VH1 Goes Inside Queer As Folk

The VH1 special is about 30 minutes long, and is narrated by an announcer who speaks while we watch clips of QAF, intercut with clips of the individual actors and some of the crew/production staff talking about their characters and the impact that the show has had on the audience. Clips of interviews are shown with the following people: Ron Cowen, Dan Lipman, Sheila Hockin, Gale Harold, Randy Harrison, Scott Lowell, Peter Paige, Hal Sparks, Sharon Gless, Michelle Clunie, Patrick Antosh (costume designer), Alex Chapple (Director), as well as Jerry Offasy (President, Showtime Programming, 1993-2003), and journalists Dawn Yanek (Sex & Relationships editor, Stuff magazine); Sean Smith (Critic, Newsweek); and Jeremey Helligar (Senior Editor, US magazine). Those who were interviewed, according to the VH1 press release, but who did not appear in the screener, are: Robert Gant, Michael DeCarlo, and Kevin Inch.

They use very short clips from the show to illustrate whatever the announcer is talking about at the time, sometimes just a snippet of dialogue from one character to echo (or contrast) the sentiment being conveyed. For example, Brian saying "Who gives a shit what straight people think?" when the announcer is talking about the impact on the straight audience. I've tried to include as many as I could catch while recapping, but there are LOTS of them and they go by quickly.

The main topics covered are:

  • introductions
  • graphic sex scenes
  • casting the series
  • romance on QAF, prom scene
  • Marc Hall story
  • Ted's drug addiction
  • Michael in drag for Gay Pride
  • sexual orientation of cast members
  • QAF as a groundbreaking series

Wardrobe notes (I'm doing this part from memory, so forgive me if it's not totally accurate):
Gale is wearing this really stylish, heavy brown sweater with striped seams (almost like a cable-knit) with a collar that folds over like a turtleneck. His hair is somewhat long, brushed back off his face, and he has a scruffy beard.
Randy is wearing a dark sweater with some kind of pullover on top of that.
Peter is in a shirt and tie, with another sweater on.
Scott is wearing a dark navy/black button-down shirt.
Hal is in a black t-shirt with white lettering on the front.
Sharon is wearing a bright pink sweater, and looks great without her glasses.
(screen caps to come later, hopefully!)

The special opens with the scene from the premiere episode in season one, where Emmett, Michael and Ted are singing Alicia Bridges' "I love the Nightlife" at the bar in Babylon. Emmett says, "My god, have you ever seen anything more beautiful?"

ANNOUNCER: Gay TV is taking over...
(they show the cover of the Vanity Fair magazine, with a closeup of Gale's face)
ANNOUNCER: ...everyone from Ellen DeGeneres, to Will and Grace, to the Queer Eye guys, have created a 'must-see, pink TV'
(clip of Debbie saying, "Whoo! Sounds hot!")
ANNOUNCER: ...but most of these big gay shows tiptoe around one thing: the 'sexual' part of homosexual. That's where Showtime's Queer as Folk comes in. It not only shows the explicit sex...
(clips of Brian yelling "Faggot!" while driving, Brian and Justin kissing in the loft, and Brian telling Michael, "People want sexy; they want hot")
ANNOUNCER: ...it also takes all of gay culture, and brings it out of the closet.

SCOTT LOWELL: I think it's the first show to show people as three-dimensional, sexual creatures.

DAWN YANEK ("Stuff" magazine): It's sexy much in the same way that Sex and the City's sex scenes were shocking when that first premiered.

ANNOUNCER: Queer as Folk is sort of a gay version of Sex and the City... without all the Manolos... and with much harder guys. Set in the outrageous Pittsburgh club scene, Queer as Folk revolves around the gayest group of leading men in television history.

