Queer as Folk is an American and Canadian television series co-production, produced by Showtime and Temple Street Productions which was based on the British series of the same name created by Russell T Davies. This North American version of Queer as Folk used various Canadian directors known for their independent film work (including Bruce McDonald, David Wellington, Kelly Makin, John Greyson, Jeremy Podeswa and Michael DeCarlo) as well as famed Australian director Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) who directed the pilot episode. The head writers were Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman who were also the executive producers of the series along with former Warner Bros. Television president Tony Jonas. Other writers in the later seasons included Michael MacLennan, Efrem Seeger, Brad Fraser, Del Shores, and Shawn Postoff.
The series follows the lives of five gay men living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Brian, Justin, Michael, Emmett, Ted; a lesbian couple, Lindsay and Melanie; and Michael's mother Debbie. Another main character, Ben, was added in the second season. Due to tax incentives, the series was filmed in Canada, with frequent location filming in Toronto's Church and Wellesley gay village.
The show was noted for its somewhat frank depiction of gay life, as well as its vivid sex scenes. A disclaimer, "Queer as Folk is a celebration of the lives and passions of a group of gay friends. It is not meant to reflect all of gay society" appeared after each episode on Showtime in the U.S. but this disclaimer was not broadcast on Showcase in Canada (instead, the standard Showcase disclaimer "This program contains nudity, sexuality and coarse language — viewer discretion is advised" was broadcast before each airing and after each commercial).
The title appears to make two references. The show comes from a well-known dialect expression from some parts of Northern England, "there's nought [colloquially pronounced 'nowt'] so queer as folk", meaning "there's nothing as weird as people". (The original series was set in Manchester, in North-West England.) It is also a variation on "Queer as Fuck", which Channel 4 had originally called it, before changing it to its more polite form.
The show drew strong ratings for both Showtime and Canada's Showcase. In fact, in Canada, the series had such high ratings that by the end of the 5th season so many sponsors had purchased advertising time that Showcase had to air the show in an hour and ten minute time block to accommodate all the ads and not cut out any scenes. This was not a problem for Showtime, since that service is commercial free and no ads were ever broadcast during a QAF telecast.
The series ran for five seasons (2000 to 2005 on Showtime and 2001 to 2005 on Showcase). It was believed by fans that the show could have run for another year (most of the cast originally had six year contracts but according to one rumor the contracts were renegotiated to five years after the first season).
However, Showtime was concerned about the rising production costs due to the strength of the Canadian Dollar. Some of the cast, however, felt that Showtime didn't want to be known as a "gay only" network so they cancelled the show. Publicly, at least, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman both stated that they didn't feel there were really any further stories that they could tell. Randy Harrison (Justin) was reported as saying that had the series gone into a sixth season, he would not have been part of it.
Canada's Showcase, which was making a great deal of money from the advertising demand, did briefly consider producing a sixth season, but as Showtime owned much of the rights to the series and funded much of the budget, Showcase decided against it.
Another U.S. cable channel owned by Viacom, Logo, began broadcasting edited, commercially sponsored episodes of QAF on 21 September 2006.
As of January 9 2008, Showcase began offering the Canadian version of the Queer as Folk episodes on their website. These Canadian versions differ from the Showtime and DVD versions in that they have breaks within the episodes (where commercials would have been inserted) and make references to "Showcase" and "Temple Street Productions presents" instead of "Showtime presents". Extra special is that, unlike the Season 1 DVDs, episodes 101 and 102 are presented separately and episode 102 is the rare extended version of the episode, created for broadcast during reruns of the first season and not seen since 2002. The first seven episodes were posted on January 9 and one additional episode will be posted each week until all 56 episodes from Seasons 1, 2 and 3 are online by December 15 2008.
The American version of Queer as Folk quickly became the number one show on the Showtime roster. The network's initial marketing of the show was primarily targeted at gay male (and to some extent, lesbian) audiences, yet a sizeable segment of the viewership turned out to be heterosexual women.
