And that’s just to handle the homophobes. There’s also the gay community itself, some members of which have already criticized popular shows like Queer Eye for their mincing minstrelism—much in the way black critics have taken BET to task for its addiction to rap videos and blinged-out thugs. When asked about the issue of gay ghettoization, Graden says, “Just because there’s an African-American show on NBC doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a BET.” Which is a reasonable point, except for the fact that there isn’t an African-American show on NBC. Logo will provide a home for gay-themed programming, but it might also prove a convenient excuse for networks to keep their schedules decidedly straight.
And while Graden is justifiably proud of the inclusiveness of his programming at MTV, a channel that’s never been shy about incorporating gay stories and characters, that very victory—a kind of seamless, what’s-the-big-deal integration into mainstream broadcasting—seems to argue against a gay niche channel. “With Logo,” says Graden, “we want to say, ‘You’re important enough to have a home base. To give you a place where you live. Go visit other places if you like, but we’ll always be here for you.’”
All of which raises the question: How do you build a home that’s equally comfortable for the circuit boy from Chelsea and the suburban bear from Minnesota—not to mention his lesbian neighbors or their transgendered mail carrier?
Graden’s answer is not, at first, entirely satisfying. “Ultimately, what we came to is that diversity is key,” he says. This sentiment sounds good for a bumper sticker, but it’s peculiar coming from Graden, given that his particular genius is providing wishy-washy channels with a strong, distinctive slant. “In a world of 400 channels, if you don’t have a personality, no one’s going to remember you at the party,” says Graden. And, true enough, the MTV he created is easy to personify: Just think goofy, slightly gross, mischievous, kinda hot 19-year-old in skateboard shorts and a trucker hat, part Ashton Kutcher, part Johnny Knoxville. The same’s true of VH1: If the channel were a person, it would be a paunchy, thirtysomething hipster comedian, waxing nostalgic about the Thompson Twins.
“Diversity is key,” he says. This sentiment sounds good for a bumper sticker, but it’s peculiar coming from Graden.
Now, though, he’s taking an all-things-to-all-people approach. “With Logo, the second you give a description of the channel, you’ve got a personality, and an entire audience who knows, This is for me.” Which sounds suspiciously like, Logo’s here, it’s queer, and if you are, too, you’ll watch it. Perhaps it’s more useful to look at what Graden does, and not just what he says he does. For when he describes his job, he sounds slightly Jedi-like: “I exercise intuition around what connects emotionally. It’s all entirely unexplainable to me. I know what I do, but where it comes from or why I’m okay at it, I don’t know. It just is.” Still, his accomplishments suggest that, whatever it is he does, he’s done it better over the past eight years than anyone else in television. Other networks have found hits, but Graden’s found phenomena. For example, when he watched the Newlyweds pilot—which to an average eye might have looked like a tedious diary of two washed-up teen pop stars—he saw . . . something more. “The idea of Newlyweds was not a TV show,” he says. “The idea was a moment when Jessica said something silly, and Nick rolled his eyes, and that was the entire show. Those eight seconds. That’s what we bought.”
Graden might use earnest but anodyne words like “diversity” when describing the philosophy of his new channel, but he’s exercised his judicious eye in subtly shaping Logo’s offerings. When the potential programs for Logo were unveiled back in July 2004, they read like a parody of a gay network: Shows in development with Cher and Chastity Bono, and a slate of movies like The Birdcage and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Since Graden’s arrival, the Cher show has disappeared and Baby Jane’s been buried. “It was amazing how many of the early pitches that came in were in the predictably camp or retro category,” he says, “And we were like, ‘No, let’s try and transcend that. Let’s bust stereotypes when we can.’” So Graden championed films with overtly gay characters (Kissing Jessica Stein, Philadelphia) rather than camp classics. He met with prominent gay creators such as, yes, Will & Grace’s Max Mutchnick, to discuss an overall approach. And he fine-tuned the balance of Logo’s schedule. At one point, he realized the channel was too heavy on pitches about gay-male characters and so put out a call for lesbian-themed shows. Similarly, after acquiring a host of PBS-worthy documentaries, he green-lighted a gay stand-up show.