February 14, 2006

Word is officially out on Showtime’s “L Word”

By Cynthia Littleton

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Sometime around the
middle of last month, "The L Word" became a digital media
success story for Showtime.

With the start of its third season in January, the ensemble
drama series following a group of lesbian friends in Los
Angeles began generating more than a third of all the traffic
on the Showtime Web site.

Clips from "L Word" episodes make up the top 10 video clips
streamed on the site. Downloads of the show's podcasts have
increased by triple digits, Showtime says.

Yahoo! Inc. noted a 26 percent spike in online traffic
related to the show in its "Buzz Log" last week. (Funnily
enough, Showtime joined Apple's iPod revolution last week in
unveiling a licensing pact with iTunes for three shows, but "L
Word" wasn't one of them.) The show also is upticking by double
digits in the old-fashioned measure of Nielsen Media Research

This hive of activity coupled with the creative development
of the show persuaded Showtime Networks entertainment chief
Robert Greenblatt to give the network's sprawling Sappho soap,
whose cast includes Mia Kirshner, Jennifer Beals and Laurel
Holloman, an early pickup for next year.

"When we have this much equity in a show, and the audience
responds as rabidly as they did this year, it's a big success
for us," Greenblatt says. "This is and will remain one of our
signature shows. A pickup was a no-brainer."


In the eyes of series creator/executive producer Ilene
Chaiken, the increased attention to "L Word" should be credited
to the universal appeal and freshness of its storytelling. The
show offers a look at the lives of 21st century American women
that is different from other shows on TV -- and not just
because these characters wind up in bed with other women,
Chaiken says.

"Putting aside that it's the lesbian show," says Chaiken, a
former executive at Spelling Television and Quincy Jones
Entertainment, "I always believed that when a good show finally
came around that told stories about people who were lesbian, it
would reach a wide audience because people are interested in
our stories. They haven't been told as often in movies and TV.
People are yearning for that."

Indeed, Greenblatt notes the disconnect between the
nation's political climate and pop-culture landscape at a time
when anti-gay marriage and other restrictive legislative
initiatives are popping up around the country, and yet
moviegoers and TV viewers are by and large accepting of
homosexual and transgender characters in films and series too
numerous to name.

"These characters are becoming more accepted once audiences
see that they live, love, yearn, get hurt, struggle with family
and love and their work in the same ways as everyone else,"
Greenblatt says.

Chaiken says she has heard anecdotally that men start out
watching the show with their wives or girlfriends for the
titillation factor but stick with it because of the melodrama
(and the sexy cast). Yahoo! noted in its report that women
generated about 85 percent of the online traffic on "L Word."

Chaiken, a former TV executive turned screenwriter, recalls
pitching Showtime on a lesbian ensemble drama series more than
five years ago, long before "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
became a mainstream hit and before CBS Corp.-owned pay TV
network took the leap with "Queer as Folk."

"Representation (on television) is so important to people,"
Chaiken says. "Lesbians have never had a show of our own
before, so I understand all of the (fan) ranting and raving out
there about it. Even more so than with other shows, the fans
own this show. It's not my show; it's theirs."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter