'The L Word': Love And Liberation

New Show Chronicles Group Of Chic LA Women Who Are Lesbians

When it comes to sex, television would seem to have the landscape covered and uncovered.

From the glamorous high-heeled, high-sexed women of "Sex and the City," to the high-volume, fashion-crazed men of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

In the last few years, TV's sexual envelope has been pushed to the very edge of your screen. Whatever your sexual viewing pleasure, just click the remote.

"I think you see everything. The popularity of our show says that people are ready to accept people for who they are," says Carson Kressley, a star of "Queer Eye," who knows the commercial power of sex.

"Network executives respond to the consumers' demand. They are people that are in business to make money and work with advertisers and produce a product, and I think there's also a market."

And now, with "Sex And the City" lowering the curtain, there's a hot, hyped newcomer premiering on The Showtime Network — which is owned by Viacom, the parent company of CBS. Correspondent Troy Roberts reports.

The show chronicles a clique of chic L.A women, and documents their everyday lives. It's called "The L Word," and it's about love, longing and liberation, says creator and executive producer Ilene Chaiken.

"This is a show about lesbians, for everybody," says Chaiken.

Chaiken, who is gay, has created a new drama that is sexually explicit. And there are people from the conservative right who are not thrilled with this program. They say this is just another effort by Hollywood to mainstream homosexuality.

"That's a view that I'm aware of and the best I can say about it is that it baffles me," says Chaiken. "I don't really understand why we are so threatening. Why our very existence is threatening."

The stories being told are intimate, complicated and very human. The cast includes Jennifer Beals of "Flashdance" fame, who plays a Los Angeles museum director in a long-term gay relationship.

Pam Grier, who gained fame as the first black-female action star in the '70s, plays Kit, a jazz-singer and Beal's straight half-sister.

Other cast members include Leisha Hailey and Kate Moennig, who plays the shows heart-breaker, Shane.

"I saw a fantastic character and I felt incredibly lucky," says Beals. "Then, I thought as I was approaching these love scenes, how do I do this? Am I gonna get this wrong. And then I thought, I know what it is to love someone."

How does she think her mother will react to some of the show's more frank situation situations? "Oh, I'm sure she won't watch. I'm sure she'll leave the room."

"For straight men to watch out of their own fantasy and curiosity as hot red-blooded men, they will," adds Grier. "And you know, it doesn't bother us but they will be enlightened. They'll have to see the rest of the story."

Kate Moennig plays Shane, a real player who goes through women like Kleenex. "That was a turn-on for me, how comfortable this person was with who she was and how she didn't question it, nor apologize for it," Moennig says.

Leisha Hailey, who plays a bisexual woman, is the only openly gay actor on the show: "I actually sought after it for the reason that it was the first lesbian series. And I felt like I could help change something in the world, and be a part of that. And that excited me."

Jess Cagle, senior editor for People Magazine, understands the series is about more than just profit, more than just sex. It's about tolerance.

"There have been lots of gay men on television and this is the next beat. This is another subculture we can put in the mainstream and make money off of," says Cagle. "'The L Word' is really a historic moment in television, because not only are lesbians being put front and center, but they are being put front and center and taken seriously."

And the actors of "The L Word" seem ready to live up to the media buzz, change the TV landscape, and maybe even a little bit more.

"Little by little you change the landscape of the mind. And once you change the mind, you start changing the culture," says Beals. "And the personal is political. Pop culture is political. And one fine day, sexual orientation will be added to the federal hate crimes bill."

"It's an evolution. And it took that time to process," adds Grier. "Maybe it wasn't right then, but now's the time."

From the cast to the creator, there's a common goal -- to bring television something new and something as old as showbiz itself.

"In addition to everything else it is, it's a sexy show, and I meant it to be a sexy show and I'm proud that it's a sexy show," says Chaiken.