ANNOUNCER: There's brian... he's slept with almost every gay man on the planet.
(clip of Brian telling Justin that "love is something straight people tell themselves they're in, so they can get laid")

ANNOUNCER: Then there's Justin... he's a high school kid who loves Brian.
(clip of Justin saying "I just saw the face of God; his name is Brian Kinney")

ANNOUNCER: Meet Michael. He also loves Brian, but knows nothing is ever coming.
(clip fo Brian and Michael on the turnpike in ep.110)

ANNOUNCER: Ted's a repressed accountant with self esteem issues.
(clip of Ted in ep.109, saying "I was rejected by everybody")

ANNOUNCER: Emmett is flamboyant, out, and loving every minute of it.
(various clips of Em strutting his stuff)

ANNOUNCER: There's also a whole network of friends and family, like the lesbian couple, Lindsay and Melanie.
(clips of the girls)

ANNOUNCER: Audiences were initially drawn in by the raw sex and sensationalism...
(clip of Zack O'Tool ripping open his shirt at the play)
ANNOUNCER: .. but they stayed for the stories of love and heartbreak.
(clip of Justin telling Brian "I want you" and Brian saying, "You can't have me")

DAWN YANEK: When you boil it down, and you strip away the sex, and you strip away the fact that it's about a bunch of gay men, you're looking at relationships.
(clip of Michael at the diner telling Justin, "He's not your boyfriend. Brian doesn't DO boyfriends.")

- - -

(clip of Brian saying, "Where ya headed?" and Justin replying, "No place special", then Brian's "I can change that!")

ANNOUNCER: When Queer as Folk premiered in 2000, it started off with a bang -- literally.
(clips of Brian bringing Justin home to the loft the first time they had sex)

ANNOUNCER: Within the series' first fifteen minutes, seventeen-year-old Justin loses his virginity to Brian -- a much more experienced, older man.

SEAN SMITH (Newsweek): The first time that Brian and Justin had sex was sort of jaw-dropping, because it was really graphic, gay male sex.

SHEILA HOCKIN: It was not only the first sex scene between Brian and Justin; it was the first sex scene we did on Queer as Folk.

ANNOUNCER: The two actors had barely been on camera doing anything, much less fooling around with another guy.

RON COWEN: They barely had met... 'hello I'm Gale, hello I'm Randy, take your clothes off and get into bed.' We were all very nervous; we're not used to writing this stuff, shooting this kind of stuff.

GALE HAROLD: There's always really intense vulnerability about having to take your clothes off, and trying to communicate with someone.

ANNOUNCER: The guys weren't the only ones having sex problems; straight actresses Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill had never 'gone girl' before. So, before their first shoot, they secluded themselves for a little "lesbian practise time."

MICHELLE CLUNIE: Our first scene together, we not only had to kiss, but I was cupping her breast and kissing it. We both felt as though we had to be very comfortable with each other. That night, before we started the next day, we got together at my hotel room. I said, 'what do you think, should we read the script?'

THEA GILL: And then we just jumped on her bed in the hotel room, and sort of got on our knees, and jumped around on the bed...

MICHELLE: We just looked at each other and we said, 'we might as well practise kissing, because it's going to have to look natural'...I would never have done that with a guy... I would never call my male co-star and say, 'Hey, do you want to practise kissing?'

THEA: It's just so much more fun, being able to feel that she was up to 'playing around', so to speak.

- - -

ANNOUNCER: Queer as Folk was nothing until it filled the roles of its 'queer folks'. And, unlike the characters, those early casting calls were not easy.

JERRY OFFSAY: Finding the right cast for Queer as Folk was probably the single biggest challenge in making the show.

SHARON GLESS: They could not get anyone to return their phone calls.
(clip of Emmett on his cell phone at the gym asking, "What exactly does one have to do?")
SHARON: No agents, no actors wanted to touch this project. It was just too scary.

ANNOUNCER: It took a show of support from Cagney & Lacey star Sharon Gless, to get things moving.

SHARON: I'd never seen the likes of this script. It was so sexually graphic. These boys were going to take off their clothes, and they were going to do this in front of the nation.
(clip of Marvin telling Brian "You have a beautiful body" and Brian replying, "I know.")
SHARON: I smelled trouble. And I like trouble. And I wanted to be a part of it.

ANNOUNCER: So, Sharon took on the role of gay-friendly waitress, Debbie Novotny. Hal Sparks signed up to play Debbie's son Michael, whose infatuation with his best friend Brian is at the heart of the show.

HAL SPARKS: Just the sheer fact that people were afraid to do it, made me rush to the audition.

(they show some quick head shots from some of the audition footage... and the actors reading lines of dialogue from various scripts; Michelle looks very different, with long curly hair)

ANNOUNCER: Soon, the rest of the cast fell into place. Well before their lesbian love practise, Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill proved they had the right firey chemistry.

ANNOUNCER: Scott Lowell and Peter Paige clicked instantly as Ted and Emmett.
(clip of Emmett saying, "Turns out, he's a big nelly bottom!")
ANNOUNCER: Their quirky friendship adds a comic edge to the show's more serious stories.

ANNOUNCER: There still wasn't anyone to play Brian, the charismatic man's man at the center of the story.

JERRY OFFSAY: I personally called the five biggest agencies in LA and told them that we were tripling the amount of money that we were offering to pay for that role.
(clip of Brian telling the married client in the bathroom who said "It's been a pleasure" that "it can be even more of one")

ANNOUNCER: With the deadline fast approaching, the casting director got lucky.

DAN LIPMAN: Finally, we get a call, at five o'clock, and all we hear is 'He's here.' So we ran over to her office, we sat down, she brings in Gale Harold.
(they show a clip of Gale's audition tape where he spreads his arms wide and says, "We owe it aaallll to him.")
DAN: (continues) ...and I said to him, 'Gale, can you come to the test on Monday?' And I remember he was just sort of sitting there with his cigarette (Dan imitates Gale taking a puff and then shaking his head, being 'oh-so-cool') and says, 'No, can't be there.'

ANNOUNCER: Gale's indifferent self-confidence told them one thing: their search was over.

GALE: It just seemed really exciting, you know, the opportunity.

- - - -

ANNOUNCER: The heart and soul of QAF is the dance mecca, club Babylon. Its the place where everybody knows your name, and your sexuality.

JEREMY HELLIGAR (Senior Editor, US magazine): Babylon is to Queer as Folk what the coffee house is to Friends, what the bar is to Cheers.

SEAN SMITH (Newsweek): Babylon obviously is like the watering hole. And it's where you see all these different storylines intersect. It is ground zero of that peer group.

(clips of the boys at Babylon)

ANNOUNCER: To make Babylon really authentic, Queer as Folk started shooting its scenes in a real bar.

HAL SPARKS: In the pilot, we shot at a club called Guvernment here in Toronto; very big club, and it was just FULL of extras, jam-packed. It was like the gay Playboy mansion.

PATRICK ANTOSH: We've had people who have been requested to drop their pants in a certain scene, and they'll walk for half an hour through the club, naked, before someone catches them and realizes and says "No, no, not until we're rolling."

SCOTT LOWELL: People were having sex full-on, not minding that other people were walking by with lights and things.

HAL SPARKS: Every time somebody yelled 'cut', everyone was sneaking off to all the rooms, trying to get some!

RANDY HARRISON: They had to put up a sign in the bathroom, because people were fucking in the girls' bathroom! (Randy points somewhere off-set)

ANNOUNCER: While shooting in a real club made things feel authentically gay, it was the tricks of the trade that stretched the actors' vocal cords to the limit.

SCOTT: They're dancing, and then as soon as the dialogue's about to start, they shut the music off.
(clips from ep.214, the Rage party, with the actors speaking loudly)

HAL: (yells one of his lines from the script) You have to speak real loud, because supposedly the music is still playing. These are the challenging scenes for us as actors. Everyone thinks it's the sex scenes; no, it's the idiot club-speak at Babylon.

