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FALL PREVIEW - TV

With 'Knock First,' doors are opening

The 'Queer Eye' brain trust looks for further success.

September 14, 2003|Lisa Rosen | Special to The Times

"Obviously, it's been a crazy summer," says David Collins, one of the principals at Scout, the production company behind "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Just about any eye can see it's not going to get any more sane anytime soon.

For anyone who has been spending the last two months looking at Mars rather than media outlets, "Queer Eye" (NBC/Bravo) is a bona fide smash hit. The show, in which a straight guy serves as a human fixer-upper for five talented and witty gay men, is riding the zeitgeist.

Arriving hard on the stylish heels of "Queer Eye" comes "Knock First" on ABC Family, Scout's new makeover program, which rushes in where parents fear to tread: teenagers' bedrooms. At the same time, Scout has gone from the relative obscurity of a little New England independent feature film and television company to the toast of Hollywood.

To Collins, who came up with the idea for both shows, it's a long way from Minnesota.

A decade ago, stuck three hours north of Duluth in the middle of February, he found himself working as an assistant location manager on the Macaulay Culkin/Elijah Wood movie "The Good Son." It was 30 below, and he and friends and fellow crew members Michael Williams and Dorothy Aufiero had plenty of time to think about what they wanted to do next. "Michael and Dot and I realized that we had a lot of creative ideas that we wanted to explore together," Collins says. They decided to explore them in Boston, where Williams and Aufiero lived. "We held hands and jumped off the cliff together and began Scout."

The company quickly became a resource for productions shooting in New England. They started developing independent feature and television projects, building a solid base of respected work and critical acclaim. And from there, they got to here, overnight sensations in less than 10 years.

The hoopla started immediately after "Queer Eye" premiered on July 15. First came the requisite out-of-the-blue phone calls from people they hadn't heard from in years. More gratifying were the returned calls. Collins is thoroughly enjoying the experience of "being able to go in and pitch to people who typically would have been like 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, send me something and I'll talk to you later.' " One call of a mentoring nature came as well, from a top Hollywood executive producer (whom Collins wishes not to name). "He has acted as a big brother and guidance counselor, in showing me the ropes of the network television industry," an appreciative Collins says.

Otherwise, there has barely been time to bask in success. While "Queer Eye" was gathering fans and accolades, Collins was in the middle of shooting both that show and "Knock First." But as busy as he's been, Collins could relate the moment he knew that people had started connecting with the heart of the show, and with the human story being told.

It was at a party a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, "in a typical L.A. way, where you end up at someone's home that you don't know, with a group of people who you don't know," Collins laughs. The party's host introduced him to a group of men as the creator of "Queer Eye." "It was one of those moments where they all completely stopped and turned and," Collins imitates a collective gasp, "and then a really strange thing happened. Each of them, one by one -- this is emotional now that I think about it .... " Collins stops talking, briefly overwhelmed by the memory. "Each of them told me, 'You don't know what this has done for me and my parents, as a gay man.' I have to tell you, I did tear up a little bit."

Two of the men told him that their fathers call every Wednesday morning to talk about the show. Another said his mother likes to stay on the phone and watch it with him. "These are grown gay men in their 30s and 40s, who said this show has completely helped their relationships with their parents," Collins says. "I happen to be an extremely fortunate man who has an amazingly loving family, who has never had to live with a lot of those things that a lot of gay men and women do, of coming out and having parents who reject them or don't know how to deal with them. That said, that was a moment for me that was very significant."

Collins then made the swift and savvy connection to their new show, "Knock First," a show that has its own element of empowerment. The idea was inspired by his teenage nieces' excitement about moving to a new home and getting to decorate their rooms themselves.

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