Logo Chief Chris McCarthy on How the Network Returned to Its Gay Roots; Why Bravo Is Not Competition

“I’m happy to say that today we’re back in that space and that’s where we should be,” the executive tells TheWrap in new edition of “Office With a View”

Chris McCarthy, General Manager of Logo TV
Illustration: Ada Guerin

When MTV’s sibling gay network Logo first debuted in the summer of 2005, few could have predicted the LGBT human rights movement would be where it is today.

The only state to legalize same sex marriage was Massachusetts, and GOP President George W. Bush had just been reelected thanks to an aggressive anti-gay marriage campaign. The new gay network seemed like a godsend to many in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

But in 2012, after dismal ratings and few buzzworthy shows, Logo essentially went back into the closet, ditching its gay-centric mission, and prompting Queerty, a popular gay blog, to ask, “Is Logo, America’s first broadcast channel for the LGBT community, going straight?”

“The leadership at that time took a pause and said does this make sense?” MTV2, Logo TV and mtvU general manager Chris McCarthy told TheWrap. “I’m happy to say that today we’re back in that space and that’s where we should be.”

The network’s second coming out seems to be working thanks in large part to breakout hit “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which TheWrap exclusively reported in March had been renewed for Season 8. Logo has seen a 20 percent spike in ratings since last year alone.

Now as the Viacom-owned Logo gets ready to celebrate its 10-year anniversary on June 30, its executive in charge reveals to TheWrap what went wrong, what’s coming next and how he managed to turn the network around.

TheWrap: I remember when Logo first launched. There was a lot of excitement in the gay community back then. Do you think it’s lived up to the hype?
Chris McCarthy: Logo has been a part of the gay culture. When you look 10 years ago, the world was completely different. The gay movement has moved so quickly, it’s probably the fastest moving civil rights movement in history. You think about Obama and Clinton having their first gay debate on Logo. The first time people got to see drag [was on Logo]. It was a subculture when Logo brought it onto the air. Now Starbucks is using some of the queens [from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”] for their ads. So, it’s now driving pop culture. It’s that energy and that creativity that we want to bring back to Logo.

In 2012 you guys came out with a statement saying that Logo will no longer be gay channel, Do you consider yourself a gay channel now?
We are a channel that is born and bread from a gay culture and now that subculture is driving mass culture. So, we are about a sensibility and a mindset. That is our unique calling card. We certainly don’t tell anyone else they can’t join us, but we are gay in our core. On MTV2 it’s a different passion point. It’s millennials who are actually driving subculture. When you think of the term YOLO, it started with Lil Wayne. Now you have teenage girls and even adults all over the country saying. RuPaul created culture in a very different way.

When did Logo first realize it made a mistake?
When I became GM of the brand, what we wanted to do is understand where is the unlocked, untapped space that can be exploited and can drive and hit a passion point with the audience. You look at something so special like RuPaul that actually does that and it speaks to a core audience and it goes well beyond that. That was our biggest hit so that’s where we stayed and we doubled down in that space and that’s how we got to [the upcoming] “Cucumber” and “Banana” which is very much in the voice of Logo.

What do you say to critics who say there’s no need for a gay network anymore now that gay culture has been successfully integrated into mainstream society?
There was a moment when Logo questioned its origin. But it’s what’s driving the network. It’s also what’s driving Jussie Smollett in “Empire,” and “Transparent” receiving a Golden Globe, [as well as] “Orange Is the New Black.” Those guys are creating amazing content and that only supports the case that there’s a reason for a home for that.

It seems Logo has been able to turn things around in the last year and a half. How did you go about doing it?
The way that we got there was developing a strategy. For us, we wanted to understand what is the audience’s passion? What do they love? And what do they hate? And how can we build more of that? What is driving the conversation is Ru and shows like it. It was going back to our core gay roots.

One of the problems that Logo had in the beginning is the fact that there are so many subsets of the LGBT community: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, old, young, urban, rural, white, black. They tried to appease everyone and in the end appeased no one. How did you go about tackling that problem this time around?
To be honest with you, it’s not my problem to tackle. My mission is make great content that resonates with a passionate audience and sparks conversation and makes you laugh and makes you feel and that interests every member of our community, LGTQA. That’s been our only focus. I’m much more interested in getting my fingers dirty and moving forward. And it’s working, 10 years in, the TV landscape where it is, and everything shifting, and yet 10 years in and we had a record-breaking year, up 20 percent and we’re already beating that this year. Same with MTV2, you may be indifferent to it because it doesn’t speak to you and yet for teenage kids it’s had its fourth year of record growth.

What do you say to those who believe Logo hasn’t been able to achieve the success and growth that Bravo has enjoyed over the last few years?
It’s a fair question to ask. To me, I want those guys to succeed and I want us to succeed. It’s not an us and a them. I’m a fan of Bravo, I watch it. But they speak in a very different voice. They’re not going after gays, they just happen to get them. We’re targeting gays. “The [Real] Housewives” don’t have any gay characters. Every one of our shows has great characters. That doesn’t mean I don’t like “Housewives,” I love it. I think what they were able to create with that franchise is amazing. When you look at something like Ru, seven seasons in and we’re having record-breaking numbers. So I say we are creating that and we’re out-punching our weight class well beyond any network that’s in our size.

What did you do when you first took over Logo in addition to your MTV2 responsibilities?
We signaled to the audience, we are open, we are here for you, we are your home. You want to come and be gay the whole time, we are here. And if you’re straight and you have a gay sensibility – because no one should be put into a box — you’re welcome too. It’s about a mindset less than it is about sexuality. But it started form there. We are the place to come and let loose and have fun and be with your friends and celebrate that.

Editor’s note: TheWrap’s Senior Entertainment Reporter Itay Hod worked as a correspondent for CBS News on Logo from 2005-2008.