- - -

ANNOUNCER: The writers and producers faced a challenge of their own: injecting real romance into the sex-crazed world of Queer as Folk. (clip of Justin asking Brian to come to his prom in ep.122)

ANNOUNCER: The first season's climax was all about the cynical Brian satisfying his boy-toy Justin, by going to his prom.

JEREMY HELLIGAR: Brian is not a character who normally makes romantic gestures; I mean, he's the kind of guy who will see a hot guy and, behind a staircase, will pull down his pants.

(clip of Brian arriving at the prom)

PETER: That's sort of the ultimate fairy tale; this man that you've fallen completely in love with, he surrenders with this incredible, dramatic, valiant gesture.

ANNOUNCER: Shooting this scene was a very special moment for gay actor Randy Harrison.

(more clips from the prom)

RANDY: Through Justin, I got to -- especially in a high school environment -- sort of do a lot of things that I wish I had, or had been empowered enough to do when I was in high school. It was liberating.

SEAN SMITH: It's classic Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers, only it's Fred Astaire/FredAstaire, you know?

ANNOUNCER: It was a night of surprises for everyone involved, especially the scene's prudish extras.

ALEX CHAPPLE (Director, ep.122): We staged the scene, we rehearsed the scene; but we didn't do the part where the boys kiss.
(clip of Brian kissing Justin when the dance is finished)
ALEX (continues): This came as a complete surprise to all the extras, and when we did it, people were like "Huhhhhhh!!!" (loud intake of breath)
GALE: You could hear that sound, like 'huhhh!!!" like 'what are they doing?!' (Gale smiles)... and some of them had that natural response, 'those two guys are making out!'

- - -

One teenager took the scene on the show to heart and tried to take his boyfriend to his high school prom. They tell the story of the gay Canadian teenager Marc Hall, who fought the Catholic school board to bring his boyfriend to the prom. The school ruled against it. Peter Paige says that a radio station offered to throw Marc his own prom, and then the students held a protest and told the school that they wouldn't go to the prom if Marc wasn't allowed to bring his date. Eventually, the courts overruled the school board, and Marc was allowed to go to the prom with his boyfriend. The show invited him to the set of QAF. Sheila Hockin says they just called him up at home one day with a surprise offer. And he was "over the moon." (Ed.: for more on Marc Hall's visit to the set, check out the Marc Hall story in my 'behind the scenes' section)

PETER PAIGE: He walked on the set and I basically just burst into tears, I was just so proud of him, and so proud to see him.

They had Marc as an extra, wearing a pink boa, standing behind Ted and Emmett at the bar in Babylon, in episode 214 (Rage party) right as they kissed.

- - -

Next is the storyline of Ted as a crystal meth addict... the dialogue here is close, but may not be exact.

PETER: It was incredibly difficult to watch Scott put himself through that.

ANNOUNCER: Meth addicts don't really care about food, so Scott had to find a way to shed a few not-so-extra pounds.

SCOTT LOWELL: I just wanted to get that gaunt look that crystal meth addicts have.

PETER: He lost so much weight, because he was so tortured by the demons of the character.

SHEILA: He lost more weight because he was carrying all these issues inside of Ted with him.

ANNOUNCER: He began to withdraw from the rest of the cast.

SCOTT: We had to work out hand signals sometimes for when I was there, and when I could actually speak to people or not. Happy face or a sad face... (Scott holds his hand up to his face, with the fingers pointing up in a smile, then down in a frown)

SCOTT: I got a box of Frango mints, which are my favorite things, and we had that box taped right underneath the camera lens, and as soon as we were done, I just dove into those, and ate those. I went out for dinner, we had pizza, and a pint of Guiness, and then I went down the street and I got these crepes with Nutella and bananas in them... I was so hungry, it was awful.

- - -

ANNOUNCER: When Hal Sparks signed up for QAF, he knew it would be tough, but his Gay Pride makeover was a total drag.

