By Ray Richmond
The Hollywood Reporter
As the curtain comes down on summertime with a resounding, post-Labor Day thud, it's time to face the fact that TV's biggest hit to emerge during the past three months came to us from -- of all places -- Bravo.
There isn't much debate that "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy" is a genuine phenomenon. Since premiering in July, it has made weekly sport of rewriting the Bravo ratings record books (not that tall an order, if truth be told) and has set new marks that are double and triple the previous 18-49 and 25-54 demographic standards.
The hetero "make-better" hour has even sneaked onto the NBC slate, making for a rare crossover franchise. And it has made budding stars of its elite Fab Five gay makeover maestros, particularly flamboyant fashion savant Carson Kressley.
Kressley is the blond man in the middle, the wisecracking, pithy clotheshorse with the effortlessly witty patter. It's hardly surprising that the 33-year-old from Allentown, Pa., is already beginning to field movie and TV offers and has enlisted an agent despite the fact that "Queer Eye" is his first work in front of the camera.
"It's all very surreal," says Kressley, who is also a nationally ranked equestrian. "We're the reality show that could. All five of us are pretty blown away by this kind of attention, let me tell you. I always thought I had a face for radio, but ... well, go figure. I just did a 'Good Morning, Miami' (guest spot), and it looks like there'll be a lot more. It's safe to say that yes, I am the breakout star."
Kressley admits he couldn't have imagined "in 2 million years" that the show would strike the cultural nerve that it has. "It's happened because we have no political agenda. We're all just about having a good time and making people feel better about themselves. ... I'm also pretty amazed at how much we're able to get away with on this show. An awful lot gets left in. And I have the restraining orders to prove it."
He has found that one unanticipated fringe benefit is the way "Queer Eye" appears to have helped open up a dialogue for some closeted gay men.
"I know one 19-year-old kid who watched the show with his parents," Kressley says, "and when he saw how positively they were reacting to us on the show, he felt comfortable enough to come out to his mom and dad. How amazing is that?"
Recognition has also come his way in unlikely places.
"I was at the Kentucky State Horse Fair show a few weeks back and, like, these families with 7-year-old kids were coming up to me saying, 'Hey, love your show. Can we get your autograph?'" Kressley recalls. "I mean, you can't get more Middle America than Louisville, Kentucky. And even the older men were like, 'Are you that queer guy?' I used to get that all the time, but it wasn't said with such glee."
He likewise marvels at how the show is at least equally appealing to the female gender.
"Women really seem to identify with it," Kressley finds. "I have wives and girlfriends embarrassingly pulling their boyfriends and husbands up to me on the street now and asking, 'Can you do anything with this?' I'm really tempted to say, 'No, absolutely not. And put him down, please.' But usually what comes out of my mouth is, 'No, he's really handsome. Just lose the pleats.' "
Even if the anticipated blockbuster fame and fortune don't come Kressley's way for a while, he is content to ride this "Queer Eye" wave.
"We're doing the Lord's work," he believes. "I'm here to be His servant."