TED ALLEN: During that era it was people like Jack Tripper on Three's Company. Who was not an unsympathetic character, actually, we liked him. Of course, that was the '70s, when it was starting to look like the country might accept us after all -- then along came AIDS and Reagan. Before that, I really had the hots for Kristy McNichol. That's the last girl I can remember lusting after, and she was always a tomboy. [Laugh.]
MW: Yeah, I had it so bad for Shaun Cassidy back then.
ALLEN: When you don't have role models and when you don't have somebody telling you that if you turn out to be gay that it's okay, you can have these bizarre [denials]. I thought Shaun Cassidy was hot, too. My sister had a life-sized poster of him. I remember ogling it and still not understanding what that meant. I can name off 10 boys from junior high school who I thought were cute, but I think I told myself that I was looking at him because I wanted to have the same hair, or I like the way those jeans looked and I wanted mine to look like that.
It sounds like I'm telling a war story from the Civil War. It just seems so ridiculous now. It's great, because kids are coming out younger and younger and more and more of them are being accepted. [But] then there's sort of the dangerous side of kids coming out in rural Oklahoma -- watching all these shows and thinking that it's perfectly okay now, and still getting the crap beat out of them.
On the gaying of television
MW: One of the things that's really striking over the past few years is just how gay a lot of television has gotten, particularly with things like Top Chef, where you have a lot of openly lesbian contestants, and gay men and bisexuals. It seems very matter-of-fact in a way that probably wouldn't have been matter-of-fact 10 years ago. What do you think has changed to make that happen, particularly on the cable networks?
ALLEN: That trail was blazed by a lot of people and a lot of cultural forces over a lot of years, whether they're obvious ones like Ellen Degeneres or even fictional ones like Will & Grace. I have to really hand it to Bravo for, on the one hand, being so open to the idea, and on the other hand capitalizing so enormously on the success that the use of gays brought to them.
At the same time that much of the country has become more comfortable with gays and lesbians, the sort of "gay sensibility" still represents something slightly naughty and very wickedly funny and cutting edge. All of those stereotypes about us being interested in style and knowing our way around the kitchen and knowing how to make a room look pretty definitely have some roots in truth, and we have a lot to offer. We also, in order to pursue those hobbies, tend to buy a lot of stuff, and that's one of the things Bravo figured out.
I think it's really great and really admirable that Bravo had the guts to put a show on the air in the first place called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I still remember how funny it was the first couple of times we were on the Today show watching Matt Lauer try to say the word "queer" on television. At first I hated the name of the show, I thought it was needlessly provocative -- and I was wrong. We really did get to a point, back when people were talking about Queer Eye, it became really easy for everybody to say "queer" on television. Which was great, it was really cool. So I think Queer Eye played a little role in that, too.
On the best way to learn to cook
MW: Do you think watching chefs employ some of the complicated techniques on shows like Top Chef -- like cooking sous-vide or molecular gastronomy -- scare people when it comes to cooking?
ALLEN: Well, I certainly don't think that's where you ought to start. I'm all for molecular gastronomy, I think it's really cool, but I think there are chefs who lean on it without appreciating the basics. It's like anything else, you can't expect to walk right into a craft. You shouldn't expect you're going to be a good arc welder the first time you do it either, or a helicopter pilot. You've gotta start somewhere with some learning.
But a lot of cooking is not that hard, and it's not something you need to be that afraid of. You just need to try it. You can learn a lot from reading magazines and watching tv shows, but really I think the best way to learn is to cook alongside somebody who knows how to do it. Maybe you're talking about a younger reader who hasn't done that yet. When you get into your late twenties and your partying slacks off a little bit -- maybe you start families or have more responsibilities at your job, so you're probably spending less time out in bars every night and you're getting together with friends and starting to cook together. That's what happened with us. I was cooking with my friend Amy Sullivan, who's a fabulous cook. I learned a lot from her, got inspired by the things she would try. Doing it with friends is really the way to do it.