Guys On Film

Looking Creator Michael Lannan: “People Have To Support Gay Shows”

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The story of three best friends living in San Francisco and tackling the hopes, fears, and challenges of modern gay men captured the hearts of fans for two seasons.

Though the series was given the axe at the end of its sophomore season, HBO thankfully greenlit a film version, giving the creators a rare chance to wrap up loose ends – and the fans a chance to see more of the cast stripped down and sexed up.

Related: The Cast Of Looking Talks LGBTQ Representation And What It Means To Them

Now the entire saga will be available as a single box set when Looking: The Complete Series Debuts on Blu-ray and DVD November 15.

To remember the series in all its queer glory, we sat down with Looking creator Michael Lannan to chat about the show’s impact, legacy, and the need to support LGBTQ shows and programs of all sorts.

How does it feel to have the entire Looking series and film finally released as one big saga?
It’s cool and strange to be able to hold a box in my hand of all these stories we created over the last few years, but I’m excited for people to see it as this whole package because we always thought of it as one big story divided up into smaller pieces.

What was the initial spark that lit your creative fire?
There wasn’t any kind of modern take on sexuality and gay men on television at that moment. I was a big fan of the U.K. version of Queer as Folk, that blew my mind when I saw it, because it was so modern and unlike anything else at that time. I would never compare our show to that one, but I think it was a big inspiration to do something that was equally provocative and contemporary.

What are some of your favorite stories fans have told you about how Looking has personally inspired them in their own lives?

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There have been so many, but we had a couple of older men who told us they came out after watching the show because it showed them such a different vision of being gay then they had seen before. I don’t think any of us can take credit for that exactly because obviously coming out is such a personal thing, but I’m so pleased that the show has helped people think about sexuality a little differently.

How did you feel when you found out the show was cancelled?
It was really difficult because we did have ideas about what season 3 could be and there were stories for all the characters.

But you got the rare chance to tie up some loose ends with the movie
Yes, and wish we could’ve had the chance to get into more of the ideas we had for some of the characters, but we just didn’t have time to go into those stories fully. In the end, we decided to make the film about Patrick because he’s sort of always been the heart of the show and the one we ride with the most. We decided to let him weave the stories of the others together as much as we could.

cast2Was there a particular development you had in mind for a character that you would like to have had the chance to explore but didn’t?
I was personally interested in what would happen to Dom if he had to take care of somebody else because he was always such a self-centered guy and interested in his own business. Plus, he started the show as someone who was obsessed with youth, so I was curious what would happen if he became the daddy in a relationship.

We don’t often get to see a TV series where gay men are a majority of the main characters. Given the progress we’ve made, why do you think that’s still a problem in 2016?
For one thing, people have to support gay shows. Because frankly, it is a fairly small audience in the grand scheme of things – at least in the way network executives think. So if gay audiences don’t get behind a show about gay characters fully, it probably won’t last. But I think there will be other shows with gay leads soon. It has to just be a confluence of the right factors, like the right creators who find a new kind of language and characters that resonate and feel contemporary as well as executives who are excited to be in the cultural dialogue.

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For you, what’s been the best part of working on this series?
My favorite TV shows that inspired me were full of great characters who made me see something in a different way, no matter how small. So if we’ve achieved that at all than I’m really proud.

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25 Comments

  • Heywood Jablowme

    “[Gay] people have to support gay shows.” But we did, Blanche, we did.

    When your show started we had high hopes. You had a built-in loyal audience ready to back you up. But the characters were not all that believable and almost none were likeable, so we degenerated into “hate-watching” (if we stayed with you at all).

  • CaliKyle

    @Heywood Jablowme: What was so unbelievable or unlikable about the characters though? I found them very believable and – much more so than the cartoonish irritants in the US version of QAF anyway – I was disappointed that so many around here bitched and complained about Looking, clucking endless disapproval like a bunch of cantankerous old ladies. We have so little thats just for us; why be so unnecessarily harsh and critical? It only leads to less gay programming.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    @CaliKyle: That’s all been rehashed over & over in comments here, but OK, just for starters: unlikeable Augustin’s unexplained, magical personality-transplant in the 2nd season.