HAL: The biggest concern in shooting that scene was really trying to look enough like a woman, where a guy watching a gay pride event wouldn't think you were a drag queen. (the announcer asks if he was better as a blonde, or a brunette?) If they did me as a brunette, I kind of looked like me, slash Gina Gershon.

PATRICK ANTOSH: The extras and people walking around had NO clue; some people thought it was Hilary Swank in a blonde wig.

(they show clips from ep.204, where Michael is in drag)

RON COWEN: This hot looking babe with blonde hair walked into the office...
SHEILA HOCKINS: This person looked SO familiar to me, (thinking to herself) 'why can't I remember who they are, this is so embarrassing'....
RON: It's Hal! I didn't even recognize him.
(clip of Hal kissing his boss Andrew, then saying "see ya loverboy")

- - -

ANNOUNCER: The real 'gay pride' on the show comes from the straight actors who pull off playing gay.
(clip of Emmett at the gym talking about being a 'real man' if he wanted to, but flame burning bright)

ANNOUNCER: From day one, fans have been obsessed with the burning question, "which actors are gay, and which ones aren't?"... but does it matter?

JEREMY HELLIGAR: (laughs) If I had to guess, I'd say that they all were gay.

ANNOUNCER: To give the ensemble more credibility, the straight actors went into the closet.

DAN LIPMAN: These particular actors wouldn't say if they were gay or straight.
(clip of Brian in the steam room saying, "Just tell them the usual...")
DAN: They didn't want the press or the audiences to, in any way, prejudge them, or their characters.
(clip of Brian at the diner saying "The only faggots worth laughing at are the ones who don't tell the truth")

ANNOUNCER: It's time for a little actor orientation quiz. First up: Peter Paige.
PETER: I've always been out of the closet in my personal life, since I was a teenager.

ANNOUNCER: We already know where Randy Harrison stands.
RANDY: I've been out since I was fifteen, and I'm not going to go back in because I'm on a TV show.

SCOTT: As a heterosexual male, I am generally attracted to women, so working on Queer as Folk, having the opportunity to actually kiss other men is fine, but it's not really my cup of tea.

ANNOUNCER: Hal Sparks may kiss men onscreen, but offscreen, he likes the ladies.
(clip of Michael in Brian's corvette, saying 'What if I make a fool of myself? and Brian replying, 'Who gives a shit?')
HAL: I don't know necessarily that I looked at the character of Michael... (clip of Michael kissing the guy he met at Babylon in the park) ... I approached it as 'okay, I'm playing a gay man, what's THAT like?'

ANNOUNCER: Now the one we've all been waiting for...Gale Harold.
(several clips of Brian are shown, including one at Woody's where he says, "Who gives a flying fuck what straight people think?")
GALE: Not being a gay man myself, I approached it as a character first... (clip of Brian removing his shirt in the 'Hotlanta' scene) and tried to focus on some strong, clear choices, and just go with it, you know?

ANNOUNCER: In the end, it doesn't matter who's gay, who's straight, or what people think.
(clip of Ben telling Hunter's mom "I don't care what you believe!")

- - -

ANNOUNCER: Queer as Folk has earned its place as one of the most groundbreaking shows in history.

SEAN SMITH: Queer as Folk is going to go down as a really pivotal moment in television. More than Will & Grace, more than Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, more than any of those shows. It has had a huge impact in making straight people see gay people as they are.
(clip of Justin in season 4 saying, "It's genius")
SEAN: It continues to run ahead of its time ... It still amazes me that they did it ... I still can't believe it's on television.

The show ends with the song, "I want to touch the sky" as the credits roll, and there's a split screen that shows Hal, Scott, Michelle, and Robert doing little dances in their chairs, putting their arms up as if to "touch the sky." Michelle is flipping her hair, Hal is doing little wiggles, Robert does kind of a funky disco move, and Scott is pumping his arms.

- - -

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