Viewers turned off by gay soap

A THIRD of the viewers watching Channel 4's much-hyped new drama series Queer as Folk, charting the lives of three homosexual men in Manchester, switched channels during the first episode on Tuesday night.

About 2.2 million viewers were watching when the programme began at 10.30pm, but by its close 40 minutes later nearly three-quarters of a million had switched off.

The programme outperformed Channel 4's share of the viewing average, claiming 15 per cent of the available audience, but that would have been the least the station's executives would have wanted: Queer as Folk was scheduled against relatively weak programming on rival networks and had been trailed heavily in a poster advertising campaign.

The drama has been marketed as significant in several respects. Although EastEnders and BBC2's This Life both introduced homosexuality into mainstream drama with varying degrees of explicitness, Queer as Folk is the first where all the main characters are gay.

Mark Watson, communications director of the gay lobby group Stonewall, played down suggestions that it represented a cultural breakthrough. "It's a piece of television drama at the end of the day," he said. "It's an interesting programme and I think it's good that we have programmes like this, but it's not a political programme."

The series is also important to Michael Jackson, chief executive of Channel 4, who believes that the network lacks signature shows that will help to define its distinctive place in British broadcasting.

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