Planet Green initially didn't seem like the most likely place for a reality series about a gay couple changing their lives by buying a farm in upstate New York, herding goats and producing soap and cheese. However, when the network placed "The Fabulous Beekman Boys" on its schedule last year, viewers turned up to watch both the comical and heartfelt situations play out between the gay couple - former doctor and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia executive Brent Ridge and bestselling author/advertising executive Josh Kilmer-Purcell.
The couple is now back for a second season of life on the Beekman Farm and while some big name celebrities show up from time to time - Martha Stewart, Rosie O'Donnell and "The Real Housewives of New York City's" Sonja Morgan to name a few - life is still pretty simple despite complications from an overzealous llama, the juggling of their burgeoning business and how all these things impact their relationship.
Our Jim Halterman chatted with Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell last week to see what fans can expect to see this season, why they think viewers connected with the show and the surprising things they're hearing from straight viewers.
Jim Halterman: What's different as we jump into the second season of 'The Fabulous Beekman Boys?'
Brent Ridge: We actually started filming pretty much right after we stopped the first season. Planet Green decided to green light the second season so it really is a continuation of what was happening in the first season; not that much time has passed. During the first season, we talked about our year of sacrifice and it was the first time we had been apart in our 10-year relationship (Josh is only on the farm on weekends as he still holds an advertising job Monday through Friday in Manhattan) and, unfortunately, the year of sacrifice has continued beyond a year. The thrust of season two is can we grow our business enough that we can afford for Josh to move to the farm full-time?
JH: So once the show started airing and people started knowing who you were, what was the impact on each of you and your business?
BR: It's been a great impact both on our business and the community. Our business is so linked to the town and the community; one is linked to the other. There's been a huge increase in tourism in Sharon Springs. One episode coming up deals with that in particular. In the first season we showed our Harvest Festival and we had a few hundred people show up and we thought that was a success. After the episodes aired this past season, we now had over 5,000 people show up at the village, including a surprise visit by Rosie O'Donnell.
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: I do get spotted on the subway [in New York City] once in awhile but I worked in an office before the show, during the show and I'm still working here.
BR: I get recognized all the time here in Sharon Springs. [Laughs.]
JH: Has the online business (www.Beekman1802.com) radically changed over the past year due to the show?
BR: Oh yeah, we now ship our soaps all over the world. Last year's production of cheese was about 2000 pounds and we sold out; we won't have any more until the end of May since we're just starting to produce for this season. People can buy our soaps at Anthropologie stories around the country and we're at Henri Bendel. Things are going very well.
JH: And what else are you branching out with besides the Beekman soaps or cheeses?
BR: We work right now with over 22 crafts people and artisans from our community and surrounding counties and we develop products and home goods. We do linens, products with our blacksmith and we do letterpress stationary. We're currently doing a huge project with Williams-Sonoma where we've designed an heirloom seed kit, which is for sale in all Williams-Sonoma stores across the country. And we have our first cookbook coming out later this year.
JH: Planet Green obviously believed in the show and gave you a quick renewal but were you confident it would take off?
BR: We really didn't know but the one thing we did know going into it was that we really just wanted to portray our lives honestly in what we were doing. We knew there were a lot of people in America in the same situation we were that had lost their jobs in the recession and were struggling to get by on one or no paycheck and trying to reinvent themselves. We knew there were people out there who would relate to the show and what happened but we were just glad they tuned in.
JH: Do you ever wish the cameras were not there so you could have privacy when those more personal moments occur? For example, we see you arguing over whether to spend the money on a fence for Polka Spot, the diva-esque llama who keeps getting out.
JKP: We've gotten very used to the cameras and our show is very different from other reality shows in that we don't have a big production schedule. Our crews come to the barn all through the year whenever something is happening. Also, unlike other reality shows, we also have a great crew and we're so close that we've had the same crew for the entire run of both seasons. They've really become like family. They've had holidays with us and I think people will get a much more honest view of reality from our show than they do from other shows.
JH: Do all farms name their animals or is that just something you guys like to do?
BR: I don't know that all farms do but there was a study out of the UK on dairy farms in which dairy cows were named and called by name and they produced a significantly larger percentage of milk than farms where cows were just numbered on a tag.
JH: Obviously gay viewers love the show but do you hear from straight viewers?
BR: I would say we get 10 times more email from straight viewers than gay viewers, which, for us, is one of the most rewarding things about having done the show. We're getting so many emails from couples who say 'I'm just like you and my husband is just like Josh' or vice versa. Also, emails from people - wives particularly - who say 'My husband would never have thought to watch a show about two gay men on a farm but now he's your biggest fans.' We get at least one like that a day. It's great that people are able to see a gay couple in a long-term relationship portrayed on television because that's something that America has never seen before.
"The Fabulous Beekman Boys" premieres its second season tonight at 10:00/9:00c on Planet Green. To check out the many products created on the Beekman Farm, go to www.Beekman1802.com.