Groundbreaking scenes abounded in Queer as Folk, beginning with the first episode, containing the first simulated explicit sex scene between two men shown on American television (including mutual masturbation, anal sex, and rimming), albeit more tame than the scene it was based on in the UK version. Despite the frank portrayals of drug use and casual sex in the gay club scene, the expected conservative uproar never materialized.
Initially, most of the actors kept their real-life sexual orientations ambiguous in the press so as not to detract from their characters, causing much speculation among the viewing audience. Since that time, Randy Harrison, Peter Paige, Robert Gant and Jack Wetheral have stated that they are gay, Thea Gill has stated she is bisexual, and the rest of the cast have stated they are straight (i.e, Gale Harold, Michelle Clunie, and Hal Sparks) but have for the most part avoided public discussion of their orientation.
Controversial storylines which have been explored in Queer As Folk have included: coming out, same-sex marriage, recreational drug use and abuse (cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, GHB, ketamine, cannabis); gay adoption, artificial insemination; vigilantism; gay-bashing; safe sex, HIV-positive status, underage prostitution; actively gay Catholic priests; discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, the internet pornography industry and bug chasers (HIV-negative individuals who actively seek to become HIV-positive).
The series was set in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which it depicted with a good deal of creative license. Pittsburgh was chosen as the closest parallel to the UK series' industrial setting of Manchester, England. However, since Pittsburgh does not have a large gay district like San Francisco or New York, almost all of the Liberty Avenue scenes were filmed in and around the Church and Wellesley area of Toronto which is that city's gay village. In fact, not a single shot of the real Liberty Avenue was ever used in the series. Toronto was chosen as the production center of the series because of its lower cost of production and established mature television and film industry. And, as it happens, Toronto's gay village had the look the producers needed to bring their vision of Liberty Avenue alive.
Woody's, the central bar in this fantasy Pittsburgh, is the name of a leading gay bar in Toronto, whose real exterior was shot with only minor disguise. (In a Season 4 episode in which several characters travelled to Toronto, the real Woody's was dubbed "Moosie's".) While Pegasus, a popular gay club in Pittsburgh, is located on the real-life Liberty Avenue, it is not the gay mecca that is portrayed on the show.
The series has, at times, made humorous reference to its image in the gay community. A few episodes featured show-within-a-show Gay as Blazes, a dull, politically-correct drama which Brian particularly disagreed with, and which was eventually cancelled.
Criticisms of Queer as Folk
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The American series was groundbreaking on many social levels. Because of this, many gay critics and audience members, citing their under-representation in the past, have all made public claims that the show had a certain level of social responsibility. This feeling is perhaps the strongest reason for much criticism and controversy within the gay community concerning Queer as Folk's portrayal of gay and lesbian issues.
Like the original UK series, Queer as Folk has been strongly criticized by some in the gay community for what they feel is an unrealistic portrayal of actual gay relationships and/or gay life. The producers of the show have stressed from the beginning both in a written statement that appeared at the end of each show (Seasons 1-3) and in the press, that they were not attempting to make any representations or generalizations. However, many in the gay press have nonetheless charged that this would be the effect on many viewers, whether desired or not. A few gay columnists have therefore taken issue with what they feel are unrealistic portrayals as well as "hidden agendas" within the show's content. Examples used have been the lack of non-whites on the show, the unrealistic (overly attractive) portrayal of patrons at bars/clubs, the overabundance of public sex at the bars (which is illegal in most places in the US, including Pennsylvania), and finally, the vilification of certain aspects of some gay men's lives (such as bareback sex), yet complacent treatment of hard-drug use and infidelity which, as critics have charged, is a taking of sides on controversial issues within the queer community and fails to report in a neutral manner.
The lack of the realism of the setting has also been criticized, since the program depicts the gay scene in Pittsburgh as much more urbane and arguably sophisticated than it actually is, resembling a scene more likely found in more cosmopolitan cities like San Francisco, New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, Atlanta, Houston, or Miami (Or the city in which the series was filmed Toronto, Canada.) Still, others claim that while the depiction of drugs and sex is realistic, its portrayal is a counter-productive airing of "dirty laundry" to the larger community, to whom the gay community is appealing for legal protection of their civil rights.
