It's the beginning of the end for Showtime's controversial "Queer as Folk (search)," as the show enters its fifth and final season on Sunday.
"We all knew it would be five years," said Dan Lipman, executive producer of "Queer as Folk." "We had a story to tell, we designed it with a specific time in mind. And frankly, we didn't want it to dribble on for years and years. No one is going to be interested in 'Queer as Old Folk.' "
Following the lives of a group of working-class gay friends living in Pittsburgh, "Queer as Folk" blazed new trails on Showtime (search), and television in general, with its raw storylines of gay sex, drug use and battles against homophobia.
Gay characters fall in love, overdose on drugs, and nonchalantly consume sexual partners almost faster than the writers can introduce new characters to the show.
Yet the show also featured discussions of AIDS, gay parenting and relationships with family, which often proved to be as controversial as the on-screen sex.
When it premiered, "Queer as Folk's" graphic content had not yet been seen on mainstream American television, and subsequently the show paved the way for sexually charged hits like "Sex and the City (search)" and "The L Word (search)."
Even the name introduced new vernacular into the American dialect; without it, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (search)" might be an entirely different show.
"We had to be so fearless, we upped the ante on cable, you know, with what could be shown, and what issues would be discussed and how directly," says Hal Sparks, star of "Queer as Folk." "The show pushed a lot of things into the spotlight."
Despite the groundbreaking storylines about gay life and relationships, "Queer as Folk" stirred the ire of gay activists who criticized the show as wildly unrealistic. The promiscuity and drug-riddled tirades were nothing but gay "blackface," they claimed.
But Sparks — who plays Michael, a sweet-natured, relationship-oriented comic book collector — bristles at any suggestion that the show had a negative impact on gays.
"My character for the last four years has been in a committed, monogamous relationship with an HIV-positive person and has been raising a child," says Sparks. "So they can say it's all about sex and clubs and drugs, but that's because they're idiots."
In the end, participants in the show are pleased to see it end on a high note. "I'm proud of what I did, like a job well done," says Sparks, "doing something that a lot of people were afraid to do, and surviving it.
"And being able to stand on the other side and say 'See, it didn't ruin my career, you big scaredy cat.' "