Has the Once Golden BRAVO NETWORK Lost Its Luster?

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Despite an eight-year relationship that somehow managed to achieve monogamy for most of 2010, it appears that my hot and heavy affair with the Bravo Network might finally have run its course. A famous New Englander once said, “Nothing gold can stay,” and I guess deep down I always suspected that this would happen, but that doesn’t relieve the sting, or worse, the disillusionment.

After all, not since my prepubescent discovery of MTV has a channel so captivated me while seeming to rip its programming from the depths of my subconscious. Something about unabashedly out and proud Andy Cohen, not to mention his glamorous gang of not-quite celebs, with their in-house squabbling and attention-starved monovision, was enough to keep this gay man quite happy.

It’s interesting, because around the time that we were just getting to know one another, The Logo TV Channel launched, hoping to capture the ethos of a more visible (and marketable) than ever homosexual culture. Yet with little more than reruns of “gay movies” or episodes of Queer as Folk and Will and Grace, it was Bravo that emerged as the true voice of the gays. Aware that the plucky underdog, or campy loner struggling to retain their fabulosity in a world of haters can also represent us, shows like The Real Housewives of Orange County, Kathy Griffin’s My Life On The D-List, even the so-bad-it-was-good Hey Paula, all added to it’s burgeoning identity as an alternative to the obviousness of Logo.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if Bravo ever cowered away from profiling actual gay men and women on television at the time. In fact, programs like the iconic and oft-copied Project Runway, or out LA trainer Jackie Warner’s Work Out, did their part to increase our presence on the tube. And of course, the visibility of those colorful personalities paled in comparison to that of the openly gay, media-ready face of the network, Andy Cohen.

Since landing his own talk show in 2009, Mr. Cohen not only used it to champion human rights, but also to discuss topics dear to the glitter-tinged hearts of the gays, often thought too superficial to verbalize outside of Facebook (Christina Aguilera’s fascinators, delusional divas, hot bartenders, Hoda and Kathy Lee). Thanks to Mr. Cohen, I was rapt by the end of the aughts, tuning into Watch What Happens Live religiously to see a friend in my head dish the dirt with all my favorite Bravolebrities.

Sadly, it’s now 2013 and things have certainly changed. It occurred to me the other night that I had about 15 back episodes of Watch What Happens Live, waiting to be viewed, but fated to be deleted instead. I guess I’m simply bored with the same old thing; whether it’s the virtually unchanged set, the tired gimmicky games, or even the once entertaining but ever more cloying Housewives obsession, something about this talker feels so 2009. Why has nothing on your show evolved, Andy? Even Wendy Williams has expanded and changed the format of her daytime chat fest to accommodate an ever-changing (and hopefully expanding) audience.

Yet it’s not only the late night talk show that’s grown stale. It seems as if the entire network is stuck in a Groundhog Day of static sameness. Patty Stanger’s still spewing the same know-it-all yenta diatribes she’s been dispensing since ‘08, but while her tough talker act once was semi-charming, now its merely mean and graceless (think Jill Zarin). And her nastiness, along with that of permanently pissed Jeff Lewis (look at that awful lawsuit between him and Jenny) seems to be the network’s most espoused programming trait as of late, especially when it comes to the gays. Shows like Dukes of Melrose, and It’s a Brad Brad World seem only interested in profiling superficial, out-of-touch queens whose soul purpose is to buzz about the larger carcasses of actresses; women who are certainly appreciative of their help, but deep down are oblivious to the actual soul inside of these insignificant pests.

Just because I’m gay, it doesn’t mean that I watch any crap, provided that my subculture is reflected on it. What happened to shows about hardworking creatives like Kelly Cutrone, or Chris March, who brought their own talents to the celeb game other than making Zoe Saldana look hot at the Art of Elysium Gala? I’d even settle for the return of that Duggar-size family from 9 By Design.

Though I guess that I should feel happy that it’s not just the gays embarrassing themselves at Bravo’s behest.  We also have the annoying entitled Shahs of Sunset and the Audrina-wannabes of Vanderpump Rules demonstrating the best of what the hetero world has to offer. I love me some Lisa V, but c’mon, her spin-off, not to mention Shahs, feels like a retread of the same territory MTV covered with LC and Heidi on The Hills, back in 2006.

I haven’t given up on you yet Bravo; I’m still tuning into the antics of your Housewives (BH is on fire!!!), but I think it’s time that there was some sort of programming shakeup, and I don’t mean another food competition show (am I the only one who thought that 1 Top Chef was enough?) Don’t worry about engaging in a Logo-like effort to show gays  “ourselves” at any cost, or profiling a segment of Los Angeles that was already growing irksome five years ago. Stay true to your roots, after all, that’s what attracted me to you in the first place!

Brad Liberti is a long time entertainment journalist writing from the Gay perspective.


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