France's first gay and lesbian television station went on the air Monday, ready to beam a steady diet of homosexual porn, daily repeats of "Wonder Woman" and English language comedies into subscribers' homes.
Pink TV officials hope the station will help boost gay rights in France
Pink TV, as the channel jointly financed by France's main existing commercial networks is known, hopes to ride on a wave of acceptance for the gay lifestyle in Europe and elsewhere.
The station, available via satellite or cable for €9 ($12) a month, follows the launch of similar ventures in Italy and Canada over the past three years, and comes just five months ahead of yet another such channel in the United States.
Bertrand Charpentier (r) and Stephane Chapin (l) married in June, but the union is illegal under French law.
Long-standing tolerance in Paris -- reinforced under socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe -- and the recent court approval for France's first homosexual family headed by two lesbians, along with a debate over gay marriages triggered by the June wedding of two men, have all convinced Pink TV's backers the time is right for their niche offering.
Gay rights activists said the channel could play a role in making homosexuality more acceptable in a country where the current conservative government has come out in opposition to legalizing gay marriage or allowing gay people to adopt children.
"The gay channel helps to show homosexuality is something normal, which is a good thing," Alain Piriou from the Inter-LGBT gay rights group told Reuters news service. "It can highlight that gays are just another part of society with their own interests."
But Piriou added that he didn't expect Pink TV to play a major role in the promotion of gay rights.
"Promoting (gay marriage) on the gay channel -- to ourselves basically -- doesn't really serve this interest," he said, adding that the wider French population had to be won over.
Sex plays big part
Late French President Francois Mitterand and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl hold hands during a historic meeting in 1984 at a soldier's cemetary in Verdun, a major battleground during World War I.
Underlining its readiness to make waves, the station published an ad using a picture of former leaders Francois Mitterrand of France and Helmut Kohl of Germany walking hand-in-hand with the tag "There's not only sex in the life of a couple."
But sex plays a big part in Pink TV's programing schedule. Four times a week after midnight -- on Tuesdays and weekends -- the station will screen gay porn movies, starting with "Out of Athens" and later including lesbian features such as "Madame and Eve."
The station's head, Pascal Houzelot, justified the decision to show porn by saying that this was a common practice among pay-TV channels.
"I don't have a problem with that at all," Houzelot told reporters. "Sexuality is part of life and TV aims to mirror life. Why shouldn't we show sex?"
The first broadcast Monday evening was a 45-minute magazine program about gay lifestyle and culture.
"Pink TV is a meeting place for gay and gay-friendly people who have been waiting for a new perspective on the world around us," said the channel's head, Pascal Houzelot. "I chose the Palais de Chaillot (as a venue for the launch party) because it is dedicated to human rights."
Houzelot said he had dedicated the evening to those "homosexuals who were deported to (Nazi) concentration camps," to Alexander the Great and Julius Cesar, to French writer Marcel Proust, and to Hollywood icons Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
No ghetto outlet
The chief executive -- who spent time working for Chirac before the latter became president, and who was an advisor to leading commercial network TF1 -- has said the station does not want to be a "ghetto" outlet for homosexuals only.
In a bid to attract a wider audience -- but one keyed in to the urban and ironic humour favored in much of the homosexual community -- Pink TV is to present a number of shows with wide appeal.
Gay icons: Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone in the TV series "Absolutely Fabulous."
Thus "Wonder Woman", the 1970s US series starring Lynda Carter, has been pressed into service on a nightly basis, and British comedies such as "French and Saunders" and US productions like "Queer as Folk" and "Metrosexuality" will also feature.
There will also be documentaries starting with the late pop singer Freddy Mercury and AIDS as subjects but also venturing farther afield.
Sports coverage, fittingly enough, will be handled by a tall transsexual in heels and a skirt, known as Brigitte Boreale.
The channel aims to sign up 180,000 subscribers within two years, but Houzelot said it would initially be "very happy" with 5,000 to 10,000 to start with.
One newspaper, Le Parisien, said the channel showed there was a "homo wave" sweeping France and quoted Houzelot as saying he estimated around 3.5 million people out of the country's population of 60 million were gay.
La vie en rose
More than 2,500 guests, including personalities from the world of films, television, sports and politics, attended the launch party opposite the Eiffel Tower at Paris' Palais de Chaillot museum, illuminated in pink inside and out for the occasion.
The launch "marks an evolution in France, proving that people are ready to accept this type of channel," former prime minister and presidential hopeful Laurent Fabius, a socialist, said at the party.
Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, a member of President Jacques Chirac's conservative UMP party, said Pink TV should offer "a big space of freedom and culture to allow all people to live freely and respect others."
One of the biggest names in women's tennis, Amelie Mauresmo, openly gay Paris mayor Delanoe and actresses Line Renaud -- the party host --, Claudia Cardinale and Nathalie Baye were among the many guests, some of them wearing fancy dresses.
In a recorded message shown on a large screen British singer Elton John wished the network well and sang a few lines from gay anthem "La vie en rose."