Inside Grindr’s First Original TV Series ‘Bridesman’
The queer hookup app is getting into the TV business with its first scripted series, “Bridesman.” Will it be able to compete with a grid of shirtless torsos for users’ attention?
“Gays are very hard.”
“Yeah, they’re super hard!”
The double entendre is unintentional, but it perfectly fits in with what John Onieal and Jimmy Fowlie are talking about. They are the creator and star, respectively, of Bridesman, which, after its premiere at Outfest LA on Aug. 14, will be the first original scripted series from Grindr. As in the gay hookup app.
“Gay are harsh critics,” Fowlie clarifies. Onieal remembers, sight unseen, the reaction on social media to the announcement that the platform typically used for trading photos and soliciting meet-ups would now be adding episodes of television to their grid of shirtless men. “I know that Twitter absolutely dragged this idea of Grindr making a series when they first announced it,” he says. “I thought it was hilarious. It’s getting people talking about it.”
The scrutinizing audience is an unavoidable challenge. Onieal and Fowlie marvel that, a few days before we chat, HBO’s The White Lotus aired a rather progressive sex scene in which two male characters are engaged in analingus and the reaction on social media revolved around criticizing the characters’ unrealistic technique. “Leave it to the gays to absolutely roast the ass-eating,” Onieal laughs.
Counterbalancing that challenge, however, are the 5 million users that Grindr touts in its community, a boon for any content creator—especially queer ones—hoping to find an audience amid the fractured viewership pool in the age of countless streaming platforms. “I’ll be interested to see how people using the app feel,” Fowlie says. “I’m not on Grindr anymore, but when I was, I don’t know that I would have been like, ‘Oh, an indie comedy! Let’s check this out, and also I have a boner...’”
That, though, is part of the experiment.
Since launching Into, the since-shuttered digital publication, in 2017, Grindr has been exploring ways to engage its users outside of the messaging feature. According to Grindr’s head of marketing Alex Black, even when Into was still live, it was the video content that got the most robust engagement. Since the site folded, the company has still maintained a schedule of video production, be it one-off short documentaries about exploring queer identities or the Old Gays series, in which a group of gay friends in their sixties and seventies in Palm Springs react to Gen Z culture.
When the company surveys its users on what they want to see more of, the answer was always comedy. So the idea of a scripted series like Bridesman seemed like “something we wanted to give a try,” Black says. “To see if users will go in this scripted direction with us.”
The series will be six episodes averaging about 10 minutes each that will be hosted on the app and, hopefully, on another platform in the future. Fowlie, who has appeared in episodes of The Other Two and 2 Broke Girls, plays Terry, a single gay man who returns to his hometown to be a bridesmaid—or “bridesman”—for his childhood best friend. However, as someone who rejects the concept of marriage and happens to be sexually attracted to the groom, his agenda is actually sabotage—ideally accomplished by sleeping with the groom himself.
Given that a major talking point about the series is that it’s the first scripted content from Grindr, “everybody automatically assumes that the show is going to be about hookups and sex exclusively,” Onieal says. “But it’s not. It’s totally pure comedy fun.”
“Everyone asks, ‘Are you going to be showing your dick?’” Fowlie adds. “It’s like, actually I will not be showing my dick on the show. But I think what people will appreciate is that it’s an interesting combination of energies. It’s very silly and fun, but it also has a sarcastic, jaded point of view.”
There was never any pressure to add more sex, nudity, or the explicit things that are sometimes associated with Grindr into the series. What struck Black about Bridesman is how well its themes centered on differences in heterosexual and queer attitudes about monogamy, dating, and sex align with the ways in which Grindr itself is a “whole different animal” in terms of attitude and application than other dating apps like Tinder or Bumble. And if this scripted experiment works, it’s attractive to the company to be a home for queer artists and creators. (Disclaimer: Tinder was owned by The Daily Beast’s parent company, IAC.)
“Telling queer stories is something that is actually good business for Grindr,” Black says. “Promoting visibility and representation can move the needle toward a more accepting world, and a more accepting world means more people feeling free to come out of the closet and live their authentic lives. A larger community means more Grindr users, and more Grindr users is good business. So it really makes sense for us in a lot of ways beyond just the more simple kind of engagement metrics.”
Black also laughs at how Terry was initially described in Onieal’s first script treatment, a description that endures in the current press releases: “Bridesman follows Terry, gay and awful.” That “gay and awful” description, beyond adding a bit of shade to the pop-culture trope of the supportive and extra-positive gay BFF that you’d normally see in a TV series, also dovetails with the way Grindr users perceive the app itself.
“I think a lot of people in the community sort of love-hate Grindr,” he says. “But at the end of the day, they’re logging back in before bed and when they wake up. It’s something you love to hate, but secretly love.”