    I mostly agree with you about the US version of QAF, but that was 15+ years ago in a different gay era. Also it was Showtime I think which has traditionally cut some slack for offbeat series. HBO is simply much quicker to pull the plug on an underperforming show (like with “Vinyl” that looked great on paper but was awful).

  • Duende

    @Heywood Jablowme: Agreed. The same thing happened with Finding Prince Charming: people cannot be expected to tune in (in a sustained, non hate-watching capacity) to watch a bunch of shallowly drawn himbos mill around where ain’t sh*t happening. The acting was fine and the cinematography was beautiful at times, but where’s the conflict, the drama, the stakes?

    I mean, Looking had some largely unearthed-on-TV material to work with: a gay male/straight female aging into new identities and out of their lifelong co-dependent friendship? An aging gay male struggling aimlessly in a youth obsessed community (who has fewer options for finding older lovers/mentors/friends to help him age because much of that older generation was killed off by an epidemic)? A self-proclaimed iconoclastic gay artist realizing he’s not as radical as he thought he was because being gay isn’t that radical anymore and he must mold a new identity in a post-gay marriage world? But the show kept steering back to the boring, clichéd love triangle where the attractive milquetoast lead must choose between the attractive milquetoast British one or the attractive milquetoast Hispanic one. Zzzzzz.

    People also tried desperately to pass this off as a character study because others called it boring. You wanna see a compelling character study? Watch Transparent or Six Feet Under. They both also portray well-off Californians milling around not doing shit for the most part but at times the shows were elating and devastating. The draw comes from the character’s (mostly) run-of-the-mill and petty dysfunctions and their (in)ability to navigate the self-created conflict that manifests from these dysfunctions, which is at least something many of us can relate to regardless of the demographics of the characters.

  • Xzamilloh

    @CaliKyle: Why not be harsh and critical? If you’re the type to take what you can get and be happy with that, good for you. But some of us gave the show a chance, and didn’t like it. The end. I’m not obligated to patronize something just because we all like the D.

  • takingliberties

    I like to see shows with big black c?ck and there was none of that on Looking, so I went looking somewhere else.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    @Duende: Those two shows are good examples. (For those unfamiliar, “Six Feet Under” had a major, gay male character.)

    I’ve been hoping Queerty would rave about “Shameless” this season and its major gay character, Ian, who’s now dating a transman. There’s a show that’s been around for years, but with tremendous character development.

  • Paco

    I gave the show a chance through the entire first season and couldn’t connect with it on any level. I’m not going to force myself to watch a show that was obviously created for only a certain segment of gays. The creator of the show said that we should support all gay shows because the audience is so small. Well it didn’t help when the show seemed to only be for a certain part of that already small audience.

    He should do better next time if he wants more people to connect with a gay show.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    I won’t say that “gayborhood” shows are pointless, and only quirky shows with one major (not token!) gay character, somewhat aloof from gay culture, really work.

    But maybe on a show with a whole bunch of gay characters, the writers tend to get a little lazy with stereotypes and don’t develop them as fully.

  • jkthsnk

    Gay does not override a show about pointless narcissism with actors who say stupid shite IRL, just like feminism did not override Girls

  • flinnte

    UK QAF loved it. US awful. Looking, you’re trying and you’re trying my nerves. Too many pretty people, stupid problems, season one so slow, season two so fast, seemed desperate and too little too late. Cast with people I guess you want to have sex with. They all are vapid, the dullest hag on the planet. Pretty lead but stupid and boring. No surprises, cliches. Are they all on downers, they speak so slowly, no blood, no real passion. They are gay wasps, hispanic character boring and unbelievable. I liked the older younger relationship, everyone but the older man didn’t care what happened to them. Gays support what is good, watch QAF again, these people are real, do funny things. Looking is constipated.

