Brian M. Raftery
May 26, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Insatiable…uncut…Disco Whore. Such brazenly bawdy phrases don’t make for typical ad copy. But at last month’s Millennium March on Washington for Equality, overheated folks at the gay rights gathering cooled down with fans bearing those cheeky proclamations. The out-there giveaways were Showtime’s way of plugging its upcoming adaptation of Queer as Folk, an acclaimed British drama about men who are young, love-starved, and — in case the title didn’t clue you in — gay.

The production is the latest queer coup for Showtime, which has carved out a niche as a leading provider of gay-oriented fare. In addition to Folk (set to air in late 2000) and Dirty Pictures, the network’s slate boasts the recent movie Common Ground, about gay life in small-town America, 1999’s Execution of Justice, a biopic of slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk, and Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco singles epic, More Tales of the City.

Showtime’s homo sect-uality began in 1984 with Brothers, a sitcom that featured a prominent gay character and addressed the still-taboo topic of AIDS. When HBO started churning out award-winning series and movies in the early ’90s, Showtime stepped up its own development efforts — and discovered an underserved gay audience. Notes Mark Zakarin, exec VP of original programming: ”It’s better for us to have programming that is number one on the list of gay [viewers] than it is for us to have the number-12 show on the list of everyone.” Now the network gets props from the gay community (”I really didn’t believe their ‘No Limits’ slogan until I got on the set of More Tales and realized I wasn’t being constricted in any way,” says Maupin) and, more important, it’s attracting subscribers. ”From e-mails and letters, we know we have a substantial gay viewership, and they tell us it’s because of the gay-oriented programs,” says Zakarin.

With the highly anticipated Folk, Showtime may just hit gay dirt. Though some worry the network will tone down the dramedy’s explicit portrayal of homosexual sex, Zakarin says the Stateside production won’t be tamed — even at the risk of turning off some straight viewers: ”We have the freedom in premium television of being able to work without worrying about what Jerry Falwell is going to think.” In other words, as far as Showtime is concerned, they’re here, they’re queer — get used to it.

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