Lifetime Pushes "Naked" Makeovers

Fads and fashions are so fickle they ultimately undo the people who tried to be the tastemakers. The Bravo cable network reality show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was all the rage for a season or two, but collapsed after five seasons when the insulting schtick of ultra-hip gay men improving the "style-deficient and culture-deprived straight man" annoyed its last viewer.

Which is not to say that the entertainment elite tired of the concept, of what one TV writer from the Boston Globe called the "national gay genie escorting all kinds of slovenly men and women to Fabulousville on his magic carpet." Now they're turning the concept toward its more natural audience: women who hate themselves and love makeover shows.

Contrary to the implication in its title, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was always a show for females, sponsored by the makers of leg razors and other feminine beauty products. Carson Kressley, the most flamboyant "Eye" alumnus, now has a new and similar show that just debuted on Lifetime, a cable channel co-owned by Hearst and Disney. It's called "How to Look Good Naked."

Despite the provocative title, the show doesn't display full-blown nudity, but its subjects have a lot of undergarment time - so much time that Kressley jokes "It's fun running around all day in our underwear, isn't it?" Yet stripping down is big on this show. The series debuted with Kressley declaring a "perception revolution" in feminist tones as a group of plus-size women walking down the street behind him stripped down to their bras and panties.

At the start of this half-hour show, they photograph the makeover subject in her undergarments (from the shoulders down) and flash it several stories high on a Los Angeles skyscraper, asking passers-by what they think. They only use the complimentary responses. Then they urge the woman to strip down and assess each of her body parts, one by one, and how much she hates it. They walk her into a room with six other women of varying body sizes in their underwear, and show the audience how women tend to see themselves as bigger than they really are.

Just as he played the quipster on "Queer Eye," Kressley moves the show along with naughty lines like the running-in-underwear line, and proclaiming "I'm your fairy god-stylist and you're my Cinderella." At one point in the first episode, he walks his subject in undergarments out into the regular part of the store, then asks a woman and her boyfriend at the cash register for an opinion: "Do you like this bra and panty combo? How about your man?"

The whole "Naked" concept" is a flagrant marketing ploy, with no real nudity on screen. Each show concludes with a woman posing naked for photographs, which she then shows that "tasteful" nude photo to a crowd of strangers, again projected on several stories of that L.A. skyscraper. The subject is urged to ask strangers, "Do you think I look good naked?" After the first show's ending photo shoot, Kressley lays down next to his nude subject and asks the woman "Was it as good for you as it was for me?"

Kressley declares in the show's introduction, "My ultimate goal is to not only get her to not only love her body, but to flaunt it - naked." This ratings-squeezing spectacle should grate on the viewer. Newly won self-confidence is one thing. But this show isn't about self-confidence. It is all about exhibitionism. At least it's partially kept from the television audience.

The original "Naked" makeover show started on Britain's Channel 4 in July 2006, and has spread like wildfire to Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and South Africa.

Now it's here, proving yet again that Hollywood's creativity level is on Empty. Yet TV writers are intrigued. One called the show "madly cathartic, and although the whole idea of gaining self-esteem by being judged for sexiness by strangers on the street is horribly wrong, it is also affecting." Another proclaimed she admired the show, but found it tiresome. "One empowering episode is probably going to be enough. I tuned in. I teared up, and now I'm moving on."

Whether this show catches on or not depends on the degree to which there are enough self-loathing women willing to watch this foolishness week after week. But there is no "market demand" driving this show so long as the public continues to be forced to underwrite this program with its cable subscriptions. Give the consumer some "cable choice," and shows like "How to Look Good Naked" would not make it past the first episode.