  • Brian

    I am not going to automatically support a so-called gay show.

    Firstly, most of them are poor quality. Secondly, most of them promote stereotypes.

    Male homosexual desire should be integrated into good-quality shows and not treated as a separate, segregated phenomenon.

  • Chris

    I have more patience with gay shows than mainstream shows because there are so few gay themed shows. The numbers high-quality mainstream shows are a tiny fraction of the number that get produced and shown. But even that small fraction far outnumber the number of gay-themed shows. So even if it’s of questionable quality, I’m more patient and less critical.

    I think this what people mean by supporting our shows. I celebrate the good ones and, given where we are, I’ll tolerate the less-than-good ones, for a while anyways.

  • OzJosh

    Gay viewers do support gay shows, often far and beyond what they deserve. Lankan needs to know that a hefty proportion of those who did watch Looking did so in spite of it being a hellish mix of cliched and phoney, with extremely poor character development and weak story structure. A good deal more just switched off early on. The truth is there are much better gay stories out there in the mainstream. The gay teen story in Eyewitness, for example.

  • truckproductions

    not if they are terribly cast.. with obnoxiously written dialog.. Weekend was great.. Looking was like watching someone try and copy the aburdist Aaron Sorkin sing song dialog to no avail. Get over yourself. Do better!

  • jayjay333

    @CaliKyle:
    I agree. I liked Looking and the characters seemed a lot more real than the stereotypical overly plucked, moisturized, bronzed and perfectly coiffed twinks we usually see. I thought it was something different and the writers did a good job.

  • cabe

    I do – in some part – agree w/ the sentiment that gay people should at least try to support gay-themed shows instead of ruthlessly bashing them. In this era of Trump, the gay community needs to be as visible as possible in all mediums as long as it isn’t showing us in a bad light.

    Although I wasn’t a huge fan of the show, I thought the characters were presented as likable and decent people. Isn’t that at least something positive to have on air about our community for Trumpateers to see?

  • jorgecruz

    Michael Lannan still hasn’t received the message that the audience felt the writing wasn’t very good and the characters weren’t likable or entertaining. Being a gay show gets gay people to tune in, but being entertaining keeps them tuning in. Put on your big boy pants, quit your whining and move on.

  • gayhope1990

    Only if the show is good.I don’t care about the sexuality of the characters.I just want to enjoy myself in front of my series.

  • PrinceofReason

    Looking was a GREAT show and I’ll miss it.

  • Kangol

    Michael Lannan: Support us because we’re gay and we’re putting out the same tired crap you usually see.

    US: Nope, girl. No thanks. Come up with something new!

    Michael Lannan: But, but, but.

    TV: Sorry, this dreck is off the air.

    Michael Lannan: So we made a movie and it’s more the same.

    US: [Yawn]

  • Kangol

    @takingliberties: Um, there was some, well brief flashes, which is so (stereo)typical. But the show got rid of one of its chief black/mixed race gay characters (played by O.T. Fagbenle), and then brought on a hot black STRAIGHT character–of course he’d be straight and not gay, bi, etc., acted as if Asian Americans didn’t exist, in San Francisco no less, and marginalized one of the main Latinx characters. SO F*CKING TIRED. Good riddance!

  • TinoTurner

    I’m not self loathing but I hate gay cliches. In the FIRST 90 seconds of the show, the guy we’re supposed to identify/root for is giving head to a stranger in a park. My eyes rolled so hard that I almost went blind…why does so much “mainstream” gay tv have to be cliche or soft porn for sad queens? I’m a realist and a romantic and I’m not going to watch a show that shows such faggotry to the masses for them to judge us.

  • Daggerman

    ..this is sad, because a lot of gay men possess totally heterosexual exteriors and no-one can tell their true sexual identities. So it’s no surprise they are far more fearful of getting exposed!

    If you take the manly and hot example of Russell Tovey who had the guts to come out himself you’d think it would be a lesson for other men in the closet but the fear is so high due to societies rules.

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