How Canada’s Gay Network Rode to the Rescue of Logo’s DTLA Ensemble Drama

OUTtv threw a lifeline to “L Word” executive producer Larry Kennar’s Kickstarter-funded series about eight friends in downtown Los Angeles.

TORONTO - When the CRTC originally licensed OUTtv as Pride Vision in 2001 to become the world’s first gay TV network, the Canadian TV regulator probably did not envisage DTLA, produced by L Word executive producer Larry Kennar, on TV screens here.

The American LGBT drama follows eight friends in downtown Los Angeles and needed lifeline investment from OUTtv to get fully financed and in front of the cameras.

Nor, we can assume, did the CRTC, which deemed Pride Vision a must-carry cable channel, ever envisage a day when domestic carriers like Shaw Cable in western Canada would ever give the gay-themed channel wide distribution.

But when DTLA premieres on OUTtv and Logo stateside on Oct. 24, an 11-year journey is set to launch Canada’s gay network into the mainstream of Canadian TV.

That North American debut for DTLA will mark the first time a Kickstarter crowd funded TV series will receive domestic and international distribution.

DTLA is a moment in time and could become a tipping point for OUTtv, where LGBT Canada has sent a message that we’re doing something, where we’re able to step up and do what we were supposed to do when first licensed 11 years ago,” Brad Danks, COO of OUTtv, said.

Canada’s gay network is hardly sexing up its Fall 2012 schedule.

Breaking with predecessor Pride Vision, OUTtv in 2006 escaped Canadian TV’s red light district when it promised Shaw Cable and other domestic carriers that it would never schedule and air adult content ever again.

So DTLA is part of a lineup of new shows that shifts OUTtv more to the mainstream and away from strict LGBT content.

“You’re running hot and cold water to get the temperature right. It’s a core LGBT show that will find mainstream interest,” Danks said of DTLA’s prospects on OUTtv.

That’s no normal boast from a Canadian TV programmer.

The challenge for OUTtv has long been to strike a balance between targeting core LGBT viewers, while crossing over to a mainstream audience that Canadian advertisers covet.

Bridging LGBT and straight Canadian TV audiences as a go-between is no cakewalk.

“No one says this is how it’s done. We answer it by looking for a show that speaks to core values: empathy and the general notion that, while there are some differences for LGBT people in our community, there are similarities,” Danks explained.

That’s where Larry Kennar, his independently-financed gay TV drama and OUTtv found common ground.

DTLA stars Darryl Stephens of Noah’s Arc and Matthew Stephen Herrick, and has cameo roles from Melanie Griffith and Sandra Bernhard.

And yet with Viacom’s Logo channel slow to get behind DTLA, and Here Network-parent Regent Entertainment taking a pass, Kennar turned to Canada.

“He (Kennar) called us because he had heard from people in the U.S. that we were doing good things in Canada with the service,” Danks recalled.

It’s usually the other way round: a Canadian producer has a drama that requires financing, and a U.S. network backs the project with a modest licence fee that leverages sales into the world market.

But here was OUTtv proving key to Kennar getting his project made.

The Canadian network investing in DTLA allowed Kennar to secure additional financing, which included crowdfunding.

“It’s a role reversal from the usual. Ultimately, it wasn’t about making a statement about a Canadian network. It was about making content that our core audience would be interested in,” Danks explained.

That said, DTLA has a precedent.

Showtime’s Queer as Folk drama, the first to portray the lives of gay men and women, while set in Pittsburgh, was produced in Toronto and proved a primetime winner for Canada’s Showcase channel.

Danks see DTLA, while overlapping with Queer as Folk in depicting a 30something world, going further by portraying gay friends for whom life did not turn out as originally envisaged.

What’s more, DTLA is more multicultural than Queer as Folk and has gay and straight people living and playing together and dealing with the same issues.

“As the LGBT community moves into the mainstream, many of the issues that if faces are more mainstream,” Danks insisted as OUTtv increasingly walks a fine line between a gay audience embracing the mainstream, and straight TV viewers looking to a gay network for alternative programming.

“Ultimately, the (DTLA) series, while it has strong LGBT characters and actors in supporting roles, it really speaks to the human condition, rather than is LGBT-specific,” Danks said.

DTLA will debut with a one hour premiere on OUTtv and Logo on October 24, followed by seven 30 minute episodes airing weekly.