The show is premised on and plays with the stereotypes that gay men are superior in matters of fashion, style, personal grooming, interior design, and culture. In each episode, the team of five gay men known collectively as the "Fab Five" perform a makeover (in the parlance of the show, a "make-better") on a person, usually a straight man, revamping his wardrobe, redecorating his home, and offering advice on grooming, lifestyle, and food.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy debuted in 2003 and quickly became both a surprise hit and one of the most talked-about television programs of 2003. The success of the show led to merchandising, franchising of the concept internationally, and a woman-oriented spin-off, Queer Eye for the Straight Girl. The show's name was shortened to Queer Eye at the beginning of its third season to reflect the show's change in direction from making over only straight men to including women and gays. Queer Eye ended production in June 2006 and the final 10 episodes aired in October 2007. The series ended October 30. In September 2008 the cable channel Fine Living announced they would start airing Queer Eye in syndication.
Kyan Douglas and Thom Filicia joined the show for these episodes, along with Blair Boone in the role of "culture guy". Boone filmed two episodes (which aired as the second and third episodes and for which he was credited as a "guest culture expert") but was replaced by Rodriguez beginning with production of the third episode.
Each episode was shot over a span of four days and edited to create the conceit that the events of the episode took place in a single day.
Upon arriving at the subject's home, the Fab Five go through his belongings, keeping up a running commentary of catty remarks about the state of his wardrobe, home decor, cleanliness and grooming. They also speak with the subject and family members to get an idea of the sort of style they like and their goals for the experience and to discuss the planned event.
The remainder of the first half of the episode follows the Fab Five as they escort the subject to various locales to select new furniture and clothes. Often, Ted demonstrates how to select and prepare food for a particular dish that the subject will prepare for the special event, Kyan takes him for spa treatments and a new haircut. Each such segment includes a style tip superimposed on the screen, summarizing in a sentence or two the style issues addressed in the segment. Interspersed with this are interview segments in which friends and family members of the subject discuss his style issues.
In the next section, the subject returns to a completely redecorated home and models articles of his new wardrobe for the Fab Five. Each of the Five offer final words of advice and encouragement and a last tszuj, accompanied by supplies of grooming products, food, and kitchenware, and in some cases big-ticket electronics items such as entertainment centers and computers.
The final section follows the subject as he prepares for the special event, with the Fab Five watching edited footage of his preparations and critiquing how well or how poorly he followed their advice. Finally, the subject is followed through the event itself, with the Five again keeping up a running commentary and the subject often expressing his deep gratitude to the Fab Five for their counsel. A final tip from each of the Fab Five, usually relating to one of the topics covered in the episode, plays just before the credits.
Special episodes of Queer Eye that deviated from this formula included episodes in which the Fab Five journeyed outside the greater New York area, including shows filmed in England, Texas, and Las Vegas. In two episodes the Fab Five made over gay men (both of which aired during June, Gay Pride Month, in 2004 and 2006), and one episode making over a female-to-male transgender person. The show also featured makeovers of members of the Boston Red Sox following their 2004 World Series victory, several holiday specials and, in the final season, a "Mister Straight Guy" pageant featuring subjects from across the show's history.
The American gay press almost universally hailed the show and the Fab Five as cultural icons. Out magazine listed the Fab Five in its "OUT 100", the "greatest gay success stories" of 2003. Instinct magazine declared Kressley one of the "Leading Men" of 2004.
The series attracted criticism for making generalizations about sexual identity, namely that gay men are inherently more fashionable and stylish than heterosexuals. Among those making this critique were Tom Shales in the Washington Post ("stereotypes on parade"), Richard Goldstein in Village Voice ("Haven't fags always been consigned to the role of body servant?"), and United States Congressman Barney Frank speaking to the New York Post ("The notion that gay men have a superior fashion sense is not true and it's damaging. It's perfectly possible to enjoy that show and say, look at those clever homosexuals. What they do with hair! And not support gays at all.").
With the success of the first season, original "culture guy" Blair Boone sued the show for breach of contract, claiming he should be paid not just for two episodes but for the season that he had been contracted to film.
The popularity of the series inspired a number of parodies. Comedy Central hosted a satirical television series called Straight Plan for the Gay Man, which featured four heterosexual men teaching gay men how to be more (stereotypically) straight, redecorating their homes with neon beer signs and teaching them about sports. South Park spoofed the show and its hosts in the episode "South Park Is Gay!", in which the protagonists learn that the Fab Five are actually evil Crab People trying to take over the world by turning all straight men into metrosexuals.
Queer Eye won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004 and was nominated for another Emmy in the same category in 2005. The series also received GLAAD Media Awards for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004 and 2005, and was nominated for a third in 2006.
In the second season, ratings dropped sharply, averaging around 1.8 million viewers per episode with an average 804,000 viewers in the important 18-40 demographic. New episodes continued to air for two more seasons. Bravo confirmed in early 2007 that Queer Eye had been cancelled. The remaining fifth season episodes were billed as Queer Eye: The Final Season and aired twice weekly beginning October 2, 2007.
NBC licensed Viasat to produce local versions for Scandinavia and Flextech's Living channel did the same to produce the United Kingdom's version. The Italian version, entitled I Fantastici Cinque (the fantastic five), aired on the La7 channel.The first episode of the Finnish version, Sillä Silmällä, (literally "with that certain eye") aired March 30, 2005 and created controversy, not for the gay content but for the blatant product placement considered to be a transgression of a Finnish law against "hidden advertising". Australia's take on the show, Aussie Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, premiered on Network Ten in February 2005 but was cancelled after three episodes; a Spanish version named Operación G aired on Antena 3 for only a few weeks; the German equivalent, RTL 2's Schwul macht cool ("Gay makes you cool") was canceled after six episodes; Queer, Cinq Experts dans le Vent was shown in France on TF1 for eight episodes in 2004; and Esquadrão G, a Portuguese version of the show, was cancelled in Portugal after the end of the first season.
In January 2005, Scout Productions premiered a spin-off series titled Queer Eye for the Straight Girl, set in Los Angeles. It featured a cast of four lifestyle experts (three men and a woman known as the "Gal Pals") who performed makeovers for women. The show was cancelled after one season.