"Commercials are passé," quips Collins, creator and executive producer of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show that has the content/commerce formula down cold. (Bravo's runaway hit is so packed with product placement, in fact, it's been dubbed Queer Eye for the Straight Buy.) Collins, 36, also produced Knock First—a teen's bedroom gets a makeover in this one—which debuted earlier this month on the ABC Family Channel. Now he's looking for office space in Los Angeles in a bid to expand Scout, his 10-year-old production company, beyond its Boston base and New York outpost. —Q. What inspired you to create Queer Eye?
A. It's actually a Boston story. I was at South End open [artists'] studios two years ago. My buddy and I were there, and I went into a gallery where a woman was completely destroying her husband. She was criticizing his outfit, and she kept pointing to three guys drinking wine in the corner who were completely decked out. Before I knew what had happened, they went over and surrounded the guy and protected him from [his wife]. They came to his defense and started to make him over and give him advice—they were trying to help him! As we were walking down the stairs, laughing, I said "That was kind of like the queer eye for the straight guy!" Kind of like Reservoir Dogs meets Charlie's Angels. It was from that line that I went back to Scout and developed the idea for the show.
Was it a difficult sell?
No, the concept was solid, and the network realized it immediately. We also created a unique way of pitching the show with a magazine-style presentation—tone and aesthetic help everything along in the pipeline. The clearer you see it before production, the clearer it will be as a result.
Why has the show been such a hit?
I'm shocked and honored every day that this all happened. But I think it is a zeitgeist moment. [Whether] it's gay men or straight men, they're just guys, and they just want to feel good about themselves. Confidence breeds success. They may do different things in the bedroom, [but] they're all just guys. Queer Eye doesn't connote sexuality, but instead the idea of being unique, different and extraordinary. Also, it's fun and fast-paced, and you get real tips and solid information.
Do you worry about the delicate balance between product placement and the
integrity of the show?
We have to be very careful. We can't just say, "I love X" because they have given us money for product placement. It's about using the right product for a certain episode. It's a fine line. We use the line, "Process over product." It's about how to shave, not what you're shaving with. That tends to be a hard and fast rule for us. A product isn't there because it's
an infomercial for Neutrogena. It's there because it's a great product. The show is
a balance between creative and organically integrated product placement.
For Knock First, did you evolve the way product placement is used in Queer Eye?
Our concept of product placement has and will most probably always stay the same. [We use it] if we truly believe in the product and feel that we can organically place it into our shows. Even though a demo may change, our taste stays the same.
How about more traditional forms of advertising—on TV, on the Web and so on? Where do you see that going?
Right now computer banner ads and pop-ups on Internet sites are looked at as an annoying reality, software is being created to eliminate them, and in most cases, people click to remove them before they even have time to load. So in my opinion, creativity is going to be the key in keeping a shopper's eye on advertisements. In recent years and during a stronger economy, commercials on television were able to explore more creative ways of keeping the public's attention—the BMW commercials were a perfect example of an interesting TV and Web relationship. If advertisers are looking to keep the TiVo generation from skimming past their world and e-commerce is looking to sink their teeth into a shopper's wallet, they are going to need a true creative leg to stick out and trip them into watching and buying.
Why has America fallen in love with makeover shows of all kinds?
We all have dreams, and in their best form, these shows get us closer to realizing our own potential.
Have you given a makeover to your co-producer, David Metzler?
He's come a long way. We just fought over the same shoes at Barneys this weekend. We're not speaking.
If you could change one thing about the television industry, what would it be?
The fact that the networks are so ad dependent, because then we might be able to get more TV like HBO.
How long do you see the reality TV trend lasting?
Reality TV can continue to evolve as long it continues to find ways of telling new and interesting stories.
Give me three words to describe yourself.
Hungry, passionate, loud.
How about three words others might use?
Energy, energy, energy.
What's your biggest fear?
What's under the bed.