LOS ANGELES -- As MTV's Logo blows out the candles on its one-year anniversary cake next week, the basic cable channel dedicated to entertainment for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender audience can confidently celebrate a year of solid growth. Viewership is at 20 million - up from 13 million at the start - leading to major advertisers coming on board within the past six months.
"It has exceeded our expectations," said Logo President Brian Graden, also president of MTV Networks Music Group Entertainment. "A lot of this has happened without fanfare."
The serialized drama Noah's Arc has been a breakout hit and begins its second season this summer with Season 1 out on DVD. A series version of a popular Logo special, Coming Out Stories, also debuts as does U.S. of Ant, a reality show that sends stand-up comedian Ant across the country to try to find gay life in small-town America. In addition, CBS News on Logo, hosted by Jason Bellini, and The Advocate Newsmagazine continue, and there will be coverage of next month's Gay Games VII in Chicago.
In production for an early 2007 debut is The Big Gay Show, a sketch variety show produced by Rosie O'Donnell.
"I've always been passionate about the shows we make [at MTV] but nothing has ever felt like such a personal expression," said Graden, who is openly gay. "There's a great level of vulnerability that goes along with it given the complicated journey that so many of us go on to proclaim who we are. It feels like a privilege beyond what I can even articulate and most days, you just hope to do it justice."
Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), called the one-year anniversary of Logo on Friday "groundbreaking."
"Clearing this one-year hurdle is a great milestone not just for them but I think for the entire community," Giuliano said. "We work for fair coverage and inclusive representation of our lives in the media. From that standpoint, Logo is a network that gets it right every day. They are sharing stories, talking about our lives."
Anthony Crupi, a senior reporter who covers the cable industry for the trade publication Mediaweek, said MTV parent company Viacom Inc. appears to take its commitment to Logo seriously with the idea that there is an untapped market and an audience with a lot of discretionary income.
"While it may have been launched as a niche network, Logo has already reached a significant distribution milestone ... passing the 20 million subscriber mark," Crupi said.
Viacom has a roster of popular and highly targeted cable networks, which includes MTV, Comedy Central, BET and Spike TV. But Logo's demographic of viewers with disposable income has drawn major advertisers to the channel including American Express and General Motors.
"The advertisers on the network are now a higher caliber of national advertisers than in the first three months," said Howard Buford, founder and CEO of multicultural advertising agency Prime Access. "The desirability of the channel is a function of the pricing of ads and the audience, which has high usage of certain products such as travel, financial services, fashion and other retail.
"I think their challenge is to develop more original programming and have less dependence on existing material because original content allows for product placement, which will bring in more advertisers," Buford added.
To that end, Logo has an ambitious development slate of new original programming spanning various genres in the works to complement the more than 300 hours of films and documentaries in the channel's library.
Among the shows in development announced this month: The Service, an hourlong drama about a group of enlisted gay men and lesbians stationed on a military base; Sordid Lives: The Series, a half-hour comedy prequel to the cult-hit movie that chronicles the lives of an eccentric Texas family; the sitcom That Gay Ghost, about a conservative family that moves to San Francisco and discovers they are living with a gay ghost; and Reconnection, a reality series in which gays and lesbians disowned by family members get the chance to confront them.
They join shows in development: The Rules: A Lesbian Survival Guide, a comedy about a single lesbian looking for love; Slink, an animated series about five lesbian cats who inherit a mansion in Malibu; and the drama Heartland, about a college student who expects to make a short trip back home in Iowa but decides to stay after realizing his family is in trouble.
"People thought it would be an urban thing but it is absolutely all over the country - there are gay people everywhere," Graden said.