It’s crazy to imagine that over 40 years ago there was a gay TV show that featured reports, club performances and in-depth interviews with writers, pornstars, directors and more. ‘others from all walks of life. It was called The emerald city and it was dubbed in The New York Times as “the world’s premier television show for gay men and women.”
First produced in 1976, The emerald city spoke to gay figures such as John Waters, David Hockney and Larry Kramer. It aired on a leased access channel where Eugene B. Stavis, Frank O’Dowd and Steven Bie bought airtime and sold advertising time. What started in New York, was soon available to gay men in San Francisco and Los Angeles, before The emerald city ceased production in 1978. Today it lives in the corners of YouTube as a fascinating time capsule for the golden age of gay life.
Stavis, the executive producer, and O’Dowd, the writer-director, have since died. O’Dowd’s ex-lover, Bie, who is still in New York City, was a producer on the show and also handled its advertising and marketing. Legendary porn director Wakefield Poole and actor Ken Kliban helped interview the guests (Poole was also interviewed himself). The three, along with cabaret singer Selma Hazouri, who was on the show, spoke to NewNowNext about what it meant to be part of the world’s first gay TV show in the ’70s.
Wakefield Poole: Frank was in the TV production and really was a gay activist and it just happened. It is as if I had made my films. It just happened. They got along and, you know, they were talking and Gene said, “I’m going to produce it and we will.” ”
Steven Bie: The public lease was a new kind of thing and no one knew what to do with it. The emerald city was one of the first — not just being gay—[to use] cable and what they called… targeted broadcasting—[because] you were very targeted.
Ken Kilban: It was [Stavis’] original idea and Frank was a friend of his and I was a friend of his, so he brought it up to me. He knew I was an actor, so I gave [interviewing] A try. I mean, this was my first time interviewing someone, certainly on film, and it was a bit amateurish, but it was okay.
A reflection of the times (gays)
Bie: Homosexuals were coming out and it was about developing the culture and also making money. You know you could actually make a high quality product and make money selling ads and that was the goal.
Poole:We were very happy to have a gay TV show emanating from New York, and a platform to spread ideas and find out what life was really like to be gay.
Bie: The big selling point of the show was this idea of going to nightclubs and going to places because you have that portability of that three-quarter-inch tape.
Selma Hazouri: It was also one of the few places, anytime, anywhere, be it print media or pay TV or whatever, to offer a cabaret.
Bie: The work that these people did in cabarets would never have been recorded or recorded by anyone. There are tips on Divine for the Neon woman.
Build a suite
Poole: People started talking about it, and [Stavis] more and more people came because it was such a wide reach, a great variety. You didn’t have to be gay to be on the show but, you know, a lot of gays like Cher and I’m sure if Cher had been there she probably would have made one.
Bie: It was really pretty glamorous, pretty exciting to have that level of people and just a lot of people who were pretty important in their careers and didn’t care to just say they were gay. It was more about celebrating their careers.
Kilban: I think it was a liberating, uplifting and educational experience. It was… a cultural event. It really had very little to do with sex.
Bie: It was fun and it was exciting. There was also the feeling that [there was] was going to be a great new world for gay people, and also, it was New York that was really happening. So I think it was about being New Yorker, it was about the excitement of energy that was in New York in the 70s. It was a really wonderful time.