A ‘make-better’ show, as creator David Collins calls it, Queer Eye follows the Fab Five—five gay men, experts in five lifestyle disciplines—as they revamp the lives and living spaces of various subjects. Retaining the essence that made Queer Eye a smash hit at Bravo, all the way back in 2003, Collins’ revival has also evolved to reflect life in a new era.
It would be an understatement to say that America has changed significantly in the 15 years since Queer Eye’s Bravo launch. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage; and now, in 2018, gay marriage is recognized nationwide.
Of course, fundamental social problems remain—homophobia and bigotry among them. But what Queer Eye spotlights is quite the opposite, people from all different backgrounds coming together to acknowledge and celebrate what it is that they have in common. Amidst a polarized political climate, Collins’ series works toward healing, embracing all perspectives.
In its original incarnation, Queer Eye focused on makeovers for straight men. But now, the series has broadened its focus in the subjects it takes on. “It’s no longer Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; it’s Queer Eye,” Collins explains. “And Queer Eye can apply to men, women, families, couples—the works.” In the revival’s second season, the Fab Five welcome their first female and transgender subjects.
Bringing his series back to television, Collins has embraced all kinds of changes and the opportunities they present—including changes in content distribution, which have expanded both viewership and fan engagement. Bowing on Netflix in February, Queer Eye returned for its second season last week.
Why was 2018 the right time to bring Queer Eye back?
The simple answer is that the rights finally came back. For years, I would go into pitch a show and people would say, “Hey, do you have Queer Eye? Can you bring us our Queer Eye?” So it was the right time to take it out.
We realized that this wasn’t just a reboot of a series, but an opportunity to bring back the brand and the storytelling in a new way—and what an amazing opportunity presented itself, to be able to stream this unscripted show globally to the Netflix audience. More importantly, to launch all of unscripted for Netflix was a huge honor and blessing on our end. They happened to be looking for a brand that had global appeal and was a known entity. We were a beloved format, so they felt like this was the right one to revamp and kick off unscripted with.
The world has evolved since Queer Eye’s debut. How has the series evolved with it?
The Netflix Queer Eye was an amazing creative evolution of the format. The heart and soul of our show, the format is still very much there: Transformation through information told with comedy that has heart.
What did change was this amazing opportunity on Netflix to tell the story on a deeper level. We didn’t have to tease in and out of ad breaks. Instead, we got to focus on the story and the episodic hero’s journey with the Fab Five.
Social media [is] obviously something that wasn’t around when the original Queer Eye was happening. Being able to bring the show back now—not only to the audience that loved it before, but to a whole new audience—the zeitgeist of social media has breathed new life into this thing, letting it resonate and connect with the fans. The fans get to talk about it and share about each of the guys, and each of the episodic heroes, falling in love with them differently than we did prior.
How has the cultural shift in America over the last decade impacted the new series? How has it guided your thinking, as a producer?
Most important was the idea that the Fab Five really got to be front and center. We got to learn about them, and who they were, and what they came from. Tan [France] is a Muslim who’s married to a Mormon cowboy; Karamo [Brown]’s a father. These stories of the individual Fab Five are much, much more than we had with the original guys. The original guys flew in and flew out, and at that time, America wasn’t ready to hear about husbands or boyfriends or kids, with regard to the Fab Five. Now, they are. That dialogue and that conversation, America is ready to hear and have, quite frankly.
What was the process in finding your new Fab Five?
We did an international search, and all five verticals were still there: Fashion, grooming, interior design, culture, food and wine. We really got to dive in and find the best of the best—the experts in their fields—and we flew the top 40 guys to Los Angeles, and put them all up in the same hotel. As you can imagine, that was an absolutely insane long weekend. But so much fun. We basically had this big speed dating among the top 40 experts and got to see the chemistry among the guys, and who came to the top.
The magic of this Fab Five is, they revealed themselves to us while we were out casting. You saw the chemistry really beautifully, organically and authentically come together. So that part was really fun. Being able to find a new team that has such a beautiful friendship and brotherhood like the original guys did, it was truly a blessing and a gift for all of us.
What informed the decision to get out of New York with the revival, bringing production to Georgia?
I think we definitely realized that we wanted to get out of New York. Taking a guy into a fancy New York store, anyone can look good, walking into Gucci or Tom Ford. What we realized was, we wanted to head out into America and see all the different cities and states along the way, and really enjoy the travel. Atlanta, Georgia just seemed like a perfect fit; basing it in Atlanta and then getting to go out and do each of the individual towns for the episodes really became one of the cool, new components of the show. Each town becomes a character in each of the episodes.
