'Queer Eye' Producers on How the Netflix Update Shifts Its Focus to Red State America

"Something that works so well here is showing that communication across cultural lines is still possible," says David Eilenberg.
Carin Baer/Netflix

Queer Eye, né for the Straight Guy, returned to Netflix Wednesday after little more than a decade off the air.

The former Bravo series, updated for a Trump-era America, starts with five new gay men — each from their own arena of lifestyle expertise — heading to the Georgia suburbs to set an aging bachelor back on the right track. For anyone who watched the original series, it's both new and familiar. (And the theme song remains mostly intact.)

But the twist to the new Queer Eye is the conversations it affords between the cast and their episodic subjects. Instead of just offering assists to unkempt urbanites in the New York-set original, Netflix's Queer Eye heads south. Some of the the subjects have admittedly little experience even speaking with gay men.

Series creator David Collins, of Scout Productions, and ITV Entertainment president David Eilenberg spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what this new element did to refresh the series. 

You sold the show before the election, but the setup seems like a reaction to it. Was that part of the original pitch to Netflix or did it evolve?

Eilenberg It's a fraught political and cultural moment in the country right now. And something that works so well here is showing that communication across cultural lines is still possible. And, unlike the first, this is not just going live in the U.S. It's going live worldwide.

Collins We realized there had to be an evolution of the format in some way, because the core was going to remain the same. What being on Netflix really allows is opportunities for more deeper storytelling — and really just letting that unfold over the course of the episode.

Were you ever anxious about the kinds of interactions the guys might have filming in less progressive locales?

Collins We wanted to get out of New York and see America. We knew that in a red state, we were going to meet many different characters, which really makes the arc of the season that much stronger. Tom, [the subject of] the first episode, really represented this idea of having a dialogue and a bigger conversation — in terms of the types of questions he ends up asking the guys. We based in Atlanta, but we went to a lot of small towns around Georgia. The towns become a real part of the story. In the second episode we have a policeman who's a Trump supporter.

One of the new cast, Jonathan Van Ness, comes to the show with a social following and a popular web series. Did you consider things like that when casting?

Eilenberg We certainly didn't set out with that filter. The filter was really about expertise, empathy and, ultimately, the right mix. The guys have to feel like a team. The casting process, which was exhaustive, was geared a lot toward finding chemistry among the group.

Collins We actually did the opposite, it was about finding new, fresh faces. None of the originals had any TV experience or desire to be on TV, and that's what worked about it. It was a global search for almost four months. Out of thousands, we narrowed it down to the top 40 and brought them all to L.A. to a hotel for three days. That was a reality show unto itself. It was like speed-dating.

Do you feel it's easier to reach viewers with the a familiar title?

Collins The goal isn't just to get people to check this out, we want them to watch every episode. The Queer Eye name unquestionably helps draw attention to the project, in a way we could have never done under a new title, but we still have to have the goods.

Eilenberg And with regard to the show being a global format, that's what made the most sense to place it at Netflix.

Did you have a particularly edifying moment from the season?

Eilenberg There's a moment in the episode where our subject is a police officer, a Trump supporter and a NASCAR fan — somebody who, superficially, would be as far across the cultural divide from our fab five as possible. There's a moment in which Karamo [Brown] is able to connect with him on serious issues that fundamentally have nothing to do with his personal transformation but the country we live in. In that scene, which I'm not going to try to describe, I felt we were really doing something new and fresh and current.