Others in the gay community have praised it for its reflection of previously-taboo aspects of their lives, whether realistic or romanticized. On balance, many viewers see the show in a generally positive light for its contribution to gay media exposure. Some critics and fans alike point out that some of these issues (including the lack of racial diversity and the heavy focus on sex) are common in TV shows about heterosexuals, too. As such, they argue that it is unfair to single out Queer as Folk for criticism on these issues.
The show was also criticized as a pale imitation of the original British series (Queer as Folk UK vs. Queer as Folk US). Some argued that the U.S. version over-emphasized sex and nudity as a cheap ratings grab, in comparison to the British series which, while it also depicted sexual activity, relied more on dialogue. Another change which drew controversy was the way the US version handled the relationships between the three main male characters as opposed to their QAF UK counterparts. The character of Justin, whose UK counterpart was 15 years old, became a 17 year old high school student whose character is portrayed as a sensitive artist as opposed to his UK counterpart, who was portrayed as being a young hedonist-in-training. Also, unlike the UK series, the writers went out of their way to portray Brian and Justin as starcrossed lovers who form a longlasting relationship with each other, perhaps as a means to deflect criticism about the intergenerational nature of their relationship.
Filming and production
Queer as Folk was produced by CowLip Productions, Tony Jonas Productions and Temple Street Productions in association with Channel 4 Television Corporation (the co-owner of the original UK series) and Showcase. Warner Bros. Television holds the international distribution rights to the series outside the US and Canada.
The show's original theme song, "Spunk", was written and performed by Greek Buck and was used during seasons one through three. When the main title sequence for the show was changed for seasons four and five, the theme song was changed to "Cue The Pulse To Begin" performed by Burnside Project. However, as a tip-of-the-hat to Greek Buck, the count-in from Spunk was left in the new opening sequence before "Cue The Pulse To Begin" was played.
All five seasons were filmed in wide-screen HDTV however only seasons 4 and 5 were regularly broadcast in HDTV in both the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S., Showtime did run Seasons 1, 2 and 3 in HDTV on Tuesday nights as a special repeat of an episode's full-screen broadcast the previous Sunday. These HDTV broadcasts from the first three seasons were not broadcast by Showcase in Canada. The episodes that appear in the commercially released DVD packages were taken from the HDTV versions.
Keeping up with the technology, Queer as Folk's Season 5 was one of the first series to be recorded using the relatively new digital video process rather than being made exclusively on film. The raw digital video was combined with some scenes that were filmed into a finished episode and then color corrected using a computer process to make the entire episode appear to be filmed.
Throughout all five seasons, the series was filmed primarily at the now-former Dufferin Gate Studios (now known as Peace Arch Studios Toronto) in Etobicoke, Ontario (a southwestern borough of Toronto).
Many of Season 3's non-location scenes of Babylon, Woody's and Liberty Diner were filmed at Greystone Studios in Mississauga (the city adjacent to Toronto's western border).
These same scenes for seasons 4 and 5 were filmed at the now-former Dufferin Gate Studios "B Studio" in Mississauga about 10-15 minutes from Dufferin Gate's home studio in Etobicoke. (This studio is now used by Shaftesbury Films as the home base for several of their projects including a Canadian-American series called The Listener).
The series finale of Queer as Folk originally included additional scenes (some new and some extended from their final presentation) that put the episode's running time to just under 64 minutes. This extra material was deleted from the episode before it was broadcast presumably because Showtime didn't want the program to run longer than 60 minutes. The final edit of the episode is slightly over 58 minutes. The deleted scenes are presented in the QAF Season 5 DVD package. The most notable deletion was a scene near the end of the episode that pays homage to the series' first episode. In the deleted scene, a young blond haired gay teen who looks like Justin is seen on Liberty Avenue, obviously for his first time, and as Justin did in the first episode, steps across Liberty Avenue and splashes through a puddle. This was meant to signify that the series had come full circle. It was ultimately deleted because the idea of "full circle" was already present in the final Michael-Brian scene (which preceded the deleted scene) and the use of the remix of "Proud" as the series' closing theme.