Is there a conscious idea for you, in terms of how you want to balance entertainment and social commentary with the series?
Honestly, the show never really sought out to have any specific social commentary. My personal take is that because the guys are being so vulnerable and open with their personal lives, you can’t help but connect. When we get to see each other in each other, it’s a beautiful moment where I see you differently and you see me differently, and that gap or that chasm is filled by our similarities versus our differences. We’re able to connect in that middle ground there. These five guys each came from different places in their lives, and each of their stories unfolds throughout all the episodes.
Coming up Season 2, there’s such a beautiful transformation of the guys. It’s kind of a reverse Queer Eye that happens. They really get transformed through their experience with [their subjects], and that’s something that I think is really cool about this new opportunity on Netflix.
In Season 2, Bobby Berk shares his painful experience of the church, growing up as a gay adolescent. When we see topics like these broached, they’re organic to what’s happening in the moment?
Yeah, Bobby was confronted with a real situation. That’s Bobby’s life. Bobby grew up an evangelical Christian boy, and obviously had his struggles with that. In that episode, you get to see this unbelievable shift in perspective for both him and [subject] Tammy, with him hearing what Tammy has to say. Because her own son experienced that exact same thing.
Queer Eye seems to promote an optimistic view of people in general. Do you think optimism is something entertainment now could benefit from moving toward?
Yeah. Years ago, we realized that reality TV had a mean edge to it. And when I first created Queer Eye, I realized that we weren’t trying to do ‘makeovers.’ Confidence breeds success, and when we lift each other up, it’s an opportunity for what we’ve now coined a ‘make-better.’ I think now, more than ever…It’s your life. Design it well.
We have this opportunity here in 2018 where we’ve realized that we all want to lift each other up. Whether it’s the #MeToo movement, or all of women’s rights, and equal pay. All of these things are about lifting ourselves up as individuals, as people—not pulling each other down and doing the typical, judgmental things.
People are interested and hungry to see some love in life, and vulnerability for me really ends up being a big part of this. I feel like when I get to share who I am with you, and you with me, we do ultimately realize that we’re much more similar than we are different and that I want you to be happy and vice versa. And if we can help each other get there and accomplish that through a show like Queer Eye…
And by the way, I don’t want to [suggest] lofty, egotistical aspirations for the show, but what the show does do is provide a really safe place for people to have a dialogue, sharing this idea that we all just want to be loved and feel connected to.
In the series’ two seasons thus far, has there been a moment that’s been most heartening for you to witness?
I would say the Tammy episode. I grew up in Ohio as a Southern Baptist little boy who was taught fire and brimstone—that he was going to burn in hell. So for me to see this church, and to see Tammy as a mother really reach out and mother the Fab Five, and give them the love and attention they deserved, and to see her break down that barrier at her own church, that was pretty darn cool. It was one of those things where, as a producer watching this unfold in front of you, you realize what a gift it was, and what an absolute, amazing moment we got to capture on TV.
[In the second season,] in the Skylar episode, the episodic hero is a trans man—F to M. That was such a cool moment in Queer Eye history, where our Fab Five, while indeed five gay men, get to learn so much, and get educated so well in the world of trans, and what that means. The episode’s hero is a guy by the name of Skylar, who we go on a personal journey with during his transformation. It’s so beautiful, his transition into becoming himself, and the guys get to witness that; he’s vulnerable and allows them to be a part of it.
What are your thoughts on the ways reality television has changed during your time in the business? What’s exciting you about the space as it is today?
We’re definitely in a changing time. The world of old-school appointment TV has changed. We are now becoming one big global service of content; in particular with Netflix, we get to step onto that platform and create things that feed our soul and allow us to connect with programming in a much more personal way.
Unscripted TV has so many amazing opportunities right now. It isn’t that I’ve seen anything that’s bigger, better, or cooler; what I see is this amazing opportunity for creative producers to open up the door and find new ways of storytelling, especially with partners like Netflix.
Scout Productions has been around for almost 30 years now. We came from big, scripted studio series, and then had fun in indie filmmaking, and then won an Oscar with Errol Morris, producing The Fog of War. Then, formats and reality came into our world. So, I feel like we’re really a diverse company that makes a lot of interesting content. And right now, the world is our oyster.