooting a show, you said?

BROWN: Yeah. It's called "Queer Eye." We makeover straight guys.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: You makeover straight guys?

BROWN: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: OK. Is his name Corey? Because I'm his nominator.

COLLINS: (Laughter) Oh, goodness.

MARTIN: Well, you know, there was a lot going on there.

COLLINS: Yeah, there was.

MARTIN: And I - you know, judging from the look on Karamo's face, he wasn't expecting that, am I right?

COLLINS: No, he definitely wasn't. It just so happened that morning that - the guys would come in in the mornings, and they would kind of buck up to see who got to drive that day or that episode. They played rock, paper, scissors. And by pure chance, Karamo won and hopped into the car seat. And we let it play, right? We let it play. We knew what was going to obviously happen, but it was intense to witness, you know.

MARTIN: Yeah, it was intense to witness, especially if that's a part of your life not in a TV show, which leads me to my question. I mean, one of the things about these reality shows and yours in particular is that there's always, you know, an undercurrent of kind of deep truth underneath what's a fun experience. On the other hand, it does raise ethical questions about the situations that you put people in. And is it really OK to utilize something that's a very serious issue for a lot of people for the purpose of, you know, having fun?

COLLINS: Sure. You know, I think ultimately it was about having fun in that moment. We weren't out to have some big, crazy political statement happen. When you watch the rest of the episode, you feel the tenseness that Karamo felt in that moment. It carries into the moment when he meets Corey. Corey was a Trump-supporting local policeman who had a lot of issues. And they had a lot of conversations and dialogue that opened the door and allowed Karamo to see Corey and Corey to see Karamo.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, are you getting any feedback? What are people saying about it so far?

COLLINS: Yeah. You know, I think there was a lot of hesitation like you're never going to be as good as the first one. You know what? It's different. It's really a different time. And it's a different show. A lot of young gay LGBTQ community getting to see ourselves in these new Fab Five, and that's a pretty cool thing that we've been seeing on social.

MARTIN: That's David Collins, creator and producer of "Queer Eye." All eight episodes of the reboot are now out on Netflix. David Collins, thank you so much for speaking with us.

COLLINS: Oh, thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And let me mention that Netflix is one of NPR's funders. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.