A Big Outing
Terry DeCarlo and Bill Huelsman aren't Hollywood stars, but they are South Florida celebrities. Sort of. For the past three years, while working full-time day jobs, the pair has produced and cohosted a half-hour-long show that airs locally each week on MediaOne and Comcast cable stations. They have paid $13,000 annually for airtime and purchased everything from a $20,000 video-editing system to blue backdrops for their 20-by-30-foot studio in Fort Lauderdale.
Although DeCarlo and Huelsman lead typically hectic lives, they aren't doing typical television. "It's Deco Drive meets Will & Grace," says DeCarlo, describing the focus of the show, Out & About, as gay community news and entertainment. "We've done everything from political events like the Millennium March on Washington to naked square dancing. That's what's kept this show going the diversity."
The two producers aren't just business partners, they are also lovers and gay-rights activists. Recently they struck a deal to beam Out & About throughout the nation on the Gay Television Network (GTN), a start-up company that will reach millions of satellite dishes starting October 31. While some other national cable networks include gay shows in their lineups, GTN will devote all its programming to gay viewers.
Dick Weiner, GTN executive vice president, is a Peabody Award winner who produced programs for Showtime in the '80s. He calls South Florida a "premier destination point in the gay world." GTN won't pay the two local producers a salary, but it will pick up the tab for some travel costs. "Bill and Terry have one of the best shows in the U.S. about gay issues with lifestyle and entertainment," says Weiner by telephone from his office in Palm Springs, California.
The timing couldn't be better for Weiner, DeCarlo and Huelsman. The success of network shows like Ellen and Will & Grace, as well as Queer as Folk, a Showtime production (adapted from the British series) that debuts in December, has whetted the appetites of network execs and advertisers. Eventually gay-oriented television could be as popular and lucrative as black or Hispanic TV. After all, national estimates show that gays and lesbians (on average highly educated professionals with lots of disposable income) are worth $500 billion annually.
Huelsman and DeCarlo have upped their rates by six times for a 30-second commercial, to $600. They joke about making it big and being able to afford an Out & About tour bus and staying in five-star hotels. But in reality, they don't know what to expect. "It's an incredible feeling just to have this happen," says Huelsman. "Before we got the news, our energy was [ebbing] from all the long hours. Then all of a sudden this hit. It renewed us."
The show, in a way, was a product of DeCarlo's television know-how and Huelsman's entrepreneurial spirit. A native of Long Island, DeCarlo came to South Florida eight years ago after small acting parts in mainstream films like Last Exit to Brooklyn and Sea of Love. He was a gay-rights activist who had done news and entertainment on cable TV, which helped him land a job as a program developer for Fort Lauderdale's Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Huelsman contributed experience he had garnered as owner of RBX, Inc., a West Palm Beach firm that leases office space and provides administrative services. Both men felt the area's thriving gay community had received little media coverage.
In 1998 they formed WHTN Productions, Inc., the business arm of Out & About. "We didn't even have a camera when we first approached the people at Comcast," DeCarlo recalls. But after executives gave the OK, the pair snatched up all their savings, bought video equipment, and headed for the streets. Their first show proved they were novices. "We had rushed back to the studio to air our coverage of a Pride Fest at Mills Pond Park and discovered half our audio was missing! We had people calling in, thinking there was something wrong with their TVs."
Today's broadcasts are more complete, though not exactly seamless. Shot mostly in the field at events, there's an occasional camera shake. Lighting, depending upon the sun, can be off, too. Still Huelsman and DeCarlo emote warmth that seeps into the camera. It seems as if they are talking to you. The show opens with string music in the background, computerized graphics of flying birds and ocean waves, and a jazzily printed Out & About logo (in rainbow colors of course). House music announces trainer Brian Harmon's fitness segment and a weekly feature by techno-whiz Lee McCall about gay-oriented Websites.
In the studio, the hosts sit behind an anchor desk, though their relaxed, conversational style begs for a kitchen table instead. After brief commentary, they cut to scenes from the field. Viewers might see anything, from interviews with a stern-faced Melissa Etheridge at the Millennium March to risqué revelers at pride festivals in Las Vegas and Atlanta.
Sometimes the shows are send-ups of local figures, says DeCarlo, a Wilton Manors resident. "Earlier this year [Wilton Manors] Mayor John Fiore wrote an article for George magazine that offended a lot of people because it made us sound like a little hick town with unsophisticated people.... Well, Bill and I did a show wearing overalls and eating sandwiches and Pringles on camera. We were wiping our mouths with our sleeves and we put a big picture of a pickup truck in the studio background."
Mayor Fiore won't debate DeCarlo and Huelsman's response to his article. But as one of the few openly gay politicians in South Florida, Fiore supports Out & About. "I've known Terry and Bill for quite a while and they do a good show," he says. "It's great news that they're going national because it proves the mass media understands that our [gay and lesbian] community is out there and viable."
Hundreds of people call and e-mail after each show. Most tell the producers they are doing something right. Some complain. Another measure of their popularity is that they have sold major advertisers like Anheuser-Busch and SeaEscape Cruise Lines.
With its debut on GTN's national satellite on October 31, Out & About will no longer be aired on local cable stations. DeCarlo and Huelsman will travel more to increase the show's national focus. Indeed, wherever there's a glitzy white, red, or pink party (otherwise called an AIDS fundraiser) the gay television duo is sure to appear. On October 28, for instance, DeCarlo and Huelsman will be taping at Key West's annual Fantasy Fest.
"They've been out there doing their best to cover things, and I think it's amazing that they've been picked up nationally," says Grant Lynn Ford, senior pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Lauderdale. "I'll miss the local touch, but they fill a real need in what they're doing so we'll allow them that. To us [locals], it's like your two baby boys are all grown up."
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