You can hardly turn on the TV these days without seeing a gay character, on Glee, on Scandal, on Modern Family…. The list goes on, swelling this month with the addition of The New Normal and Partners.
And yet Jon Marcus isn’t satisfied. The openly gay producer, who has worked on such indie films as Boys Don’t Cry and Hedwig and the Angry Inch and such network TV fare as Scoundrels, feels that he isn’t seeing himself on-screen. “There’s a lot of political pressure on those [gay TV] characters…to be ‘good’ representations,” explains Marcus of the limits he sees imposed by broadcasters. “They don’t say, ‘I’m Mr. Network Person, you can’t do this,’ but you do get the rules conveyed to you at some point.”
Marcus yearned to see something more of himself on-screen, but he knew that adapting his own life would mean watering it down or even turning himself straight. “Either I would have to become a girl or be [a gay guy who’s] married with a kid, but that’s not me,” he says. The New Normal, which is about a gay couple seeking to have a baby, is said to be based on co-creator Ryan Murphy’s own life with his partner; but while it may have some edgy humor (much of which actually mocks gay people) the NBC comedy certainly doesn’t represent Marcus and many of his friends. “The New Normal is not my story,” he says. “I’m glad it’s their story, but it’s not mine. You can’t have a sexually active gay guy who’s single on a network TV show.”
So he took matters into his own hands. About five years ago, Marcus acquired the rights to The Great Cock Hunt, an anonymous and definitely NSFW blog about one gay man’s sexual escapades. It may not be his own story but, Marcus says, it represents him well. And he saw it as an opportunity to push the boundaries of gay-male sex on TV–something that hadn’t been explored at all since Queer as Folk (which, incidentally, Marcus sees as a bizarre cultural blip that pushed boundaries but was inauthentic: “It took place in Pittsburgh!”). He shopped his plans for an adaptation to Logo, Here, and Q, the first-ever gay TV networks, all of which were new at the time and two of which have since folded. All three said no.
Eventually Marcus left his job as a TV producer, sold most of his belongings and left Los Angeles. He spent a year crashing on friends’ couches in New York so that he could afford to make Hunting Season, and do it his way. (He self-financed the show, which he directed and co-wrote.) “I wanted to make a show but I also wanted to make a statement about the state of media: It’s a really narrow spectrum of what works in corporate media.” He continues: “If my show fails because I took a risk I’m fine with that. I took exactly the risk I wanted to make.”
And he figured that the World Wide Web was open to risk-taking. “One of the things that was so exciting to me about taking this on was that the Internet was unregulated; there were no standards and practices. It’s the Internet–you can do anything. There’s porn on the Internet! So who’s going to stop me from making an HBO-style show?” The answer, Marcus says, is “Everybody.” He shopped the completed Hunting Season–which has, in industry parlance, “Hard R” content–to all the major web-TV purveyors, with no success. He learned the hard way that rather than being open to anything, the hubs where people seek content–Hulu, YouTube, Yahoo and the rest–have “a lot of restrictions about the content they’ll show.”
Just as he was about to put the series up on his own website this week, a deal came through with Logo. The gay-but-not-that-gay network is now world-premiering an edited and safe-for-work version of Hunting Season on its website. The unedited, NSFW cut can be seen for immediate paid download on HuntingSeason.TV (each episode will be available for free streaming after its first week). New episodes will air on both platforms every Wednesday.
So Marcus’ self-financing experiment seems to have worked, but the process has been a humbling one for a guy who considered himself pretty experienced. “I spent the last 10 years getting used to making [movies and TV],” he says. “What I wasn’t familiar with was marketing and distribution. That learning curve was steep and it will inform the process next time.” In the meantime, he has pushed the boundaries but he’s done so within the restraints of something rather familiar; the show begs comparisons to Sex and the City. Marcus concedes the point. “I’m really only cracking the door open a little bit wider for some gay white men.”